The Storied Past of the Chocolate Chip Cookie

Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are few scents as familiar and alluring as that of a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, and few food items that elicit such a universal response. In fact, chocolate chip cookies rank up next to apple pie for their all-American appeal.

These baked goods are so popular, in fact, that varying experts prescribe them across a host of situations: realtors suggest the scent can improve offers made on your property, marketers have demonstrated the scent may encourage spending (by increasing feelings of happiness), aroma therapists point to the association of baking and mom, highlighting feelings of warmth and security, and some point out that the chocolate component makes these an effective aphrodisiac.

One of the most customizable confections going, bakers of all stripes have long argued over what makes the best chocolate chip cookie; I myself have engaged in some debates about the ideal ratio between chip and cookie, the benefits of a still-warm cookie vs. the crispness of a cooled one, etc. This debate continues, with many claiming to have cracked the cookie code and discovered the perfect recipe or cooking method.

Beyond the popularity and seemingly endless permutations and applications, the chocolate chip cookie also comes with a charming history. First created in the 1930’s by Ruth Wakefield, chef and co-owner of Toll House Restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts, the chocolate chip cookie was originally intended as a pairing for ice cream. (Ice cream and cookies, oh happy day). While we have long known this part of the cookies’ past, the versions of exactly how the cookie came into being vary.

Theories ranged from it being an accidental discovery, due to a quick-thinking substitution for nuts or bakers chocolate, the sort of magical thinking we attribute to many great inventions (Newton’s apple, anyone?). As explained by Carolyn Wyman, however, Ruth Wakefield was a meticulous and impressive woman whose acumen was a likelier culprit than chance. (Click through the link above for Wyman’s excellent article, and here to read more on the topic in the New Yorker, including the cookies’ role in WWII).

Whichever way you prefer your chocolate chip cookies, however experimental you may get (Oats? Ginger? Sweet or semi sweet chips?), as the 76th anniversary approaches in December, let’s take a moment and raise a glass of milk to this uniquely American invention, and the woman who gave it to us all.

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