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The Real Origins Of Chocolate Chip And Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

June 4, 2010

The story of food is the story of place, the story of people. Every dish or culinary concoction was developed by someone in a certain manner, whether on purpose or by accident. This is true for all food – main dishes, side dishes, desserts – and yes, even cookies. Cookies have become so ubiquitous in many cultures that most people fail to ever stop and ponder their origins, as interesting as they may be, though it’s fairly easy to discover the history of many cookies online. In fact, the real origins of two favorite American cookies – chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin – are indeed very interesting tales.

As unlikely as it may seem, chocolate chip cookies were actually the result of a mistake. Ruth Graves Wakefield was originally a dietitian and food lecturer. In 1930, Ruth and her husband, Kenneth, bought the historic Toll House Inn on the outskirts of Whitman, Massachusetts. The house had originally been a popular stop during colonial times where travelers could pay a road toll and get a bite to eat. So the Wakefields decided to revive the inn by opening a lodge, with Ruth doing all of the baking.

One day in 1937, Ruth was preparing a batch of colonial-era Butter Do Drop cookies. Unfortunately, she did not have the bakers chocolate that the recipe called for so she substituted a bar of Nestlé Semi-Sweet Chocolate that she chopped into bits. But instead of melting into the dough as expected, the little chocolate pieces retained their shape and developed a soft, creamy texture! The new cookies were a hit, and Ruth’s recipe for “Chocolate Crunch Cookies” was published in newspapers throughout New England.

Another popular treat, the oatmeal raisin cookie, has a more international origin. Oatmeal cookies are the descendants of oat cakes made by the Scots and the British. Oat cakes first appeared when the Scottish began harvesting oats as far back as 1,000 B.C. History does not record how or when raisins were added to the mix, but history records that raisins and nuts had been added to the cakes since the Middle Ages. The first recorded oatmeal raisin cookie recipe was written by Fannie Merritt Farmer in 1896. Billed as a “health food,” the cookies quickly became popular, and by early 1900s a recipe for the delicious treats appeared on every container of Quaker Oats.

The real origins of oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip cookies are stories of history. And thanks to the Internet, anyone can read up on the history of all types of cookies online. The stories speak of people and places, giving an interesting glimpse into food history.

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