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The following is from The Complete Chocolate Chip Cookie Book.
A Sort of History
There is something wonderfully appropriate about the origins of the chocolate chip cookie. Something instructive, in an odd sort of way. For the tale has a nifty quirk in it that gets right to the heart of this remarkable food's true nature. And like so many oft-told tales, this story seems to be endowed with a special quality, as though some mischievous culinary muse with a warped sense of humor has hidden a chuckle-to-live-by in this bit of kitchen history. The trick, of course, is to find the punch line in the parable.
The tale begins in 1930, an unhappoy year for business start-ups. Still, for reasons that remain mysterious, Ruth and Kenneth Wakefield decided then to buy an old house halfway between Boston and New Bedford, Massachusetts. In years past the building had served as an inn and changing station, a place where travelers could switch horses while plodding down Route 18. The Wakefields renovated the house and turned it into a restaurant with rooms for rent on the second floor. It was dubbed the Toll House.
Now, Mrs. Wakefield was an enterprising woman and a good cook as well. So it wasn't long before her kitchen was a reasonably busy place, serving meals to a healthy number of custonmers. And, feeling passably expert, she decided one day to experiment with a popular recipe of the time, one for a simple cookie known as the Butter Drop-Do. This cookie, a straightforward, yellowish thing made from flour, butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla, is light and tasty.
There's nothing very fancy about a Butter Drop-Do, least of all its name. But it's a yeomanlike treat, almost impossible to ruin and always good to eat. Considering this, Mrs. Wakefield decided to spruce up the cookie. So she chopped a semi-sweet chocolate bar into little chunks and mixed it into her batter. It seems she thought the chocolate would melt, spreading itself through her finished cookies, turning them into something like Chocolate Butter Drop-Do cookies. Obvously, good old Ruth was wrong. For the simple fact of the matter is that cookies cook faster than chocolate melts. And, rather than burn her experimehnt, she took her botched effort out of the oven and let it cool.
It isn't difficult to imagine this unlikely pioneer's surprise when she sampled the odd-looking wafers she'd created. Of course, they were terrific.
As certainly as the creation of the wheel, the discovery of penicillin and the development of the theory of relativity were bound to gain widespread acceptance, so too Ruth Wakefield's cookies became very popular. Diners in her restaurant bought tons of them. And they requested her recipe. Folks baked them at home, gave them to friends, talked them up all over the place. Thus did the word go forth: mix chopped chocolate into Butter Drop-Do batter and you've got something really worth eating.
Within months the better part of Massachusetts was flailing away at chocolate bars, making cookies. But to do so they had to buy the chocolate and so sales of this essential ingredient soared in the area immediately surrounding Ruth's establishment. Nestlé, an alert organization, recognized the disproportionate sales growth in the region as a good thing, sent a representative to the Wakefield's restaurant to inquire about Rught's invention.
Not long thereafter the company began marketing chocolate bars that were scored and packed with a little cutting tool for making chocolate chunks. Cookie lovers thought this was a good idea and bought loads of them. So many, in fact, that in 1939 Nestlé packaged the first chocolate bits and printed Ruth's recipe on the back of that famous yellow bag.
Mrs. Wakefield, by now quite well-known, published a book, The Toll House Cook Book. The sublime recipe in it differs slightly from the one on the back of the Nestlé package of bits, but not much. So you know, she called the cookies "Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies."
The rest, as they say, is history. Consider, if you will, the following: Over 240 million chocolate morsels are purchased every day in the United States. Chocolate industry statisticians figure Americans bake over 7 billion chocolate chip cookies a year. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that about 8 billion dollars' worth of the cookies are sold annually. Needless to say, the chocolate chip cookie business is colossal.
But the point, I think, is not that Ruth Wakefield developed a superb concoction, perfect in its design, flawlessly conceived, unsurpassed and unsurpassable. Instead, she bungled onto a good thing. She goofed, brilliantly. And then she was smart enough to recognize her serendipity and make the most of it. Moral: If a chocolate chip cookie is nothing more than a Butter Drop-Do gone wrong, then the world is a wonderful place, indeed.
Prose that appeals to mildly sentimental tastes.
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