Happy Birthday Ruth Wakefield!


Photo by Joyful on Unsplash

Let’s take a moment to honor one of America’s gastronomic heroes today.  This woman has brought so much joy and deliciousness in our lives that I believe her birthday should be a national holiday,  or at least a national baking day.

Ruth Wakefield created the chocolate chip cookie.

In 1930, Ruth and her husband Ken, opened the Toll House Inn restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts. In spite of the dire economy, their restaurant’s reputation grew as one of the best places to eat in Massachusetts.

The original cookie recipe appears in Ruth’s 1938 cookbook, Tried and True. So many people started making the “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie” that the grocery stores in the area kept running out of semi-sweet chocolate bars. Nestlé noticed that sales were high in Massachusetts and sent a representative to find out why. They found Ruth Wakefield and her cookie. Nestlé made a deal with Ruth to print her recipe on their chocolate bar package and she agreed for one dollar and a lifetime supply of chocolate.

In countless interviews, Ruth never fully explained how she came to create the most famous cookie of all time which encouraged the spread of tall tales. Here are a few:

  • Ruth was making chocolate cookies but ran out of time to melt the chocolate first. She thought the chunks of chocolate would melt when baked, but they didn’t.
  • She was out of butter and hoped the cocoa butter in the chocolate would hold the cookies together.
  • Vibrations from a mixer caused chocolate chips to fall off the shelf above and into the cookie batter. Ruth decided to go ahead and bake them.
  • She was out of nuts for her pecan cookies and used chocolate bits instead.

Ruth wrote in her 1948 revision of her cookbook, “I suppose most of you know Toll House Cookies. Their origin and development is really a story by itself.”   But she doesn’t tell the story!

Most food history scholars debunk these legends because Ruth Wakefield was an experienced cook and baker. The idea that she would run out of ingredients, or not know that the chocolate chunks wouldn’t melt, don’t make sense to the people who worked with her. Ruth was described as an extremely organized perfectionist. Plus, she was constantly creating new dishes for the restaurant. Her cookbooks are full of her original recipes. While it may be boring, the truth is probably that Ruth tinkered with this recipe until she got it right.

And how right it was!

Ruth Graves Wakefield (June 17, 1903- January 10, 1977)




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