Necessity is the mother of invention. That adage certainly proved true for Ruth Graves Wakefield, the creator of one of the most popular treats ever.
Ruth was born in 1903 in Easton, Massachusetts. She received her education from Framingham State Normal School of Household Arts. She put her education into practice, teaching home economics, working as a hospital dietician, and as a service director for a utility company.
In 1930, Ruth and her husband, Kenneth, purchased an inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. Ruth devoted her time and talents to making the inn a success. The reports of her remarkable cooking skills quickly spread, bringing local fame to the inn.
It was hard work and planning that made the inn a local hotspot. It was an accident that created a worldwide sensation and immortalized the inn’s name.
It was 1938, and Ruth was preparing a batch of cookies to offer as dessert for the inn’s guests. Her favorite recipe was the Butter Drop Do cookie. On this fateful day, she changed the ingredients.
The historical account is a bit fuzzy at this point about Ruth’s intent. Some say that she knew exactly what she was doing. Others say she ran out of baker’s chocolate and improvised by chopping up a Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate bar, thinking it would melt throughout the batter. Regardless of what she intended to do, there can be no doubt that she was utterly shocked by the response to her creation.
What came out of her oven that day was the chocolate chip cookie. It was an immediate hit with the inn’s customers. Soon, the inn was flooded with guests, clamoring for a taste of the remarkable treat.
In 1940, Ruth published a cookbook with recipes from the inn. The new cookie was a featured favorite. The cookbook went through 39 printings.
It was World War II, however, that helped make Ruth’s creation a worldwide phenomenon. Soldiers from Massachusetts received chocolate chip cookies in care packages sent from home. They shared the cookies with fellow soldiers, who were similarly smitten. They wrote home, raving about the cookie, prompting mothers and wives from all around the world to write to Ruth, asking for the recipe.
As the cookie’s popularity grew, so did sales of Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate bars. This prompted Ruth to strike a deal with the chocolate company Nestlé. For the price of $1, Ruth gave Nestlé the right to use her recipe and the name of the inn. In exchange, Ruth received a lifetime supply of Nestlé chocolate.
The inn, sadly, burned to the ground in 1984. In its place is a Walgreens pharmacy. Although the inn is gone, the cookie that was born in that place lives on. In fact, if you visit that pharmacy, you can certainly purchase a chocolate chip cookie. You can even purchase one that bears the name that Ruth gave it, inspired by the inn where it was created: The Toll House Cookie.
Ruth Wakefield’s Original Recipe for the Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie
Total Time: 45 minutes
Hands-On Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 2 to 3 dozen
- 1 cup unsalted butter, plus more for baking sheets
- 3/4 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved into 1 teaspoon hot water
- 2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
- 12 ounces (2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 375°.
Cream the butter and sugars. Add the beaten eggs. Add the baking soda dissolved in hot water.
Sift together the flour and salt and add to the butter mixture. Then stir in the nuts, chocolate chips, and vanilla.
Chill the dough
Drop by the tablespoonful onto lightly greased cookie sheets and bake until browned at the edges, 10 to 12 minutes.