By Aneri Pattani, News Correspondent
A beloved American icon is celebrating its 75th birthday this year and it’s not an actor or a singer, but a celebrity of a different kind, one that is recognized in nearly every American household and beloved by children of all ages: the chocolate chip cookie.
The Toll House cookie was invented in 1938 in Whitman, less than an hour outside of Boston. The Whitman Public Library held a celebratory event on Saturday, Oct. 19 to mark the occasion. Author Carolyn Wyman presented her new book, “The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie,” the first and only complete history, cookbook and guidebook to the chocolate chip cookie.
“I’ve written many food books, but I’d never written one on my favorite food, and that seemed silly,” Wyman said.
Wyman also joked that writing this book was a great excuse to eat tax-deductible cookies.
The book includes a comprehensive collection of recipes, as well as state-by-state surveys of bakeries and restaurants that are known for their chocolate chip cookies. According to the book, the top bakery in Boston is Rosie’s, but Wyman also promoted Clear Flour Bread Bakery in Brookline.
“During my research, I was amazed at how different this cookie can be when everyone is using almost the same recipe,” she said.
According to Wyman, the most important aspect of the book is the fact that it relayes the true history on how the chocolate chip cookie was invented. While most common stories agree that Ruth Wakefield invented the cookie at the Toll House restaurant she and her husband owned, the details of the creation vary.
The story most people hear, Wyman said, is that the invention was an accident. Supposedly, Wakefield was in the process of making Butter Drop Do cookies, which were popular at that time, when she realized she didn’t have enough baker’s chocolate. With hungry customers waiting, she decided to improvise. She cut up a semi-sweet Nestlé chocolate bar and added it to the dough as a substitute. As it turned out, the chips did not melt in the dough; they only softened and retained their shape. Thus, the chocolate chip cookie was born.
As it turns out, this story is false, Wyman said.
“People like the dumb luck story, but the truth is that Ruth was highly educated and knew what she was doing on purpose,” Wyman said.
Wakefield graduated from the Framingham Normal School Department of Household Arts in 1924. Afterwards, she worked as a dietician and lectured on food. In 1930, she and her husband opened the Toll House restaurant in Whitman, where Wakefield was in charge of creating and updating the restaurant’s menu.
According to Wyman’s research, Wakefield often traveled internationally to get ideas to develop new recipes. For example, when on a trip to Egypt, Wakefield tasted butterscotch cookies served with ice cream, then decided to test out a small variation on the concept, substituting chocolate pieces for Nestlé butterscotch chips.
The cookies were not immediate best-sellers and Wyman found that the cookies were initially featured as free additions when customers ordered ice cream at the restaurant.
The chocolate chip cookie gained popularity during the late 1930s and early 40s, when soldiers in World War II requested they be sent in care packages, said Wyman.
As the demand for chocolate chip cookies rose, so did the popularity of Nestlé’s semisweet chocolate bar. Andrew Nestlé decided to buy the recipe from Wakefield in 1939 and have it printed on every bag of chocolate chips sold by the company. According to Wyman, the details of this transaction are still unclear, but rumor has it that Nestlé promised Wakefield a lifetime supply of chocolate in exchange for the recipe.
“Since that first happy accident, the chocolate chip cookie recipe has always been a great favorite,” a spokesperson for Nestlé said in an email to The News. “In 1939, Nestlé created the unique morsel shape using semi-sweet chocolate, making it easier to bake NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip cookies.”
In 1997, Massachusetts declared the chocolate chip cookie its official state cookie.
This state pride is especially reflected in the town of Whitman, where the whole story began. In addition to the library event in October, the town is preparing a special New Year’s Eve celebration in honor of the chocolate chip cookie’s 75th anniversary.
Whitman Town Administrator Frank Lyman confirmed that on New Year’s Eve, the town will be lowering a giant chocolate chip cookie in place of a ball.
“The 75-inch cookie will drop 75 feet beginning 75 seconds before midnight,” Lyman said.
Nestlé will create the cookie and fund the event. According to Lyman, Nestlé has partnered with the town in the past for events such as the creation of a new playground or the upkeep of the town common park.
Lyman is hoping the “cookie drop” will serve as a fitting tribute to the creation of – as Wyman deems it – the great American chocolate chip cookie.