Tag Archives: Chocolate

Valentine’s Day: Why Hearts?

Vintage Valentine's Day Card - The History of the HeartSo, it’s almost Valentine’s Day and you might be wondering what’s with the cupids and hearts. Excellent question and the answers are many…or none, depending. The origin of the heart, for example, is said to have evolved from the ancient and now extinct plant silphium, used in the fifth century by Romans as a spice and birth control measure – application method unknown.  The plant’s seed pod apparently was heart-shaped.

Heart Shapes on 1545 German Card Deck

Heart Shapes on 1545 German Card Deck

Others claim the heart appeared as a sexual symbol in art around 1250, looking much like an inverted pine cone, while still others say it was an ancient depiction of the anatomical heart. The heart appeared in playing cards of the 1500s and art work (religious and otherwise) of the 14th and 15th century.

Valentine’s Day itself is equally mired in question. According to NPR, the holiday began with the ancient Romans who celebrated a three-day holiday, the feast of Lupercalia from Feb. 13 to 15, where the men sacrificed a goat and a dog, dried their hides and whipped women with them. Apparently the woman lined up for the ritual believing it spawned fertility. Others attributed the origin of Valentine’s Day to two Romans, both named Valentine, who were martyred on February 14th years apart, and yet others to Shakespeare and Chaucer.

1550 Danish Heart Shaped Manuscript of Love Ballads

1550 Danish Heart Shaped Manuscript of Love Ballads

One thing is clear: like Christmas, Valentine’s Day was gift-wrapped and sent to the U.S. because of Queen Victoria whose modes of celebration were quickly adopted here. And, like Christmas, Valentine’s Day owes its swank to a combination of turn-of-century marketing and industrialization, which enabled candy-makers and others to pump out cards, sweets and other gifts with relatively breath-taking speed.

Now, for the candy:

Heart-Shaped Candy Boxes: Thank the Cadbury’s for these – the Quaker family, among others, were instrumental in producing the chocolate we know and love today.

Jelly Hearts: We owe these to the 10th century lokum (aka Turkish Delight), the origin of jelly and gummy candies today.

French Chocolate Truffles - Valentine's Candy

French Truffles

Truffles: Started with the French and their late 1800’s penchant for romance and sex. Truffles and soon chocolates of all sorts became the gift of courtship and come-ons. (Thanks Montezuma and his legacy of many wives for the chocolate)

Hard Candies: From lollipops to love hearts, they evolved from medicines.

Conversation Hearts: Once a weeding candy, the stamped impressions were made possible by Daniel Chase, brother of NECCO-wafer maker Oliver Chase. And that’s why they taste so similar!

Sources:

Huffington Post, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/recycled/2007/02/the_shape_of_my_heart.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_(symbol)

NPR, The Dark Origins of Valentine’s Day

Sweet as Sin: The Unwrapped Story of How Candy Became America’s Favorite Pleasure

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