HIS LIPS touched the soft, warm sweetness. It yielded, and with lovingly slow strokes his tongue caressed the glistening surface. Then, in a sudden fury of desire, he bared his teeth. And bit. Hard. Does anybody in the whole wide world remember for sure the first taste of chocolate? Or is it, the knowledge of it, the instinct, printed into our little brains at birth, embedded in our genes, brought up with us from the primordial ooze when our scaly ancestors first poked snouts above water and flippered up the slimy bank? Is the love of chocolate in fact a race memory of that sweet Protozoic mud? Chocolate Is Older Than Anybody
The Mayans used the cacao bean for money at least as early as 600 AD, where they migrated south from Nicaragua and brought the seeds with them. They must have known about it long before that, or they wouldn't have known how to cultivate it.
For the cacao tree is not your average ramping jungle weed. It grows only within 20 degrees of the Equator, and though it goes as high as 50 feet, it needs an even taller tree, a Cacao Mother, to shade it. In other words, it is a perpetual child. Just like us chocophiles. What the Jesuit Said
In college we used to tease an old priest we knew. We would ask him. "Will there be sex in heaven?"
He would smile the comfortable smile of a man with the answers and say, "It's a question of growth. When you were 9 years old you probably wanted to know if there'd be chocolate in heaven. But you've outgrown that need, haven't you. It's the same with sex. . . ."
If there's no chocolate in heaven, I'm not going. The Orgy
Last year, right here in the Washington suburbs, not 20 miles from my desk, two dozen people met for a chocolate party. They had chocolate hors d'oeuvres (with yogurt), chocolate turkey stew, chocolate on lettuce, fried chocolate, chocolate chip pecan pie, chocolate pound cake, plain chocolate ice cream, coffee chocolate ice cream, chocolate charlotte, cold chocolate souffle, four different chocolate mousses including one set in brownies, creme de cacao and chocolate cream.
Only one guest had a complaint: "Didn't anyone bring any fudge?" Sad
Some people are allergic to chocolate. It contains caffeine and theobromine, which is an alkaloid that stimulates the brain but also the stomach lining. Educational Section, Worthwhile
Inside each orange bean pod on a cacao tree are perhaps three dozen fingernail-size beans which are pried out, fermented for a few days, roasted and cracked open. They are crushed into pieces called nibs, and the husks are removed.
The nibs are ground up to make a paste, known in the trade as chocolate liquor. This can be taken straight, hardened and molded as baking chocolate. Or it can be pressed so that the vegetable fat - cocoa butter - drips out and is powdered to become cocoa.
It was the English candymakers Fry and Sons who invented the chocolate bar in 1847 by mixing the liquor with extra cocoa butter and sugar. Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate in 1975 by adding still more cocoa butter plus milk. In 1894 Milton Hershey put in the first almonds.
Chocolate as a drink is of course much older, dating from the ancient Mayan xocolatl. Brought back to Spain by Cortez in the early 16th century, it was served with sugar and vanilla and sometimes cinnamon in a secret formula known only to a few monks.
But who could keep a secret like that? By 1615 royal intermarriage brought it to Versailles, and soon it was sweeping Europe like Coca-Cola. Hot chocolate was an expensive drink, since sugar was rate as truffles then, so it wasn't something to be knocked pack like red-eye, and thus drinking it became an occasion. Chocolate houses spread over Europe and England. Those Old Birds Never Could Spell
From the Oxford English Dictionary:
1604, E. Grimston: "The chiefe vse of this Cacao is a drinke which they call Chocolate."
1662, H. Stubbes: "The Indian Nectar, a Treatise on Chocolata."
1664, Pepys: "To a Coffee-House, to drink jocolattle, very good."
1682, Evelyn: "They also drank of a sorbet and jacolatte."
Two years later Evelyn was spelling it "chockelet." He seems to have liked it. The Giant Eggs
We had a neighbor who gave all three of us kids huge Fanny Farmer Easter eggs every year. They were as big as footballs and were filled with white and yellow fondant and covered with dark chocolate.
Gioia and I savaged our eggs within minutes and were sick the rest of the day, like any normal child. But Jean was a saver.She nibbled just enough to personalize it, hid it in her room, returned to it secretly every day.
Some time around July the egg would be found, still in its chocolate-smelling box, its dark brown surface gone gray with age and eaten away with small toothmarks, its gummy interior disgustingly chewed and becrusted and mashed into the green excelsior. It had to go. Even Jean could see that, though she was furious. Every year, this happened. My Confession
Once in prep school when I was working the kitchen detail there was a whole tray of chocolate eclairs left over, so I ate the chocolate tops off them all, leaving 24 little scalped custard-filled corpses. I was thin in those days. Who's Getting Rich?
The world now produces more than 1,500.000 metric tons of cacao beans a year, mostly in west Africa. In this country alone, every man, woman and child theoretically eats in one year 11.85 pounds of chocolate.
But in 1974 the cost of beans in Ghana, the largest grower, doubled: from 64 cents a pound to $1.30. Sugar costs rose too, and the result was that in 1975 the Hershey Rally bar went from 1.8 ounces to 1.2, a 30 per cent drop. Mound bars skidded from 1.5 ounces to 1.35, and Snickers from 1.9 to 1.4.
The next year the market got better, and the 15-cent classic Hershey bar, which had been 1.4 ounces but had shrunk to 1.05 the previous year, made a comeback to 1.2 ounces. December 1976: the weight rose to 1.35, the price to 20 cents. Seven months later the weight slid to 1.05 again but the price forgot to come down with it. And next January, as we all surely know, the price goes up again, to 25 cents and the weight up to 1.2. Even the president was shocked to hear this.
Hershey has changed the size of his bar 25 times since 1949. Fascinating, that such a tiny consumer item should be so closely linked to the world market. Buy a Tootsie Roll and you can practically hear the roar of commerce, the babel of voices on the great commodity exchanges, the creak of winches lowering cargo into giant freighters at exotic jungle ports, the whispered kiss of Cuban Churchills being lit in the hushed, wainscoted offices of international financiers. I tell you, it's exciting. The Bean Gap
The Russians are gaining on us, according o Richard T. O'Connell, president of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association of the U.S.A.
"Chocolate consumption has always been concentrated in the industrial countries and the temperate zones," he said. "The Western nations produced 180,000 tons of beans this year to the Russians' 95,000 tons, but they're coming up and we're showing a drop."
One reason for the drop has to do with the sheer volume of snacks in this country: the competition from baked goods, cupcakes to tacos, from salty items like popcorn and potato chips and novelty nibbles, from sweet drinks and other garbage.
"Some of our individual manufacturers say that for the first time they're putting half their business into non-confectionary lines," O'Connell added. Sniffing
My roommate at Harvard had a chocolate bar business. He bought seconds from the Welch company in Cambridge, bars that wouldn't fit in their wrapping machines, and sold them in the Winthrop House cafeteria, all naked, 24 for a gray cardboard box.
Trouble was, you couldn't tell what the bars were. The Rum Frappe bars looked exactly like the cocoanut bars, both covered with semisweet chocolate. So we developed a technique of sticking a needle into each bar and sniffing it.
Not only was it impossible to concentrate on Dryden when your roomie was constantly begging you to help him sniff just these last couple hundred, but how could you even read Dashiell Hammett in a room whose walls, bookshelves, chairs and windowsills were lined with chocolate? The Enrober
. . . is not a little gray-haired lady with pins in her mouth. It is a machine that showers the nougat, nut or fruit centers "with a waterfall of liquid chocolate," as the brochure says.
Hand-dipped chocolates used to have a code of swirls on top that identified the various centers, but I think it has broken down, since most people simply bite into a piece and if they don't like it they put it back in the box. These pieces are called Spitbacks. Most of them have maraschino centers. But What Rhymes With It?
ASCAP has registered 230 songs with the word "chocolate" in the title. Fudge and Watercolors
For some reason, kids are introduced to art by being given little watercolor sets. Everyone knows that watercoloring is the most exacting, sophisticated and stylized of painting techniques, but it makes no difference. Kids always get watercolor sets.
It's the same with fudge. You want to teach a kid to cook, you start off with fudge.
Now, while it is true that fudge tastes good, and that the rich, deep "thuk" of a spoon hitting the bottom of a heavy pan through a thick soup of chocolate is probably the single most evocative sound in the world, fudge should never be entrusted to amateurs any more than quenelles of pike.
It cannot be made when the barometer is low, and especially not during a rainstorm. It takes a practiced fingertip to recognize the notorious hard-ball stage, a tireless arm to beat the stuff, a sure sense of impending doom to get it poured into the pan before it solidifies.
There is one good thing about it that amateurs learn right away, however. And that is: you can burn it, fry it to the pan, bake it into a smoky cinder or bitter tar, ruin it any way you want, and the pot will still come clean almost immediately in hot water.
You can't say that about quenelles.