50 Stories, Week 49: The Toll House

I have this memory of making chocolate chip cookies with my mother. Or rather, I’m sneaking spoonfuls of raw cookie dough and shoveling it in my mouth when she’s not looking. Isn’t that what every kid does? 

I hate the way memories work, though. We believe that something happened, maybe once or repeatedly. This could be a full, complex scene in our mind, or an anecdote we could swear happened but can’t remember the surrounding details. Sometimes, the memory is created by a photograph we’ve seen or a story we’ve heard so many times, it has cemented itself in our brain. But it usually isn’t the whole truth – what we are remembering may only be a snippet of what happened. In this case, though, I choose to believe this memory. It serves me in many ways – the least of which is reminiscing about what a wonderful childhood I had.  

Our family enjoyed many classic 70s and 80s treats at home – Duncan Hines brownies, Boston Cream pie for my Dad’s birthday, Sara Lee’s poundcake. But Nestle Toll House cookies were one of the only desserts my Mom would make from scratch. I was little but I had to be at least seven years old because that is when we moved from Massachusetts to New Hampshire. And I know I was young because 1. My Dad hadn’t been laid off yet as a sales rep for Supermarket Distributors. I was still taking ballet classes and he was still traveling most days to grocery stores in the tri-state area. 2. My Mom was not working full-time so she could do things like make cookies with me on a Tuesday afternoon. 3. My sister Jeanne was not yet a full teenager. Not yet hating me. This was before all of that. It was just me and my Mom in the kitchen, though. She let me crack the eggs, messy as that was. I was in charge of stirring the dough with a wooden spoon that was the size of my head. This task was just that – a job, but I didn’t complain because I wanted to eat that dough. My mom had warned me not to do that because it would make me sick – something about raw eggs. I didn’t believe her. I don’t know what it is that compels us to do the thing we’re not supposed to do but once I tasted it, there was no going back. For every stir around the bowl, I would bite off a little bit of dough. It’s true that eventually, I felt a bit nauseous but I thought it was because I was trying not to get caught. I have no regret. And to be clear, I also loved (and love) fully cooked cookies.

The Toll House cookie itself was invented by Ruth Graves Wakefield in 1938. She and her husband owned the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts and she was known for her excellent cooking and desserts. The cookie became so popular that Ruth struck a deal with Nestle – they could have her recipe if she could have a lifetime supply of chocolate. Ruth was a genius. 

When Jackson was growing up, I made cookies from time to time but it has only been the last five years or so that I’ve been baking regularly. Everything from cookies and cakes to brownies and pies. It has become a form of mediation, stress relief. Unfortunately, the eating of these baked goods has turned into a coping mechanism. I bet Ruth couldn’t foresee that. Still, making Toll House cookies is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve tried dozens of chocolate chip recipes – I keep thinking maybe I’ll find something better. But lately, I’ve been wondering why bother trying to improve on something that has been working for more than 80 years? In my humble opinion, the Toll House is perfect.


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