The Feb. 1, 1990, "Culinary SOS" column reported that the original Toll House cookie was a reproduction of a Colonial cookie known as butter drop "do." According to the Nestle Co., the cookies were created by a Mrs. Wakefield, whose first name we failed to find in February. Wakefield and her husband once operated the Toll House in Whitman, Mass.
Since then, our readers have come to the rescue with Ruth Wakefield's first name as well as the original 1936 cookbook "Ruth Wakefield Toll House Tried and True Recipes," (M. Barrows & Co. Inc., 1940).
Thanks, folks. The book was a treat.
It was filled with luscious-sounding recipes (lobster thermidor, oyster bisque, smothered chicken, Hawaiian ham, Spanish steak) and pictures of mile-high lemon meringue pie, chocolate peppermint stick layer cake, fudge pecan cake ball--foods that jump out of the pages of the modest book.
The book includes photographs of the Toll House--a sprawling, gabled estate with a white picket fence that runs across the photograph like railroad ties--and Ruth Graves Wakefield, done up in a Marseille hairdo, bow-tied gabardine and the make-up of the '30s.
In the book's prologue she wrote: "In August of 1930, Mr. Wakefield and I bought a lovely, old Cape Cod house, built in 1709 on the outskirts of Whitman, Mass. At one time it was used as a tollhouse, where passengers ate, changed horses and paid toll. It was here that we started our inn, calling it the Toll House."
Wakefield had previously been a dietitian and food lecturer, so she used recipes gathered throughout the years in her book. "Many were family dishes, several were recipes I had developed and many were brought to me by friends and pupils of the cooking lectures."
The food cooked at the inn was served as in one's home, she wrote. "The little house had room for seven tables; in three years' time it had grown to take care of 64 tables, and we now serve 1,000 to over 2,000 guests a day who are taken care of by an organization of over 100 people." Taking care of 2,000 people in one day is the kind of dream a restaurateur dares not think about, much less actually achieve. Unfortunately, one Times reader reported that the Toll House had burned down.
Elizabeth M. McConarty, 81, a Times reader who had dined at the Toll House in the early '30s, reports that the Wakefields' son had studied culinary arts in Europe and returned to operate the restaurant when his parents retired. "He introduced a bar and the serving of liquor. The clientele changed. There was a fire and eventually the son lost the place," McConarty wrote.
As a dietitian, Wakefield had a healthy respect for good ingredients. "I still believe in small quantity cookery as giving the best results in flavor, consistency and general quality, especially in baking; and I know there are no substitutions for butter, cream, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables in preparing a fine meal."
Each reader who contacted The Times provided a personal touch to their involvement with Wakefield's Toll House. "With wonderful memories of a meal there--each table set beautifully with its own china and crystal by waitresses who took everyone's order and served it accurately. Long may such service live in this day and age," wrote Ann Valois of Sierra Madre.
"I used to dine there with my mother when I was a little girl, and I still remember the mile-high lemon pie and all the other wonderful desserts," another wrote.
"Ruth Wakefield's name 'lost'? Never. At least not to us Yankees, whose youthful years were enhanced by her warm hospitality and the marvel of the creations that emerged from her oven," wrote Kathleen L. Whalen of Los Angeles.
Marjorie Gentry of Riverside, Calif., sees things differently. "I seldom refer to it (the book) now because our way of cooking and of planning meals has changed a great deal. Ruth Wakefield's book is only 250 pages, and yet it includes 25 recipes for potatoes alone. Salads are almost all the gelatin type. The availability of fresh produce nearly everywhere now makes cooking very, very different, tastier and more interesting. And often than not, it's fruit for dessert instead of the rich baked things that the Toll House served."
Anne Bushnell Teel of Los Angeles wrote: "During the time before the cookie recipe became famous, (Mrs. Wakefield's) hot milk cake and Mary Jane Gingerbread were the stars of the restaurant. The Mary Jane Gingerbread was the favorite of President John Kennedy. During World War II, Rose Kennedy, his mother, left orders for the gingerbread to be shipped weekly to John Kennedy when he was an officer in the U.S. Navy, serving in the South Pacific. The recipe is delicious. You will notice, however, that it does not contain ginger."