The State Library swooped in last week with a fun fact we’re eating up: The first chocolate chip cookie was created in Massachusetts.
That’s right. The recipe printed on all those bags of Nestlé Toll House Morsels originated in Whitman — about 20 miles south of Boston. The year was 1930.
Are you looking for baking ideas for the holidays? The first chocolate chip cookie was created in Whitman, MA by Ruth Graves Wakefield in the mid-1930s. The recipe was originally published in local newspapers and was called the Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie. pic.twitter.com/GvwypEz31e— MA State Library (@mastatelibrary) December 15, 2021
While this might strike some as old news (it is), those learning about it for the first time may have a few questions.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
Ruth and Kenneth Wakefield opened a thriving restaurant in Whitman in the 1930s. They called it the “Toll House” because it was across the street from the Boston-Bedford Turnpike toll gates, according to the Globe archives.
It was said that the cookie was created accidentally, when Ruth Wakefield ran out of nuts one night while she was baking a batch of Butter Drop-Do cookies, a classic colonial recipe. Instead, Ruth grabbed a chocolate bar and an ice pick, chopped up the chocolate into pieces, and mixed them into the dough. Voila. The first chocolate chip cookie was born.
(Carolyn Wyman’s “Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book,” which explores the history of the Toll House cookie, contends the recipe wasn’t created inadvertently. “It didn’t seem like anything was an accident at that restaurant,” Wyman said, according to Globe reporting. Wakefield reportedly told interviewers in the 1970s that customers loved the nut cookies and she was trying to give them something different.)
Wakefield was reportedly a graduate of the Framingham Normal School (now Framingham State University) cooking program and was an experienced baker. Toll House was one of the few restaurants that thrived during the Great Depression, according to Globe reports. Wakefield ran “a tightly organized restaurant that included a seven-page, single-spaced manual for waitresses,” according to a 2013 article. Toll House was known for its sea foam salad ring (with lime gelatin), lobster dishes, and desserts, including Boston cream and lemon meringue pies, according to an article in the New York Times.
In 1939, Ruth Wakefield published her own cookbook where the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe first appeared. The recipe was reprinted in The Boston Herald-Traveler, according to the Times. That same year, Wakefield sold Nestlé the rights to reproduce her recipe on its packages — supposedly for only $1. She was hired to consult on recipes for the company, which was said to have provided her free chocolate for life, according to the Times.
The cookies grew extremely popular and reached far beyond New England, according to the Times, when World War II soldiers from Massachusetts shared their care packages from home. The cookies became so popular that in 1983, a federal judge ruled that Nestlé was no longer entitled to exclusive rights to the Toll House trademark, according to the Times.
In 1967, the Wakefields sold the restaurant and retired to Duxbury, where Ruth died in 1977. The restaurant burned down in 1984 on New Year’s Eve, according to Globe reports, and a Wendy’s was later built at the location. A plaque located between the Wendy’s and a Walgreen’s on Route 18 marks the site of the iconic eatery.
Now, Nestlé's semisweet chocolate morsels are ubiquitous in household pantries. Wakefield’s recipe, which calls for nuts, is still printed on the back of those packages (although it has been updated to account for the availability of modern ingredients like pre-sifted flour).
Recipe for Toll House chocolate-chip cookies
Makes 100 very tiny cookies
Resist making the cookies larger than ½ teaspoon. This recipe mimics the original as closely as possible.
Butter (for the baking sheets)
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, cut up and at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar (lightly scooped into measure)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon hot tap water
14 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into pea-size chunks
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Butter 2 baking sheets.
2. In a bowl, whisk the flour and salt to blend them.
3. In an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter until creamy. Add the granulated and brown sugars. Continue beating for 3 minutes. Beat in 1 of the eggs.
4. In a small bowl, whisk the other egg. Beat half the egg into the dough with the vanilla (save remaining egg to scramble).
5. In a bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the hot water. Beat the mixture into the dough. Beat in the flour mixture just until a few floury streaks remain. Beat in the chocolate and nuts.
6. Drop the batter by ½ teaspoon onto the sheet, spacing mounds 1 inch apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Set the pan on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to the racks to cool completely. Let the pans cool before baking more cookies. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Dédé Wilson. Adapted from “Ruth Wakefield’s Toll-House Tried and True Recipes”
Brittany Bowker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @brittbowker and on Instagram @brittbowker.