Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Bite of Chocolate.

Today, September 19th

George Cadbury was born on this day in 1839. He was the son of John Cadbury, a Quaker who opened a modest little grocery store in Birmingham in 1824, from which he advertised and sold “'Cocoa Nibs', prepared by himself, an article affording a most nutritious beverage for breakfast.” John could hardly have realised in 1824 how spectacularly serendipitous his timing was. Huge developments in chocolate manufacture were just on the horizon.

The ancient Olmec civilisation of Central America are now credited with the cultivation of the cacao tree somewhere between 2 ½ and 3 ½ thousand years ago. The knowledge was bequeathed to the subsequent Maya and Aztec civilisations, and ultimately via the Spanish conquerors of the very early sixteenth century, it found its way to Europe. First and foremost, chocolate was a beverage, and it remained this for hundreds of years after its enthusiastic adoption by Europeans. Several steps were necessary before it developed into the chocolate bar as we know it today – and these happened all of a rush in the first half of the nineteenth century, which is why John Cadbury proved to be a man with the right ideas, in the right place, at the very right time.

A few years after John opened his shop, a man called Coenraad Van Houten in Amsterdam patented an process that resulted in a superior form of chocolate powder – superior in that the fat content was reduced by removing the some of the cocoa butter (making the ‘cakes’ easier to pulverize), and it was also less bitter and easier to dissolve (by virtue of treatment with alkaline salts). The process became known as ‘dutching’.

In 1847, another Quaker called Joseph Fry (great-grandson and name-sake of the original founder of the company) made another giant leap towards the development of eatable chocolate. He mixed some of the cocoa fat back into the ‘dutched’ cocoa powder to make a paste that could be pressed into a mould. The aim was apparently still to make a cake which was then to be used to make a drink, but it did not take long for the public to cotton onto the fact that this cake was pretty good to eat as it was.

The Cadbury family stayed firmly on the chocolate manufacturing bandwagon, and the first prettily boxed chocolates were turned out in 1868. There was a final development before chocolate perfection could be achieved. In 1879 Rudolphe Lindt invented what became known as the conching machine (because of its shell-shape), which gave chocolate the superb mouth-feel that we associate with superior chocolate today.

Chocolate does not have to be eaten out of hand of course. It is still a worthy ingredient in cooking. Here is an early eighteen century idea from the English translation of a famous French cookbook.

A Sea-duck with Chocolate in a Ragoo.
Having pick’t, cleans’d and drawn your Sea-duck, as before, let it be wash’d, broile’d a little while upon the Coals, and afterwards put in a Pot; seasoning it with Pepper, Salt, Bay-leaves and a Faggot of Herbs. Then a little Chocolate is to be made and added thereto; preparing a the same time a Ragoo with Capons-livers, Morilles, Mousserons, common Mushrooms, Truffles, and a quarter of a hundred of Chestnuts. When the Sea-duck is ready dress’d in its proper Dish, pour your Ragoo upon it; garnish it with what you please, and let it be serv’d up to Table.
[Court and Country Cook, by Francois Massialot (a.k.a Vincent La Chapelle); 1702]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Meat From The Jungle.

Quotation for the Day …

Chocolate, of course, is the stuff of which fantasies are made. Rich, dark, velvety-smooth fantasies that envelop the senses and stir the passions. Chocolate is madness; chocolate is delight. Judith Olney.

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