Toll House Cookies

A cookie with a mythological origin.

Chocolate chip cookies had their origin in the Toll House Inn, run by Ruth Graves Wakefield and her husband, around 1930. That much seems to be true. But the official story from Nestle is that she was trying to make “a batch of Butter Drop Do cookies, a favorite recipe dating back to Colonial days[.]”

Uh-huh. Well, as other sites have pointed out, there is no such recipe. The only mention of “Butter Drop Do.” is in Amelia Simmons’ 1798 volume of American Cookery (see the image to the left).

David Walbert notes that “do.” was an abbreviation for “ditto,” and in context, then, wasn’t part of the name of the cookie. He infers it referred to the name of the cookie section in which it was listed, gingerbread. I don’t think that’s so clear.

The context of the abbreviation “do” (which, by the way, was to reduce the labor of laying out type when it had to be done by hand) was to replace the parts of a sentence that stood where the abbreviation did. Looking at the context, in the image above, I think it means nothing more than “butter drop to be baked in pans,” the italicized words replacing the abbreviation. Further supporting this notion is that, two pages later, another recipe for butter drops is printed, identical except removing two egg whites and a quarter-cup of flour.

So I don’t think it’s so clear that butter drops were considered gingerbread, as such, so much as the book was laid out in a kind of hodge-podge way. But that said, there doesn’t seem to be any realistic chance that butter drop cookies were the inspiration for Toll House Cookies. Apart from the recipe not having any chocolate or nuts in it, bar chocolate wouldn’t have existed until the 19th century. has a much more likely inspiration: Fannie Merritt Farmer’s Chocolate Cookies recipe. But that said, Wakefield’s recipe is still an evolutionary leap forward, introducing bits of chocolate rather than a diffuse chocolate through the cookie.

I prefer to think she was just damn good at what she did. Further evidence of that: she could cook other things, too.

Remember when we talked about Duncan Hines? For what it’s worth, Hines thought the Toll House was good for more than just desserts. From his mention of the restaurant in the November 29, 1948 edition of the St. Petersburg Times:

Customers Come Back for More of Ruth Wakefield’s Onion Soup

By Duncan Hines

Many customers besides myself return year after year to the charming Toll House at Whitman, Mass. and order Ruth Wakefield’s famous onion soup. This recipe serves from 8 to 10 people.

Melt 1/8 lb. butter and cook slowly 1 pound sliced onions in the butter until brown. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon flour over onions when brown and stir. Slowly add 1-1/2 quarts chicken stock, stirring until smooth. If you have no chicken stock on hand, you can use 6 chicken bouillon cubes, pouring 6 cups of boiling water over them. Add salt and pepper to taste and allow to stand several hours to improve the flavor.

Serve with slice of French bread sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and toasted in oven at the last moment. Serve extra Parmesan cheese to be sprinkled over the top at the table.

Ruth Wakefield died in 1977. The Toll House itself burned down in 1984, so the only way to visit it now is on the familiar yellow bag.

From the box of C.C. from Ceres, California.

Toll House Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2-1/4 cups unsifted flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup of butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
One 12-oz. package of Nestle semi-[sweet] chocolate
1 cup nuts (walnuts)

Preheat oven, 375 degrees.

In small bowl, combine flour, baking soda; set aside.

In large bowl, combine butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract. Beat until creamy. Beat in eggs. Gradually add flour mixture. Mix well.

Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.

Drop by the rounded measuring teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake at 375 degrees, time 8 to 10 minutes. Makes 100 2″ cookies.

From the kitchen of Carol Chadwick

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