Ruth Wakefield (1903 – 1977)
Now, here’s an intriguing question. What would you do to secure a lifetime’s supply of chocolate?
The latest inductee into our illustrious Hall of Fame is Ruth Wakefield, who ran a restaurant cum travel lodge called the Toll House Inn, situated halfway between Boston and New Bedford in Massachusetts. One of the specialities of the house was a thin butterscotch nut cookie served with ice cream, known as the Butter Drop Do pecan icebox cookie, a bit of a mouthful but it sounds delicious.
Ruth was experimenting with variations on this popular item, deciding to add some chocolate fragments to the batter. She wanted to use an unsweetened chocolate without milk or flavouring called Baker’s chocolate. Finding that she didn’t have any, Ruth used chocolate from Nestlé’s proprietary semi-sweet bar. Chopping the bar into small bits, allegedly with an ice-pick, and putting them into the brown sugar dough with nuts, she was surprised to find that the chocolate hadn’t melted. Instead, they remained as chunky as when she added them to the mix.
What the enterprising Ruth had created was what we now know as the chocolate chip cookie, but back then it was known as the Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie. Ruth added the recipe to her best-selling cookbook, Toll House Tried and True Recipes, in 1938. In truth, the chocolate chips do melt but they retain their shape because of the way the fat in the chocolate is aligned.
In her recipe book Ruth explained her methodology; “At Toll House we chill this dough overnight. When ready for baking, we roll a teaspoon of dough between palms of hands and place balls two inches apart on greased baking sheet. Then we press balls with finger tips to form flat rounds. This way cookies do not spread as much in the baking and they keep uniformly round.”
The cookies sold like hot cakes in the New England area and the recipe was published in a Boston newspaper. Noticing that the sales of his semi-sweet chocolate bars had rocketed since the development of the cookie, Andrew Nestlé of the eponymous company decided to make an unusual agreement with Ruth. He secured the right to print the recipe for the Toll House Cookie on the package of his chocolate bars, reportedly paying the princely sum of one dollar for the privilege.
To sweeten the deal still further, Ruth was offered a consultancy position to assist in the development of further recipes. Her fee for this? Free chocolate for the rest of her life.
Sounds like a good deal.
It soon established itself as America’s favourite cookie and Nestlé, thanks to the unusual agreement struck with Ruth, owned the rights and, more importantly, took all the profits from the cookie. This cosy arrangement was interrupted in 1983 when a Federal judge ruled that here were ambiguities in the deal struck in 1939 and that Nestlé was no longer entitled to retain exclusive rights to the Toll House trademark.
So the market was opened up.
It is estimated that around 7 billion chocolate chip cookies are eaten in America a year, 50% of which are home-made.
Ruth sold the Toll House inn in 1967 – it burned down on New Year’s Eve in 1984 – and retired to Duxbury in Massachusetts, where she died in 1977.
For inventing America’s favourite cookie and giving it away for a dollar, Ruth is a worthy inductee into our Hall of Fame. At least she got thirty-eight years’ worth of chocolate!
If you enjoyed, why not try Fifty Clever Bastards by Martin Fone