This blog appeared just after Easter 2015, which explains the preoccupation with chocolate (ie stuffing down Easter eggs).
Bank holiday Monday food ideas: Today is a day for intending to be healthy but actually finishing off yesterday’s chocolate haul. Rather than scoffing it whole, click HERE to incorporate it into dishes including mole (a savoury sauce), sweet sauce for puddings, chocolate tart or even soufflé. On the subject of which, if you’re in the mood for a little relaxing food porn, try the below by Debra and Rod Smith (link to the full recipe HERE). We think it’s too fabulous for words (as, clearly, do they):
As a nod to healthy living, click on WATERCRESSfor a few ways of cooking what is arguably the most nutritious green leaf of them all.
On other topics, try our CALENDAR for foodie events in April; or if your star sign is ARIES then find out here how others see you in the kitchen.
In honour of Easter Sunday yesterday, if you subscribe to The Taster this April we’ll send you a free copy of our special Chocolate issue from last Easter, free of charge, along with your first issue. It contains chocolate tasting notes, a chocolatier’s tale, and a wonderful recipe for Chocolate Délice donated by Chef Molteni of award-winning restaurant, TOZI. Offer ends 30 April 2015.
The Taster’s thoughts on chocolate, first published Spring 2014. Our front cover looked a little different back then!
Chocolate has always enjoyed a special place in cultures lucky enough to obtain a supply. Cocoa-drinking Aztecs believed it was the greatest gift a god had ever conferred upon mankind. It’s interesting that the chocolate-giving god — Quetzalcoatl — suffered the same fate as Prometheus, whom the Ancient Greeks saw as the giver of fire. Both beneficent gods were banished from their celestial abodes for giving away such heavenly prizes.
For three millennia, ‘chocolate’ existed in liquid form only. While the Greeks were busy regarding the rise of Rome and wondering whether this newfangled “Civilisation” idea wasn’t getting seriously out of hand, in South America the Olmecs, the Mayans and (later on) the Aztecs were brewing hot chocolate. These were the world’s first chocoholics. Being ritually sacrificed on a bloodstained altar was, supposedly, well worth it, since you got a lovely cup of hot chocolate beforehand. The Aztecs’ favourite drink contained ingredients we might balk at today — chillies, cornmeal and mushrooms, among others — so it may not be surprising that its name, xocalati, literally meant ‘bitter water.’
In the 1500s, Spanish sailors brought cocoa to Spain and hit on the trick of transforming it with sugar. Spain kept the good news to itself, however, for a surprisingly long time. It took the engagement gift of a princess to launch chocolate across Europe: in 1643, Princess Maria Theresa of Spain gave her intended — Louis XIV of France, the Sun King and darling of the age — a chest of cocoa beans. It seems probably that Louis rather liked them, since France promptly descended into cocoa-mania, helped by sycophantic French courtiers extolling its aphrodisiac powers.
News travelled fast (given the lack of social media). Within a scant decade, London coffee-houses were serving hot chocolate spiced with ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves and vanilla. One such house (not a French pâtisserie, as one might think) first baked chocolate into cakes and rolls. Eventually, chocolate-houses set up to rival the coffee-houses.
Thus far, chocolate had been an elite treat. But from around 1730, prices began falling, helped by the advent of the steam engine, chocolate-making machinery and spreading cocoa plantations.
Solid chocolate made its first appearance, in Italy, around 1800, but it was very much a treat for the wealthy. J.S. Fry & Sons put the first British chocolate bar on sale, at a price cheap enough for mass consumption, in 1847. The Cadbury brothers arrived on the scene two years later.
Since then, chocolate has only ever increased in popularity. Notably, UK chocolate sales doubled in 2005-07, partly due to a new demand for high-quality dark or plain chocolate.
Today, the average Brit eats the equivalent of three chocolate bars a week. And we are, perhaps, coming full circle — from the ancient spiced drinks of the Aztecs, to new chocolate drinks: not just hot chocolate or mocha coffees, but chocolate cocktails, chocolate beer and chocolate wine; for example, Rubis Chocolate Wine. This is absolutely delicious, by the way — we’ve tried it and we know — try it with an orange- or coffee-flavoured cake; or ice cream with chopped hazelnuts; or just sip it. Lovingly.
As with many other foods, ethical production is increasingly an issue. The Taster as ever supports Fairtrade & organic; see World Cocoa Foundation to learn more. There are plenty of new ‘raw,’ vegan and Fairtrade chocolates to choose from; try The Raw Chocolate Company or Coco Caravan. The use of nut milks and products like coconut nectar and coconut blossom mean that vegan chocolate is now rivallying conventional chocolate in the taste stakes. Fairtrade products are great news, too, for those working on cocoa plantations or running their own smallholding cocoa farms; look for the Fairtrade symbol.
To return to our historic theme, it’s worth pondering on the link between the foil-wrapped chocolate coins we enjoy at Christmas, and the cocoa beans once used by the Aztecs as currency. Chocolate has always meant riches.
Click HERE to take part in our first ever Readers’ Survey , for which Divine Chocolate has kindly donated a fabulous £50 Luxury Christmas Chocolates Collection of chocolates and Shiraz as a prize. Just fill out the survey, hit ‘submit’ and on 15 December, we’ll put your name into our special Choosing Hat & pull out one lucky winner. Have a go and we’ll get the Collection to you before Christmas – you can give it to a friend (what a fantastic present!) or keep it for yourself (oh the agony of choice). Good luck!
Click for our Winter issue. Subscribenow, and it’s half-price – that’s just £6 for four beautiful little foodie mags, winging their way to your front door over the next 12 months. And if you’re buying them as a gift, let us know, and we’ll send a special Christmassy message with the first issue.