Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Saints, sex, and soup.

Today, February 14th …

There was no contest for today’s topic: it is St Valentine’s day, so naturally we will get around to the subject of chocolate.

First, the mythology lesson. The traditions of the day are the usual synthesis of ancient folklore (birds chose their mates on this day), pagan belief (the day was the Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia, which included a “lovers lottery” for a fun partner for the year), and the attempts of the early Christian church to put its own stamp on the celebrations, it being impossible to eradicate something as popular as the licence to licentiousness. Pope Gelasius formally banned Lupercalia in 496 AD, chose St Valentine as the celebratee, and the lovers lottery was changed to a saints lottery in which a saints name was drawn at random, and the “winner” was to emulate that saint for the ensuing year. Funnily enough, a millennium and a half later, this has never really taken off. Anyway it was all based on a cheat, as it is unclear as to exactly who St Valentine was - there are three possible contenders, all apparently very pious celibates, so he/they must be turning in his/their heavenly graves considering his/their popular associations.

Today’s traditions seem very tame in comparison to the lovers lottery, but luckily since the Victorian era we have been able to compensate with chocolate. It is hard to believe now, but for most of its history “chocolate” was a drink, not a solid confection. The first solid eating chocolate was made by the industrial pioneers of the Fry family in England in 1849. The whole family deserves a sainthood, and someone ought to nominate them, because in truth we don’t have a real saint for the day anymore: St Valentine(s) had his/their sainthood revoked in 1969, presumably because of the identity confusion. Note:
the Church has not reinstated the lovers lottery.

How about this chocolate soup from 1890 instead of boring old boxed chocolates? (What am I saying … ? what is wrong with having both? But hold the fried bread.)

Chocolate Soup.
¼ lb. chocolate, 2 ½ qts milk and water, sugar to taste, 1 egg yolk, a little vanilla or cinnamon.
Cook the chocolate soft in a little water, and add the rest; when boiling put in the other ingredients, and cook the beaten white of an egg in spoonfuls on the top. Serve with fried bread.

[Practical Sanitary and Economic Cooking Adapted to Persons of Moderate and Small Means. American Public Health Association, 1890.]

Tomorrow: Alcohol and other food for invalids.

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