Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Spider in the Chocolate.

Frederick the Great (1712 –1786), King of Prussia, built himself a summer palace at Potsdam. He himself had a great deal of input into the design and decoration, and it is indeed magnificently decorated. In one room, the ceiling is decorated with an intricate gold design which includes a fine spiderweb complete with spider.

A lovely story – no doubt pure myth – explains the choice of the spider motif. It goes something like this:
One morning, Frederick was about to take his customary morning draught of chocolate in his favourite room when he remembered that he had left something in his bedroom (his handkerchief in some versions.) He left the room to fetch his forgotten item, and when he returned, found that a spider had fallen into his chocolate. He called for a fresh cup, and a short time later heard a gunshot. His cook had poisoned the chocolate (the reason is unclear to me), and, on hearing that the drink had been rejected and a fresh cup called for, believed his deed had been discovered – so blew his own brains out. It is said that Frederick had the spider design incorporated into the ceiling in recognition of the spider's role in his narrow escape.
I guess the first step in finding out if there is any truth at all in this story is to find out if any of Frederick’s kitchen staff died by their own hand this way. I must leave that bit of research to someone fluent with the German language.

In Frederick’s time, chocolate was primarily used as a beverage – there are not too many recipes for chocolate as an ingredient in other dishes. I give you one of the few – a recipe for what we would call a macaroon today.

Lemon or Chocolate-Puffs.
Take half a pound of Double-refin’d Sugar, finely beat and sifted, grate into it the yellow rind of a very fair large Lemon; then whip up the White of an Egg to a froth, and wet it with this froth ’till ’tis as stiff as good working Paste, lay it on Papers and bake in a very slow Oven, lay some round and some long: if you make Chocolate, grate about an ounce as you did the Peel.
A collection of above three hundred receipts in cookery, physick and surgery; for the use of all good wives, tender mothers, and careful nurses (London, 1714) by Mary Kettilby.


Foose said...

Any chance that Frederick was familiar with Shakespeare? "The spider in the cup" is a quote from The Winter's Tale,:

There may be in the cup
A spider steep'd, and one may drink, depart
And yet partake no venom, for his knowledge
Is not infected: but if one present
The abhorr'd ingredient to his eye, make known,
How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides,
With violent hefts. I have drunk,
And seen the spider.

The Old Foodie said...

Interesting, Foose. I strongly suspect that the story is urban myth - but if so, perhaps the original perpetrator knew Shakespeare?