Chocolate Chip Cookies: A Migrant’s Tale

24 July 2009 at 2:26 pm

This is a story about chocolate chip cookies: a migrant’s tale.


I was visiting a city friend recently.


We have no oven in our shed in the bush, so the sight of someone preparing to bake was deeply satisfying.


“What are you baking?” I asked Bill, as he patted the lumpy, brown blobs. Knowing he was a vegetarian, I was prepared for lentil burgers.


“Chocolate chip cookies,” he replied, hand-shaping the blobs on the baking sheet.


“Those aren’t chocolate chip cookies”


“Those aren’t chocolate chip cookies, Bill,” I offered. “Where I come from, we never make them that way.”


‘I’ve done my research and this is how they were originally made,’ he retorted, slamming the oven door.


I explained what a cookie was. He said he knew all about cookies.


“Bill,” I implored, “if we were talking about chapattis, you’d be interested in my opinion. It’d be ethnic food and you’d be fascinated if I explained the tricks of making them ‘properly’, authentically. I am sure of that. You’d be so respectful of me as a migrant, with my distinctive culture and cuisine. It’s because they’re American and I’m Canadian that you figure they are not important to me.”


He kept his back to me, intent on his dishwashing.


North Americans are not really ‘migrants’ in this country


Retreating to my room, I remembered what I’d known for decades. North Americans are not really ‘migrants’ in this country. I was about to celebrate 40 years of living in Australia. That very week. Forty years!


I could imagine what Bill was thinking: chocolate chip cookies are just part of a global market conspiracy. They are not any one culture’s food. They are certainly not anyone’s ‘cuisine’. A ‘generic’ thing that you make. Or make from a packet. Or buy in a shop.


I remembered learning to bake Toll House cookies as a child, in home economics. I sort of didn’t have a mother (least not one who could cook), so I had to learn to cook at school.They were ‘invented’ in the 1930s by an American cook and the idea took off like a rocket.


Hamilton Junior High School


I learned how to prepare them properly, in the home ec. lab at school, wearing the starched apron I’d made in sewing class. That was in the 1950s at Hamilton Junior High School.


For soft drop copies, all ingredients had to be at room temperature; cream the butter and sugar. Add the sifted dry ingredients. Drop from a spoon using another spoon to guide the dough onto the cookie sheet. Cook only till chewy.


Never crisp


Never crisp.


Before the cookie fiasco, Bill and I were discussing my research into cultural diversity.


Blessedly, the cooking goddess delivered me from any further relationship with the mounds.


Bill rushed out to his yoga class and forgot to turn off the oven.


The charred black mounds went into the compost.


And I took a trip into the city for some Mrs. Fields.


After we finish the roof and get the floors down, and build a toilet and get a shower happening… then I will have a kitchen and an oven.


It’s been 3 1/2 years since we had those luxuries.


And the first thing to come out of that oven will be my old favourites.


Here’s the original Toll House recipe:

What They Should Look Like