“Chocolate is a perfect food, as wholesome as it is delicious, a beneficient restorer of exhausted power. It is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.” –Baron Justus Von Liebig

“If you are not feeling well, if you have not slept, chocolate will revive you. But you have no chocolate pot! I think of that again and again! My dear, how will you ever manage?” –Marquise de Sevigne, 1677

After a long weekend of unbridled piggery, what else can I think about today but food? Especially after I attended an open house party last night that featured tiered trays of wonderfully delectable bonbons and truffles. Chocolate–the most important food group. 🙂

Of course, in “our” time period there was no chocolate as we know it. No Symphony bars with almonds and toffee chips. No Godiva raspberry truffles. No giant Toblerone bars. But the earliest record of chocolate was over 1500 years ago in Central America. The Maya believed the cacao tree to be of divine origin, and brewed a spicy, bittersweet drink by roasting and pounding the seeds of the tree (cocoa beans) with chili peppers and letting the mixture ferment. Yummy–not.

When Cortez brought chocolate back to Europe, they learned to make the drink more palatable to European tastes by mixing the roasted ground beans with sugar and vanilla to mix into a frothy drink. By the early 17th century this powder was being exported from Spain to other parts of the continent. The Spanish kept the source of the drink–the beans–a secret for many years, so that wehn English privateers boarded what they thought was a “treasure galleon” in 1579, they found it loaded with what appeared to be “dried sheep’s droppings”, and no gold and jewels, they burned the ship in frustration. Dumb move, as chocolate was vastly expensive at the time. Worth its weight in gold. Ha!

The first chocolate house in England opened in London in 1657, and like coffee houses they were used as clubs where business could be conducted, politics discussed, and a pipe smoked. The first mention of chocolate being eaten in solid form is when bakers in England began adding the cocoa powder into cakes in the mid-1600s. In 1795 Dr. Joseph Fry of Bristol created a steam engine for grinding the cocoa beans, an invention that led to the manufacture of chocolate on a large scale. In 1819, Francois Louis Callier opened the first Swiss chocolate factory, thus paving the way for generations of choco-holics.

Chcolate as we know it today first appeared in 1847 when Fry and Sons (mentioned above) mixed sugar with cocoa powder and cocoa butter (created in 1828 by Dutch chemist Johannes Van Houten) to produce the first solid bar. And the rest is, well, chocolate history. 🙂

Thanks for letting me indulge one of my favorite obsessions! And thanks to the Godiva website for the factoids.