comfort food, the tin collector's tales #2, comfort food in war and peace, stack of 4 chocolate chip cookies on a plate, legacy of tins, stories about tins

Comfort Food in War and Peace

What’s your favorite comfort food in good times and bad?

Mine’s pizza with the works, spaghetti and meatballs, or chicken pot pie…and any of the above followed by a handful of warm chocolate chip cookies and a tall glass of ice-cold milk.

Today’s legacy tin symbolizes the homey comfort of cookies to me. It’s a vintage chocolate chip advertisement, about 6 inches high, square, and sunshine yellow. One side shows a classic mid-century housewife with her plate of home-baked goodies, another a boy’s guilty surprise at discovering an empty cookie jar. A third side reprints the newly popular recipe.

Long before I collected tins, I collected recipes…from my bridal year onward. My recipe for chocolate chip cookies came from my mom—and from Grammie before her, and they both probably clipped it off a package of Nestlé’s chocolate chips. The date on my stained index card fades back to 1980. But I almost don’t need it anyway, I’ve made the recipe so many times.

Memories from a Maine Icon

The chocolate chip tin may not be that old, but it looks nearly as battered as the recipe. For decades, it’s held birthday cake paraphernalia, everything from half-burned candles to past decorations. The gems of memory…

  • The FELIZ ANIVERSARIO 25 from our Silver Wedding, back in Santiago prime time.
  • The black Over the Hill candle from my 40th birthday, which seems like the days of youth now.
  • The Rainbow Brite topper from Daughter #2’s Birthday #3 on Furlough #1. She wore a side ponytail on that occasion!

Paradoxically—since my mom’s the one who hooked me (from birth ?) on chocolate chip cookies—she’s also the one who started me collecting tins. It began with a trip to Maine in the summer of 1995, for my dad’s retirement party and my youngest sister’s wedding. After the celebrations were over and I was packing to return to Chile, we made a shopping trip to a Maine-icon discount store in Waterville. My first visit to a place everybody talked about.

To this day, I don’t know why Mom pointed out the aisle of antique-look advertising tins, or why they sparked my interest, but they did. For her, maybe ’50’s nostalgia kicked in. For me, it was probably homesickness, since I didn’t get to Maine often in those days.

But mostly, those tins represented a delicious slice of ordinary life that intrigued me.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Cookie Crazy

In the plain Maine lingo of my childhood family, we usually called chocolate chips “bits.” Chocolate “bit” cookies were only Toll House cookies if we wanted to sound fancy. Whatever, we knew those bits of sweet comfort food were New Englanders like us, as iconic as whoopie pies, apple crisp, and Boston cream pie. And an optional finish to baked beans and brown bread—or even a starter.

These days we use the same basic recipe with M&M’s and butterscotch chips and chocolate kisses, oatmeal and peanut butter. Then there’s bars and pies and squares with a salted caramel layer. However it’s dressed up, I’m pretty sure chocolate chip has become the world’s favorite cookie.

But it’s a newcomer to the dessert scene. Less than one hundred years ago, Kenneth and Ruth Wakefield purchased a tourist lodge in Whitman, Massachusetts, and renamed it the Toll House Inn. There they served home-cooked comfort food, and there Ruth and a local woman, Sue Brides, invented via Yankee experimentation the chocolate chip cookie in 1938.

The outbreak of World War II soon followed. When Boston-area servicemen headed overseas, they received the new cookies in care packages, lovingly baked with rationed sugar and mailed from their families back home. They shared the blessing and bounty of this rich comfort food with their newfound buddies in the military, who soon got hooked too.

This instant cookie craze—which shows little sign of slowing even after 75 years—is depicted on the fourth side of my chocolate chip tin. A band of soldiers, in typical WWII uniforms, chime in on a letter home: “Dear Mom, The boys will make you an honorary general if you’ll just send us more Toll House cookies…”

Families for World Peace

The tin’s artwork reminded me of my dad’s khaki Korean War uniform and the bush tied with yellow ribbons anticipating another sister’s return from the Gulf War. Less than two years after I bought the tin, we planted a veteran’s flag on my daddy’s grave, while my mother kept busy baking cookies.

I will forever find comfort in those images of God’s loving presence in the midst of pain and evil, of fellowship and fun around homemade feasts in times of tension and uncertainty, of the family and friends who sustain us in our worst moments.

So the legacy of this tin passes on in the cookie tradition, the joy of family recipes, and the encouragement they bring in the highs and lows of life. People still send cookies overseas today. “A little comfort food can go a long way,” and our chocolate chip cookies have traveled with us around the world…

Warming each new home and ministry.

Just yesterday, for a children’s party I cooked loads of comfort food—homemade donuts, pumpkin bread, and…chocolate chip cookies. Chile’s turmoil and chaos in recent weeks have taken a heavy toll on the kids’ sense of peace and security. In a broken and harrowing world, I try to give them sweeter memories.

Written into books.

Every good story features some food—it’s one of life’s main dishes. Cookies debut in Destiny at Dolphin Bay with Melissa Travis baking for a pair of orphans and continue to show up as biscotti in Coni Belmar’s impromptu taste-of-Italy dinner (Swan Dive). Even in the most recent Anchor at Alcázar Reef, Valeria Serrano begs cookies off an American missionary in Spain.

Wished for the next generation.

I’m pretty sure chocolate chip cookies turned my daughters into foodies. We often arrived home in Santiago to find Daughter #2 baking up a storm. For Christmas 2016, Daughter #1 gifted me another tin commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Toll House cookies—same size, shape, and colors. It’s an experience we all share and want to give away.

“Chocolate chips cookies are like duct tape—they fix everything,” someone has said. In war and peace—in the worst of times and the best of times—let’s combine love and cookies to serve up comfort in one of the ways we can.

Like to share your favorite comfort food? Or a favorite cookie memory? “Make cookies, not war.”


  1. Awwwww. I loved this. I wish my mom had passed this down to me. I wish anyone had! But then….is it too late for me to make it a tradition for my family? That’s kind of how they feel about homemade baking powder biscuits from a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook recipe. Food is more important than we even know, isn’t it? Thank you for this warm, lovely post today, Mrs. Diane.

    1. Food is absolutely crucial to our sense of joy and well-being, in my opinion. And I don’t think it’s ever too late! Ladle some fresh strawberries and whipped cream onto those baking powder biscuits and you’ll have a memorable dessert. PS I’ll bequeath you a tin of cookies too.

      1. Yay!!! Thank you so, so much. I have often thought about taking a different approach in my homemaking. Not that I don’t have the abilities…but that outside ministry has always been such a priority and time-gulper, I have never given it the place I would like or it deserves. Something for me to ponder today, my friend.

  2. I’ve been pondering something similar ever since I read a Christian acquaintance’s comments denigrating child care and cookies. Heaven help us! I’m hardly anti-career, and it’s not that I believe women cannot do anything except keep house, but we so often dismiss home ministry as insignificant when it may be the most vital and consequential of all. Not everyone has the same gift, of course. But failure to properly value the service of others just might be half of what is wrong in this country. More on that later…

  3. Love, love, love this sister. Even as working Mom, I totally agree that sometimes we miss the mark on creating, sharing, and passing down these valuable home ministries. But at last, never too late….think I will make the “chocolate bit cookies” tonight with my girls.

    1. That’s wonderful! Hope you had fun together, and save some for me, haha–the stores here are out of “bits” of any brand at the moment! Thank you for your hospitality over the years and say hello to the girls.

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