This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Important Inventor of 20th Century Born

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June 17, 1903:  Ruth Graves Wakefield is Born . . . Inventor of the Chocolate Chip Cookie

The chocolate chip cookie was accidentally developed by American cook and businesswoman Ruth Graves Wakefield in 1930.  She owned the Toll House Inn, in Whitman, Massachusetts, a very popular restaurant that featured home cooking in the 1930s.

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Her cookbook, Toll House Tried and True Recipes, was published in 1936 by M. Barrows & Company, New York. It included the recipe “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie”, which rapidly became a favorite to be baked in American homes.

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Wakefield is said to have been making chocolate cookies and on running out of regular baker’s chocolate, substituted broken pieces of semi-sweet chocolate from Nestlé thinking that they would melt and mix into the batter.  They did not and the chocolate chip cookie was born.  Wakefield sold the recipe to Nestlé in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate chips.  Every bag of Nestlé chocolate chips sold in North America has a variation (butter vs. margarine is now a stated option) of her original recipe printed on the back.

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During WWII, US soldiers from Massachusetts who were stationed overseas shared the cookies they received in care packages from back home with soldiers from other parts of the US.  Soon, hundreds of soldiers were writing home asking their families to send them some Toll House cookies, and Wakefield was soon inundated with letters from around the world asking for her recipe.  Thus began the nationwide craze for the chocolate chip cookie.

But there is some controversy . . . as there is an alternative story

A different history of the cookie derives from George Boucher, who was at one time head chef at the Toll House Inn, and his daughter, Carol Cavanagh, who also worked there.  Contradicting Nestlé’s claim that Wakefield put chunks of chocolate into cookie dough hoping they would melt.

The daughter stated that the owner, already an accomplished chef and author of a cookbook, knew enough about the properties of chocolate to realize it would not melt and mix into the batter while baking.  Boucher said that the vibrations from a large Hobart electric mixer dislodged bars of Nestlé’s chocolate stored on the shelf above the mixer so they fell into the sugar cookie dough it was mixing, then broke them up and mixed the pieces into it.  He claimed to have overcome Wakefield’s impulse to discard the dough as too badly ruined to waste effort baking them, leading to the discovery of the popular combination.

Either way . . . yum!

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