Friday, July 16, 2010

Medicinal Chocolate.

Yesterday’s ‘medical’ source for an ice-cream sundae recipe reminded me of just how many ‘new’ ingredients have been used first for their medicinal properties. Rhubarb, which featured in a post a few weeks ago, is one such example. The tomato too, when it first came from the New World was suspected as a food, but got an early step up the familiarity ladder on the basis of its supposed therapeutic purposes.

Chocolate (also from the New World) met a different reception from the tomato and the potato when it was introduced to Europe. Not surprisingly, it was instantly embraced by the aristocracy for the sheer deliciousness of it – and for the same reason instantly suspected by the clergy, on the principle that if it was delicious, it must be sinful. A happy solution for all was the determination that chocolate had medicinal qualities, and was therefore acceptable.

Various therapeutic benefits were attributed to chocolate, and it really took off as a medicine in the seventeenth century. The opinion quoted below highlights how much our attitudes to ‘preserving health’ have changed since that time – when being fat was a health advantage!

The confection made of Cacao called Chocolate or Chocoletto which may be had in diverse places in London, at reasonable rates, is of wonderful efficacy for the procreation of children … for it not only vehemently incites to Venus, but causes conception in women . . . and besides that it preserves health, for it makes such as take it often to become fat and corpulent, fair and amiable.
William Coles, Adam in Eden (1657)

Chocolate was useful also as a vehicle for other medications – and a significant step better than ‘a spoonful of sugar’ to make the medicine go down, methinks. One did not need a medical degree to publish medical advice in the seventeenth century, so there was no barrier to the famous scientist Robert Boyle (1627-1691) doing just that. Here is one of the remedies from his little book Medicinal Experiments, or, a collection of choice and safe remedies for the most part simple and easily prepared.

An Excellent Remedy for the Gonorrhoea.
Take of choice Amber [ambergris], and of Mastich, both reduc’d to very fine Pouder, and very well mixt, equal parts, and of this Mixture give half a Dram at a time in proper Vehicle, or in a draught of Chocolate. Continue this for three Weeks, or a Month, if need require, purging the day before you begin to take it, and once every Week afterwards, especially when you leave off the use of the Pouder.

Chocolate still had a firm place in the therapeutic armamentarium as the nineteenth century advanced. The first known recipe pamphlet issued by Walter Baker & Co. in the USA was entitled An Account of the Manufacture and Use of Cocoa and Chocolate and was published in 1876. It was followed by Chocolate Receipts, in about 1880. The medical and nutritional value of chocolate was heavily promoted by the company, with the usual expert testimonials for support. A German physician called Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland is quoted as saying “I recommend good chocolate to nervous, excitable persons; also to the weak, debilitated and infirm; to children and women. I have obtained excellent results from it in many cases of chronic diseases of the digestive organs.”

Modern medicine is catching up with this old idea too, as there seems to be good evidence for the health benefits of small amounts of dark chocolate in the diet.

For today’s recipe, I give you a treat from a cookery book heavily biased towards healthy food. It is Miss Beecher's Housekeeper and Healthkeeper: containing five hundred recipes for economical and healthful cooking; also, many directions for securing health and happiness ... published in New York in 1873. Miss Beecher’s Chocolate Cake is a variation of the basic recipe for One, Two, Three, Four Cake.

One, Two, Three, Four Cake.
Take one cup of butter (half a cup is better), two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs. Mix butter, sugar, and yolks. Then add the flour very thoroughly, and lastly the whites in a stiff froth. Bake immediately, and the cake will be light, with nothing added. But it is equally light to omit the eggs and work two tea-spoonfuls of cream tartar into the flour, athen mix well first the butter and sugar, and then the flour. When ready to bake, mix very thoroughly and quickly a tea-spoonful of soda, or a bit of sal volatile dissolved in a cup of warm (not hot) water. This makes two loaves.

Chocolate Cake.
Bake the above in thin layers, only a little thicker than carpeting. When nearly cool, spread over the cake a paste made of equal parts of scraped chocolate and sugar wet with water. Place the cake in layers one over another, frost the top, and then cut in oblong pieces for the cake-basket.

Quotation for the Day.

Make a list of important things to do today. At the top of your list, put 'eat chocolate.' Now, you'll get at least one thing done today.
Gina Hayes.


Gary Allen said...

I love the fact that Coles and Boyle had opposite ideas of the function of chocolate... that, as the Bard might have written, "chocolate doth provoke and unprovoke STDs."

Sharlene T. said...

I don't care if chocolate makes me sick. I'll just take some more chocolate to cure it!... thanks for sharing... come visit when you can...

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