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Repnow: Toll House celebrates 75 years

By Staff | Dec 12, 2014

Recently while strolling through the baking aisle at the grocery store, I was reminded of a little something from my past. Aren’t “little somethings” a treat to recall? In all reality, however, this is a big, delicious something that has delighted and consoled many of us from time to time. We have all felt the periodic dip in our confidence when life slips us a zinger such as our cell phone falling into the toilet, locking the keys in the car, and better yet – a guest running a dishrag through the garbage disposal. Not to worry, though, because the yellow and red package of Nestl’s Toll House semi-sweet morsels has given us an optimistic sense for the past 75 years. When one’s self-confidence needs elevation, grab a Nestl’s Toll House chocolate chip cookie or two; in a very short time, you will feel not only that you can conquer Rome, but the kitchen trash as well.

As a child, I had a robust interest in shoemaking. Next to my dad’s electric shop, on the south side of Main Street in Underwood, was an old abandoned shoe shop. What fun it was to walk through this place and see the large machines. I would shut my eyes and imagine seeing a movable feast of gears, needles and buttons sewing in a magical rhythm. I jumped at the chance to see a shoe factory, or what had once been a shoe factory, while living in Massachusetts. Shoemaking at one time was a giant industry in the Bay State. A visit to Whitman revealed several old shoe factories, many of which had been converted into housing or business spaces. It was fascinating. While rambling about, I discovered that Whitman was also the place where chocolate chip cookies were first created. Two loves in one place – shoes and cookies. I was a happy guy.

Take a moment and look carefully at the details on the Nestl’s Toll House package celebrating 75 years. At the top you will see a Cape Cod-style home. This is a sketch of the original Toll House Inn, which Kenneth and Ruth Wakefield started back in 1930. There are several trees sketched as well, which represents the landscape there. Initially constructed in 1709, the house served as harbor for beat travelers. A stop here allowed passengers to pay tolls “during the height of the whaling industry”, rest, enjoy home-cooked meals and even change horses. Situated on an artery to famous Cape Cod it became internationally known for its food and hospitality.

In 1930, Ruth Wakefield decided to open it as a lodge featuring guest rooms and delicious home-cooking, which featured rich desserts. She and her husband called their new business the Toll House Inn. Ruth graduated from the Framingham State Normal School Department of Household Arts in 1924 and found employment for several years as a dietitian. Her experience with food often had her improving upon traditional Colonial recipes, and her incredible desserts.

One day in 1939, while preparing a batch of Butter Drop cookies, she cut a bar of Nestl’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate into tiny bits and added them to her dough, thinking full well they would melt. Remarkably, the chocolate held its shape and softened to an enjoyable creamy texture. This newly-created cookie became very popular at the Inn, and she called them the Toll House Crunch Cookie. (Einstein developed the general theory of relativity, but Ruth Wakefield distilled her wisdom on the real deal for the dessert meal – the chocolate chip cookie.) Her theory proved right on because her contribution remains the most popular cookie in America.

Before long, Ruth’s recipe was published in a Boston newspaper, as well as papers throughout New England area. Regional sales of Nestle Semi-Sweet Chocolate bar took off like Carhartt gear in the Bakken oil field.

Ruth made a deal with Andrew Nestle himself for the right to print her recipe on the packages and for a for the bargain price of one dollar. She was granted a lifetime supply of the chocolate and was paid by Nestle for work as a consultant. Once the recipe was printed on the packages Nestle started to market in morsel form, specifically for the cookies. She also wrote a cookbook “Toll House Tried and True Recipes.”

While in Whitman, I had the chance to visit with various people who remembered the Toll House Inn. The Wakefields ran the Inn until 1967 when they sold it. It continued to operate for a few years, and in time, it closed. In fact, it burned down in 1984. The Inn was never rebuilt, but the sight has a historical marker putting claim to the invention of the chocolate chip cookie.

I had taken notes while visiting at their library and here are some interesting comments. Many folks commented on the very quaint style of the inn and how it grew over the years. It became very popular with the home-cooking accompanied by delicious desserts. In time a garden room was added which was built around a large tree trunk. This room was inviting and had windows that looked out on the well-groomed garden area, which was elegant in winter and colorful in spring, summer and fall.

Ruth had the entire wait staff work without paper. Orders were committed to memory. She also expected them to be quiet, never shouting out orders. This peacefulness blended very well with the linen napkins and neatly pressed tablecloths. Another lady mentioned that dining here was always lovely and she remembered that outer coats never went to the table. Each tabletop also had a large hook below for hanging ladies purses.

The most repeated comment was that the food was delicious and the desserts were splendid.

Let’s now talk dessert. In my baking experience, I have yet to perfect my chocolate chip cookies. I have learned from experience these tips which have helped. When possible, let the cookie dough set overnight in the refrigerator – it produces a better tasting cookie. Ruth Graves Wakefield said in her cookbook “At Toll House, we chill this cookie dough overnight.” Remember a long hydration period is key because it gives the eggs and butter-coated flour the chance to be introduced. Next thing we know they are asking each other to the prom where they dance and blend … a true baking advent.

Eggs are often our best friends in cookies, and I prefer to treat them with loving care. This happens by giving them a whisking in a colorful vintage bowl to bring out their jaunty personalities, allowing them to blend thoroughly. Gladys Rust, from Underwood, advised me that adding an extra egg white can make cookies rise higher and that adding an extra egg yolk produces a more dense texture. I am no scientist, but have tried both of these suggestions and they work.

When mixing the dough for chocolate chip cookies, I have discovered it is much better to barely work the flour in by folding it or mixing it with mixer until it just pulls together into a dough. I incorporate the chocolate half way through this mixing process so that I don’t over mix the dough while folding in the chocolate chips. The results from these tips gives the cookie an even spread, not too thin, yet it is crisp and has a slight rise.

It may take me 75 years to get the perfect chocolate chip cookie, but I am enjoying the journey, as well as others in our household. Perhaps the secret to making the perfect chocolate chip cookies is wearing the right shoes while baking!

Original Nestle Toll House

Chocolate Chip Cookies

(as presented from their package)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup of butter, softened

cup granulated sugar

cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 cups Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels

1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in a large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

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