Friday, June 19, 2009

From Acorns to Chocolate.

Sometimes a historic trail leads off to somewhere quite different from where you start – which is a large part of the fun of course. I was exploring the use of acorns as food (boiled, in bread, as subsitute coffee), and found myself browsing an interesting bookcalled Waste Products and Undeveloped Substances, or, Hints for Enterprise in Neglected Fields, published by Peter Lund Simmonds in 1862. He describes the historic use of the acorn, and then says:

“ … In Turkey acorns are buried for some time in the earth by which the bitterness is destroyed They are then dried and toasted. Their powder with sugar and aromatics constitutes the palamoud of the Turks and racahout of the Arabs an alimentary substance readily digestible and very much esteemed.”

So, now I had two unfamiliar foods to investigate. Bear in mind, that as I do not speak Turkish or Arabic, what I ended up with was the Eurocentric view of these items. I would love some response from those really in the know! Anyway, I was doubly delighted to find references in, of all things, The Druggist's General Receipt Book , published in London in 1850.

We don’t generally think of pharmacopoeia as sources of recipes. Remedies, maybe, for gruel or beef tea or gruesome laxatives and other foods for invalids, but not delicious-sounding delicacies. Here is the The Druggist's General Receipt Book’s intrepretation of the “Turkish” and “Arabic” dishes of palamoud and racahout as fortifying drinks based on chocolate. Note that “by chocolate is meant the cacao beans roasted and pulverized to powder”, not the “dutched” and often sweetened chocolate powder of today.

Racahout Des Arabes
1 oz chocolate powder
3 oz rice flour
9 oz sugar
3 oz potato arrow-root
1 dr. vanilla (pulverized with part of sugar).
This is professedly a preparation of acorns (perhaps those of the Quercus ballotta, which are naturally sweet, or of other kinds deprived of their bitterness by
being buried in the earth)

1 oz chocolate
4 oz rice flour
4 oz potato arrow-root
1 dr. red sanders in fine powder

So, here we are with another example of the “everthing old is new again” – chocolate (the dark variety, in mini-moderation) now apparently being suspected of having medicinal value.

Quotation for the Day.

Chocolate is not only a pleasant of taste, but it is also a veritable balm of the mouth, for the maintaining of all glands and humours in a good state of health. Thus it is, that all who drink it, possess a sweet breath.
Stephani Blancardi (1650-1702), Italian Physician.

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