Category Archives: Chocolate

The Almost-Astonishing Story of Chocolate Covered Peppermint Candy: From Ice Cream Cones to a Retro Candy Favorite

York Peppermint PattiesI’ve been thinking about peppermint patties these days, although I’m not sure why. Maybe because peppermint and chocolate, individually or combined, is big on Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day…face it, there’s always a holiday nearby where candy is concerned and chocolate covered peppermints are standard fare.

Chocolate Covered Peppermint Candy: The Retro Candy Version Cometh

york-peppermint-pattie-receiptThe year was 1940. At that time, chocolate covered caramels, bonbons, and others along that line were old hat: suitors had been giving their intendeds chocolates for decades. But the chocolate covered peppermint languished… the peppermint was soft and gummy and the candy overall substandard. But Pennsylvania native and ice cream cone maker Henry C. Kessler changed all that. figured out a way to make the center crisp, firm and delicious. He named the new creation the “York Peppermint Pattie”. Soon, Kessler was selling the treat throughout the Northeast, Florida, and places in-between. In fact, the Pattie became so popular Kessler gave up his ice cream cone business and focused exclusively on that.

As luck and business norms would have it, other companies jumped on the Peppermint Pattie bandwagon, including James O. Welch. In 1949, in Cambridge Mass, he developed a smaller version of the iconic sweet called the Junior Miss. Welch was no light-weight in the candy world: a native of North Carolina, he started his company in 1927 and went on to manufacture such iconic candies as the Milk Duds, Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies, according to the Cambridge Historical Society. His brother, Robert, started his own company called the Oxford Candy Company. After it went belly up in the Depression, Robert joined his brother only to leave in 1956 and co-found the John Birch Society.

Junior Mints - Miniture Chocolate Coated Peppermint CandyAs for the Junior Mints: the candy was named for Junior Miss a popular book written by Sally Benson in the1940s. It was serialized in the New Yorker and went on to become a Broadway hit and Shirley Temple radio production. The Junior Mints, which were small enough to navigate in the dark, became a movie theater favorite.

Today, current owner Tootsie Roll Industries produces more than 15 million Junior Mints a day in Cambridge. As for Kessler’s York Peppermint Pattie? After a number of corporate owners, it is now manufactured by Hershey in Mexico.

What to Taste:

Chocolate Candy: An Aphrodisiac – Is It or Isn’t It?

Cacao BeansIs chocolate an aphrodisiac? The answer is yes. And no. And like so much about sex and lust, somewhere in-between. Here’s what happened: when 16th century explorers, such as Hernán Cortés, landed in Mesoamerica they come across a mesmerizing sight: the great Aztec leader Montezuma, bedecked in jewels and feathers, and attended to by 200 wives. And in his regal hand he cupped a golden chalice filled with the cacao drink.

Montezuma inspired Cortés, largely to overthrow him, which he did with a devastating, bloody blow. The cacaMayan People and Chocolateo also inspired the creative talents of Bernal Díaz del Castillo, who traveled with Cortés and recorded their journey many years later in The True History of the Conquest of New Spain. His accuracy is unknown, but the spirit of his account is impressive. It was from Castillo that we learned the improbable truth that each day Montezuma drank fifty servings of chocolate from a golden chalice, which gave him the virility to satisfy the sexual desires of his many wives.

Accuracy aside, the cacao became known as a prized food fueling and enabling sexual desire first in Spain, where the Spanish kept the cacao a much coveted secret, and later Europe where the cacao traveled from one royal marriage to another and, eventually, North America and the world.

But is Chocolate an Aphrodisiac?

Is chocolate an aphrodisiac? Here’s the “no.” Chocolate does contain phenyl ethylamine, which can activate a feeling of giddy warmth, and it does contain serotonin, which can excite the senses. Unfortunately, neither chemical is present in significant amounts.

No worries. Here’s the “yes”: Sex is in the mind, as everyone from the makers of Victoria’s Secret to men’s magazines are fully aware. And chocolate is one of the most powerful mind-aphrodisiacs in history. Truffles, starting in the turn-of-the-century, for example, were the gift of courtship, i.e. sexual intrigue. Chocolatiers created voluptuous chocolates whose rose patterns were so much like the vulva even a gynecologist would be fooled. Today, chocolate as a gift of love and lust has no rivals.

All this, thanks to Montezuma. In spite of his fall at the feet of the conquering Spanish, Montezuma, in spirit and in legend, lives on.

What to Taste:

Cacao NibsCacao Beans

 

 

 

 

 

Sweets Under Seige: Revolutionary War

Dan in Uniform

Here’s a picture of my handsome husband over there in Afghanistan. The USO gives a little levity to folks like him with shows and, yes, candy, upholding a tradition that started with the Revolutionary War. I send Dan chocolate covered espresso and bourbon balls among the books and aspirins.  My packages are always followed by an e-mail that exclaims: Got IT!  Then a blow-by-blow of what he ate first.

So, why not explore what the troops have enjoyed since way back when starting with the Revolutionary War. The soldiers back then had an unpredictable assortment of food, sometimes nothing, sometimes mouse-nibbled, bug-infested johnny cakes, and sometimes chocolate.

You might imagine that the chocolate was bitter, grainy, and terrible, and I have no doubt  that some of it was, but European Americans of the day enjoyed sugar (grown and processed by enslaved workers in various parts of the world) and spices such as cinnamon (compliments of the Spice Trade). In other words, taste-wise it could take on a Hershey Bar on the battlefield or off.

FYI: In Europe, the cost of the cacao was prohibitive so the well-to-do had to suffice with drinking chocolate. But in North America chocolate was more readily available. Drinking chocolate was still the norm, but eating chocolate was on-the-scene and considered good for health and vitality, as many say today.

In fact, Bakers Chocolate of Boston was already advertising by 1770. Their most famous advertising campaign, concocted in the 1800s, was based on the painting  La Belle Chocolatière or “The Chocolate Girl,” by French artist Jean- Étienne Liotard  in the 1740s. Today, you can find a tasty example of chocolate from 1750, made by  American Heritage – a small division of Mars.

baker's chcolate

Baker’s Girl Based on 1700’s painting

 

 

 

Ancient Confections: The Secret to Harmony? Who Says?

Who knew that two ancient confectionery ingredients could provide evidence that 1. two starkly different cultures could come together in a perfect union; 2.opposites can find perfect balance when brought together; and 3. at least men and women really can co-exist no matter what the sitcoms say.

We discovered this symbolically (and tastefully) with two new products we introduced at the shop. One involves the cacao nib – the  essence of chocolate in its rawest, most naked form. At the risk of

Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl_16th century

Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl_16th century

sounding sexist, the cacao is male in nature – the taste is deep, rich and complicated and the bean  fortified by an amour-like shell. Since the Olmecs of Mesoamerica about 4,000 years ago, the cacao was considered everything from a gift of gods to currency.  While likely shelled and prepared by women, it resided in the domain of the chiefs.

Cross the ocean to the Middle East, Mediterranean and Asia of the same time period and you find a reoccurring symbol in the pomegranate. This fruit, with wet, red, voluptuous seeds was represented fertility and appeared in the Buddhists’ “Three Blessed Fruits,” the ancient Greek’s myth involving Demeter, goddess of fertility, the Biblical “Song of Solomon,” and many more. The flavor is sweet, the surrounding flesh soft, and the inner seed hard or, you could say, strong.

We decided to put the two together in the shop’s section on the early makings of candies: the sweetness of the pomegranate mixed beautifully with the chocolatey-bitterness of the nib. Perfect to eat by the handful or use in muffins, atop cereal, and other possibilities. We taste-tested, including with the production staff at a television station where I was appearing. All those involved came back for more and more – the perfect complement in a healthy, versatile treat.

Pom and Nibs                                                  Poms and Nibs Ready for Packing

We duplicated the process with another combination – again, the cacao, only this time in the present form of dark chocolate. Our chocolate-maker, Randy, is a true craftsman, a trained chef well-versed in the nuances of the bean. For this effort, he prepared a deliciously dark chocolate – very pure and very rich. We complemented the chocolate with a fig which has long been symbolic of the female genital.* A great demonstration of this is in Ken Russell’s 1969 movie “Women In Love” based on D.H. Lawrence’s novel, you’ve missed one of the sexiest scenes in movie history and one that demonstrates the true nature of this succulent fruit:

Randy bathed the fig in the dark chocolate, covering it completely from the stem to the base. As for the taste test? I can only say that when I passed out samples at the TV studio there was a general pause amongst the crowd after the first bite. Then a sigh of pleasure. The guest who followed me, a romance writer, put it this way: “Oh my God, my mouth just had multiple orgasms!”

chocolate covered fig                                                         Chocolate Covered Figs

Obviously, world peace, cross-cultural harmony, and happy passion between the genders doesn’t rest on the merging of two ancient flavors. But I do think the symbolism is revealing of the potential – the delicious potential – that exists in the universe. I’m looking forward to finding more.

 *A great resource for this and other female symbols is Barbara Walker’s “The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myth’s and Secrets,” Harper & Row (1983).

Chocolate Talk Bits and Nips

I attended a talk on the history of chocolate at the historic Dumbarton House in D.C. The speaker, Joyce White, managed to cover a broad swath of history in 90 minutes with plenty of interesting facts. Here are a handful with a few of my own thrown in.

  • We all know that the ancients Aztecs revered the cacao bean: they even considered it money…so drinking chocolate was much like drinking gold. But the crème de la crème of the chocolate drink was the froth. The frothier the better.

    Whole cacao bean with soft shell

    Whole cacao bean with shell

  • Chocolate was considered hot and moist in a purely sensual way. In fact, the Catholic Church of the 1600s didn’t think it was suitable for women. Flash forward about 300 years and suitors were giving women boxes of chocolate to lure them to bed. Who knew some of the fillings, such as nutmeg and cinnamon really were aphrodisiacs.
  • Chocolate liquor is not an after dinner drink but the result of the cacao being heated. In other words, chocolate.
  • Baker’s Chocolate, which opened in the 1700s in Dorchester, Massachusetts just outside Boston, was among the first American chocolate makers. The company was not named for the people who used it but the founder Walter Baker. The logo of the girl serving chocolate drink was adopted in 1883 and based on a painting of 1740.
  • The Quakers of England, including the Cadbury and Frye family, were instrumental in creating modern day chocolate, starting in the 18th A great read is Deborah Cadbury’s book on the subject: “The Chocolate Wars.”
  • German Chocolate was actually Sam German’s chocolate. He developed a kind of dark chocolate for Baker’s Chocolate Company in 1852. In 1957, Mrs. George Clay’s chocolate cake recipe, with German’s chocolate, was featured in the Dallas Morning Star. The chocolate was a hit but the possessive wasn’t. It was soon dropped and the American made chocolate took on a new national identity.
  • Today, most chocolate is made in Africa, not its native Mesoamerica although plenty can be found there, too.

Baker’s Ads through the Ages

Baker's Chocolate in the Industrial Revolution

Baker’s Chocolate Celebrating the Industrial Revolution

Good for the elderly? Really?

Good for the elderly? Really?

Baker's Girl Based on 1700's painting

Baker’s Girl Based on 1700’s painting