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“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.

Posted in Research | Tagged | 9 Replies

I went to a historical program this week, but it was much better than Diane’s and also appropriate to Amanda’s on Valentine’s Day (and Carolyn, sigh. Carolyn, do try and get your mind out of the gutter). I’ve finished my chocolate–I ate half of them at five minutes after midnight and the other half that evening of the 14th and here’s the evidence.

But I digress. I went to a chocolate program at Riversdale House Museum and although I was volunteering I didn’t spill anything on anyone and I managed to eat a fair amount too. There were some awesome chocolate fans there who ate their way through four centuries of chocolate and probably would have been good for more.

You can find the recipes at Cooking Up the Past, the FB page that Riversdale’s Food Historian runs, and which has some great stuff on it.

So, chocolate. First it starts off as a tree with a fruit, with seeds (pods), from which you extract the nibs (the things that look as if a mouse has visited). It’s a very labor intensive product and you can see a video made by the foodways historian at Williamsburg on a site devoted to the history of chocolate in North America, American Heritage Chocolate. There are some more recipes and also products if you wish to try some authentic cookery.

Chocolate is NOT sweet. You have to add sugar and I found that the historic recipes had a bitter kick to them rather like coffee–cacoa does have a high caffeine content. This is why chocolate was a popular breakfast drink–we used a latte machine to froth up spiced and (slightly) sweetened chocolate in hot water and added in milk to taste just as you would with coffee. This 1731 chocolate pie, one of the delicacies served at the chocolate event was deliciously bitter.

Into the nineteenth century, things got sweeter. Here’s a whole plateful of chocolatey thrills, including ice cream, a layer cake with chocolate icing, chocolate pudding, a heart-shaped cocoa biscuit, a cake with chocolate icing and some chocolate candy.

We went into the twentieth century with tollhouse cookies, and into the twenty-first with white chocolate and chocolate flavored with chili. Yum. Then we kitchen staff did the dishes. If you’re anywhere near the Washington, DC area, check out the schedule of events at Riversdale: there’s a complete weekend of women’s activities on May 5-6, The 1812 Woman, one of the many events commemorating the war of 1812.

So let’s talk about chocolate!

And go visit The Bookish Dame who’s given Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion a great review today and is giving away a copy!

Cara Elliott (aka Andrea Pickens, aka Andrea DaRif) is a longtime visitor to the Riskies, but today we welcome her new persona, historical mystery author Andrea Penrose! Comment for a chance to win a signed copy of Sweet Revenge, and be sure and visit Andrea’s website for more behind-the scenes info and fun contests…

Welcome (back) to the Riskies, Andrea! Tell us about your new book–and your new persona.

Sweet Revenge is my debut into historical mystery–a world I love as a reader as well as a writer. And my publisher thought a new genre needed a new name (oh, don’t ask!) so here I am, wearing my Andrea Penrose chipstraw bonnet…

I chose to set the new series in the Regency because, as we all know, it was a world experiencing change in so many facets of life–political, social, artistic, scientific, economic. Add the intrigue of the Napoleonic Wars, and what better setting is there for a mystery series? For me it presents a wonderful change to explore themes and issues that are true to the era but also resonate with modern readers: Here’s a small taste of the story:
Lady Arianna Hadley’s desire to discover her father’s murderer has brought her back to London from exile in the Caribbean. Masquerading as a male chef, she is working in one of London’s aristocratic households. But when the Prince Regent is taken ill after consuming Arianna’s special chocolate dessert, she finds herself at the center of a scandal. Because of his expertise in chocolate, the eccentric Earl of Saybrook is asked to investigate the crime. But during his first interrogation of Arianna, someone tries to assassinate both of them, and it quickly becomes clear that something very sinister is afoot within the highest circles of government. They each have very different reasons for wanting to uncover the truth, yet to have any chance of doing so they must become allies. Trust Treachery. Arianna must assume yet another identity as their search takes them from the glittering ballrooms of Mayfair to the slums of St. Giles. And their reluctant alliance is tested in more ways than one as it becomes clear that someone is looking to plunge England into chaos…

What is the inspiration behind the story?

if I told you that I’d give away the mystery! But the inspiration for my heroine–the series is tagged “A Lady Arianna Regency Mystery”–came in a roundabout way. Several years ago, for my “real” job, I interviewed the head of a gourmet French chocolate company, which was founded by Marie Antoinette’s personal physician, and was fascinated to discover someamazing tidbits about the Regency and chocolate. I worked on a story idea that never saw the light of day, but was always determined to find a way to weave that chocolate research into a book. When I started to create Arianna, her Caribbean background suddenly made an expertise in chocolate a perfect ingredient to her character.

Did you run across any interesting research tidbits you can share?

Oh, don’t get me started! There’s a lot of real history woven into the plot, based on discoveries that surprised me. Researching chocolate provided a number of “delicious” little discoveries. Marie Antoinette complained about the unpleasant taste of her medicines, so her physician came up with the idea of mixing it into a solid form of chocolate–a pistole or wafer-like disc that the queen is said to have adored. (The company, Debauve & Gallet, still offers Pistoles de Marie Antoinette. A 1.7 lb box costs the princely sum of $200. Her favorite flavor was said to be almond milk). And Napoleon commissioned a chocolate treat to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Friedland.

What are some of the challenges of switching genres?

In romance, love is at the heart of the story–it’s primarily about the two main characters, and how they overcome obstacles, bot exterior and interior, to come together. For me, the core element of mystery is the idea of justice. So the characters in the story see themselves and those around them not just through a personal prism, but through the lens of conundrum. This adds a different slant to creating personas, but I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of seeing things from a new perspective.

Since this is a romance novel blog, we have to ask–is there romance in the story??

Yes, there is! It would be pretty hard for me to write a book without having a relationship be a core element of the story, because I really enjoy exploring the interaction between people. So I felt I got to do with the best of both worlds in creating a mystery with a romance.

The hero and heroine start out as very reluctant allies, and then it becomes–complicated. They are both loners, with a lot of conflicted feelings about their past, and I enjoyed being able to thread in more ambivalence into their interaction than I might be able to do in a romance. And since the relationship will carry on for a number of books (I hope!) it allows me to wrap a lot more layers around their cores. I’m looking forward to slowly revealing who they are. (Hey, they constantly surprise me, which is part of the fun!)

What’s next for Andrea Penrose? And what about Cara Elliott?

This year is a little crazy for me, in a very good way! In february I finished off my Cara Elliott “Circle of Sin” trilogy (To Surrender to a Rogue is a RITA nominee!), and in November Cara has a new trilogy debuting. Too Wicked to Wed begins the “Lords of Midnight” which stars 3 hardbitten rogues who are tamed by love.

As for Andrea, The Cocoa Conspiracy, the second LadyArianna mystery, will hit the shelves in December. It’s set at the Congress of Vienna, and once again chocolate does play a small part in the plot. In my research I discovered…but that would be spoiling the fun! I hope you’ll enjoy Arianna and Saybrook’s adventures through the Regency world.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 21 Replies

My second historical was set in 1844, which is firmly Victorian. I picked that year because I really liked the clothes. But the book got a Regency cover:

That’s the power of the Regency, folks, that a novel set in 1844 got a Regency cover. Yes, there were orchids in the story, so someone knew enough about the book to get that right. And now I confess that at that time I DID NOT WANT to write in the Regency. I didn’t like the dresses. Those Empire waistlines made everyone look pregnant and they reminded of the hideous maxi dresses that were briefly popular while I was in High School about a bazillion years ago. But as I was flogging my doorstop book and etcetera it was clear that Regency sold because readers loved the Regency. I finally abandoned the doorstop book and started another one which, eventually, became Lord Ruin, which was set in the Regency and for which I had to do LOTS of research because I’d been writing Georgian and Victorian. And the period kind of got to me. I began to understand the appeal. I had never read Georgette Heyer, you see, and I did not, myself, read Traditional Regencies and had the somewhat inaccurate notion that books set in the Regency did not have sex, and I wanted to write books where the door did not close.

So, I researched the Regency — pre Google days mind you — and learned there was a war on and all kinds of transition stuff going on as the Georgian Era ideal of class began to crack just the teensiest bit from the tension of behaving as if poor people wanted and probably deserved to be poor. People were getting different ideas about that— Reform???? Gasp! And the poetry rocked. The Regency won me over. I must say.

Getting around to the Chocolate

Over a my blog, I’m having a contest where the prize is 2 lbs of Leonidas chocolate. Go enter Also, at my blog, there’s a poll about what kind of fiction you read. Paranormal Romance is now leading Historical Romance . . . Just saying.

So, why do you love the Regency? Did you ever NOT love the Regency? Were you seduced? How did it happen?

Posted in Regency | Tagged , | 9 Replies
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