CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES When the Toll House Inn's Ruth Wakefield ran out of baking chocolate one day in 1930, she smashed up a bar of semi-sweet chocolate and added the pieces to her dough. Upon their removal from the oven, the cookies weren't uniformly infused with melted chocolate, but rather studded with little chunks throughout. The signature sweet put her Whitman, Massachusetts inn on the culinary map.
WHEATIES In the early 1920s, a Minnesota health clinician spilled some of the hot bran gruel he was prepping for his patients onto a hot stove top. It sizzled into tasty flakes, and the creation was brought to the attention of George Cormack, the head miller at the Washburn Crosby Company. He perfected the process, and Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes were brought to market in 1924. The name was shortened to "Wheaties" as the result of an employee contest, and eventually the company became known as General Mills.
POTATO CHIPS Back in 1853, a customer at Saratoga Springs' Moon's Lake House had a chip on his shoulder. He sent batch after batch of fried potatoes back, claiming they weren't up to his crunch standards. Fed-up chef George Crum sliced the final batch as thinly as possible, sizzled them in hot grease and laid on a healthy measure of salt. The then much more chipper customer proclaimed these crispy 'taters a hit, and they quickly became a hit all throughout the region.
POPSICLES One chilly night in 1905, eleven-year-old Frank Epperson left his soda making equipment outside on his San Francisco porch. The next day, he found that stick with which he'd been stirring flavored powder into water had frozen upright in the mixture. In 1924, he applied for a patent for this "Epsicle," which he then redubbed "Popsicle," supposedly at the urging of his children.
CORN FLAKES Strict Seventh Day Adventists John Harvey and Will Keith Kellogg weren't about to waste the stale, boiled wheat Will had left sitting out at their Battle Creek Sanitarium. They attempted to make long sheets of dough, but the process resulted in flakes, which they then toasted. Patients loved the new dish, and after experimenting with various grains, including corn, the brothers sought a patent for this Granose. The Kellogg's company was formed in 1906, but John refused to take part, as he felt the addition of sugar to the corn flakes decreased their health benefit.
BEER About 10,000 years ago, Mesopotamians abandoned their nomadic ways and became the world's first agrarian society. Stored grains for bread became wet, and began to naturally ferment. Some hardy soul dared to drink the frothing mess, thus knocking back the world's very first brewski.
SOURDOUGH The same fermentation that gives beer its bubbles is also what gives sourdough bread its distinctive tang and small holes. What likely happened is that Egyptian bakers' accidentally dampened grain was left to sit at room temperature, and wild yeast spores from the nearby beer brewing made their way into the mix. The spores ate the grans' natural sugars, resulting in a sour flavor and carbon dioxide that caused the bread to rise higher than their usual flat breads.
COFFEE The truth of this one is a bit murky, but the Legend of Kaldi maintains that an Abyssian or Ethopian goat herder noticed that his flock was acting especially frisky after chowing down on some bright red berries. After sampling some for himself and verifying the mood shift, he brought the berries to a local imam who studied them, eventually roasting and boiling a batch in water, thus brewing up the original cup o' joe.
SACCHARIN In 1879, a Johns Hopkins University researcher named Constantine Fahlberg spilled a chemical on his hands, but neglected to wash it off before sitting down to lunch. The chemical transferred an incredibly sweet taste to the bread he was eating, and in 1884, he obtained a patent for saccharin.
RAISINS As early as 1490 B.C., Egyptian writings mentioned raisins being used as food, medicine, sporting contest awards, temple decor and tax payment. Evidence suggests that unharvested grapes were found dried on the vine, and determined to be sweet and delicious.
CHEESE Pleased by cheese? It was likely discovered when an Arabian nomad toted along some milk in a container made from an animal's stomach lining. The liquid hardened along the way in reaction to rennet - a naturally occurring stomach enzyme, making for the world's first fromage.
SANDWICHES Rumor has it that John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich found leaving the gambling table to be a royal pain, so he ordered meat to be delivered to him between slices of bread. An alternate tale suggests that work matters kept him pinned to his desk, thus necessitating the fork-free meal.
ICEBERG LETTUCE Iceberg lettuce, that Titanic of the American produce aisle, was discovered when a crop of Crisphead lettuce changed toward the crunchier, paler and sweeter one season in the 1920s. This proved so desirable to shippers and consumers that growers took measures to breed these traits into future plantings.
CHOCOLATE Shards of Honduran pottery indicate that as far back as 1100 B.C., beer makers used cacao pods to ferment into beer. About 300 years later, a thrifty soul reclaimed the previously discarded seeds to brew into a non-alcoholic beverage all their own. Little did they suspect that they were in fact cooking up an obsession for the ages.
TOFU While it's impossible to pinpoint the particulars, one popular origin story maintains that in ancient China boiled, ground soybeans were accidentally mixed with impure sea salt containing calcium and magnesium salts, causing the slurry to gel. Another legend has it that a different Chinese cooked mistakenly dropped nigari, a natural coagulant, into a pot of soybean milk, resulting in a surprisingly edible curdle.
BRANDY In the 17th century, vintners would boil their wine before shipping in order to lessen its volume (and the associated taxes) in Dutch cargo holds. It would then be reconstituted with water on the receiving end. What they didn't expect was that the subsequent trip in the wooden casks substantially transformed and improved the original product.
WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE Former Bengal colonial governor Lord Marcus Sandy was, upon returning to England, pining for his favorite Indian sauce and commissioned drugstore owners John Lea and William Perrins to recreate it from his descriptions. They'd hoped to sell it in their store, but the stench was too powerful, and they stashed it in their basement for two years. During this time, it aged and improved radically in flavor and odor and became a hit with their customers.
OYSTER SAUCE Restaurateur Mr. Lee Kum Sheung stumbled upon his trademark savory sauce one day in 1888 in Guangdong Province, China. He over-cooked a pot of oyster sauce, thus condensing the flavors of oysters and brine and the rest is delicious history.
RHUBARB Rhubarb can be grown year-round, thanks to the accidental discovery of the forcing technique. In 1817, a load of soil was dumped on rhubarb crowns in London's Chelsea Physic Garden. When it was removed, especially tender pink shoots were revealed. Now, the year's early rhubarb is grown in candlelit sheds in the UK's "rhubarb triangle" of Wakefield, Leeds and Morley.
ICE CREAM CONES During 1904's St. Louis World's Fair, Syrian pastry vendor Ernest Hamwi helped out a nearby ice cream seller who'd run short on dishes. He rolled his pastry into a cone so the ice cream could be scooped inside. It was a hit, but Italian immigrant Italo Marchiony had also arrived at that combo, acquiring a patent for an ice cream cone earlier in the year.