It’s almost Easter—time for those delicious chocolate eggs and bunnies—so that’s what I’m going to talk about.
Chocolate has a long history. It has only been available to Europeans for 500 years, the commodity passed from the Aztecs to their Spanish Conquerors. In Spain, it was for the first time mixed with sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, cloves and allspice, which changed it from the bitter, hot pepper tonic beloved by the Indians, to a sweet treat. The royal court kept it to themselves for over a hundred years, but when a daughter of Philip of Spain married Louis XIII in 1615, she brought a chest of chocolate as part of her dowry. Like all exotic substances, Europeans originally promoted the new drink as an aphrodisiac.
It wasn’t until 1657 that London would see its first chocolate house. The fad moved in a big way to Austria, following the Habsburg royal court’s 1711 dynastic move from Madrid to Vienna. The production method remained laborious, and here I’ll quote the chocolate maker for Colonial Williamsburg:
The chocolate production process involves “roasting cocoa beans, shelling them, crushing them in a large mixing bowl and transferring them to a heated grinding stone. Using an iron rolling pin, the cocoa beans are ground into a liquid and sugar and spices are added.” 18th-century chocolate would taste bitter to us, and gritty, too, because it’s impossible to grind the particles sufficiently fine using by-hand processes. Each month the chocolate would have a slightly different texture and flavor, because the flavor profiles of the beans are always changing.
It’s the social aspect of the new drink that I find most interesting. Chocolate remained a luxury until the middle of the 19th Century. Lorenzo DaPonte, “poet” to Mozart, wrote a telling scene for the character “Despina” in their last collaboration, Cosi Fan Tutte. Despina—who is the definition of “saucy”--is on her way to her spoiled, silly mistresses’ room carrying a fragrant treat she has never tasted.
“There’s nothing more miserable than being a maid.
From morning till night you’re busy, you’re sweating and slaving
And then when you’re done, there’s nothing left for you.
I’ve been stirring this for half an hour:
The chocolate’s ready and
all I can do is stand here with my tongue hanging out!
My dear young ladies, you get the substance
And I get the smell!
By God, I’m going to try it!”
She then drinks straight from the spout before exclaiming:
“Oh, how delicious it is!”
How glad I am that times have changed, and that Milton Hershey, the Henry Ford of the chocolate business, found a way to make this delightful treat available to everyone!
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