By and large chocolate was drunk – not eaten – until the 1800's when manufacturers and confection-makers discovered how to process chocolate in solid forms which made it possible to enjoy chocolate as candy or candy bars, including the development of milk chocolate in 1875.
Modern chocolate production in America began with a joint venture between Dr. James Baker and Irishman John Hammon in 1765 in Massachusetts. Sometime between the 1860s or 1880s (sources disagree on the year) Baker's Chocolate make a trademark of a pastel done from life in 1743 by Swiss artist Jean-Étienne Liotard. La Belle Chocolatiere depicts a pretty young servant bearing a cup of chocolate on a tray and is probably the most famous image associated with chocolate.
The portrait is thought to be of one Anna Baltauf or Nannerl Baldauf, of Vienna. (The precise spelling of her name and other biographical details vary.) Lindsay recounted one of several versions of her life, in which Prince von Dietrichstein fell in love with the serving maid and waited 25 years for permission to marry her, in defiance of all social disapproval.
The most famous name in American chocolate was a company built by Milton Hershey. He came from a Mennonite family and got started in the candy business in the 1890s. Hershey moved from making caramels to chocolate and was tremendously successful, despite never doing any advertising. (The company only began running ads in 1968.)
Milton and his wife Catherine Sweeney Hershey gained additional fame and respect for their largess. The childless childless couple established a remarkable company town: Hershey, Pennsylvania and a trust-funded school for orphans.
Lindsay recounted that during the Great Depression Milton Hershey never fired anyone. Thanks to the couple's philanthropy, the factory town of Hershey enjoyed: schools, an office building, a community centre, two theaters, a library, a public dinning room, a cafeteria, a photography workroom, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, a bowling alley, a fencing and boxing room, free junior college, a sports arena, a football stadium, four golf courses (with championship tournaments), Hershey Gardens, a motor hotel, a convention centre, an orchestra society, a string ensemble, a ballet school, a public radio station and a medical centre with a top ranking hospital, medical school, clinic and research facility.
Milton Hershey died in 1945, before the Hershey's factory was built in Smiths Falls. Lamentably, that popular destination closed in 2008 when its production was moved to Mexico. (The site's new owners have government approval to produce medical marijuana, perhaps as early as this spring.)
Canada's oldest chocolate company grew out of a grocery store established by brothers James and Gilbert Ganong in St Stephen, New Brunswick in 1873. Lindsay reports Ganong came up with the five-cent chocolate bar because one of the brothers liked to fish and he wanted to be able to snack on chocolate while doing so. The Ganong company also invented selling heart-shaped boxes of chocolate.
Coral displaying a beautiful chocolate pot she had found and bought for her marvelous collection of such artifacts.
Laura Secord was begun by Canadian Frank Patrick O'Conner in 1913, named after the heroine of the War of 1812. After a period of foreign ownership, the brand returned to Canadian hands when Quebec brothers Jean and Jacques Leclerc bought it back in 2010.
As part of an extensive display of chocolate books and memorabilia, Lindsay brought along several chocolate pots, which are typically taller than tea pots.
During question period, Stu Rogers recounted his father had advised investing in either chocolate or booze during economic downturns – both do well in hard times!
Brian Earl recounted seeing a 5.5 inch artillery shell In a museum at the UK's Royal School of Artillery, filled with provisions that included Cadbury chocolate. The intent was to blow it open over personnel cut off in the Arnhem pocket and rain provisions downward. (Arnhem refers to a daring, but overly-ambitious, assault by the Allies in Germany in 1944, which came to be tagged “a bridge too far”.) Earl described the re-supply shell as somebody's good idea that was, unfortunately, “not very successful” in implementation.
At the conclusion of the talk, Ellen Adamsons thanked Lindsay for yet another fine presentation – just one of dozens of topics Lindsay has researched and shared over many decades of community service. (In point of fact, Lindsay spoke on Robbie Burns for the North Grenville Probus club earlier in the same day – this year Lindsay gave three presentations on Burns in January.)
Colin Wright asked where Lindsay gets all her information? Lindsay cited things like National Geographic, library reference material and so on and so forth. She quipped “...when you acquire a bunch of stuff, you have to do something with it!” The habit has grown and Lindsay added that she “can't seem to stop!”
Jane Anderson and Sandy Wilson prepared the refreshments for the social time after the business and presentations were finished.
Our Society began the new year in fine form, as 30 members and guests filled St. Andrew's Church in Kars to elect new officers and hear Coral Lindsay speak on one of the most pressing issues of the past several centuries - is chocolate good for you?
Happily, the general answer is “yes” - with a few caveats. On the pro side: chocolate has nutritional value, as it contains vitamin A, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, riboflavin, iron, niacin, thiamine and a (small) amount of caffeine. It wards off depression and makes one more cheery.
A part of the display on chocolate prepared by Coral. As always the talk was supported by a wonderful display of books, pictures, and artifacts.
A chocolate bar has an insignificant amount of salt and will have very little effect on cholesterol levels. Regular consumption of dark chocolate may reduce the incidence of heart attacks. Some research suggests chocolate may make us smarter and may improve memory. It has long been likened to a “love drug”, able to stimulate the sex drive, possibly through raising serotonin levels in the brain. Lindsay pointed out that reputation makes chocolate a good present for Valentine's Day, or any day of the year. To which I would add this “drug” is legal and culturally acceptable. That's a pretty good list, right?
Meanwhile, the con ledger includes: chocolate can cause indigestion, can contribute to kidney stones and can worsen osteoporosis. At present, most of the world's chocolate comes from Africa, especially the Ivory Coast. Some working conditions there are harsh, and may include kidnapping and forcing labour from adults and children. (Note: Those who want to consume chocolate without supporting such practices may want to seek out so-called “fair trade” products.)
One more partial con. While Lindsay was kind enough to speak as if all chocolate is equivalent, most of the health benefits attributed to chocolate are associated with dark chocolate. My favorite, milk chocolate, is known for having higher levels of fat and sugar and few (if any) health benefits. I'm sure I speak for many in support of continued studies that may prove undiscovered benefits of milk chocolate.
Lindsay's entire talk was actually about the long, varied history of chocolate, from pre-contact times to odd facts – such as something called International Chocolate Day on September 13th.
Chocolate is derived from the cacao tree, which is native to South and Central America. It has been associated with humans for at least 4,000 years and was highly valued in Mayan and Aztec cultures.
Cacao produces pods along its trunk which contain beans that can be fermented and processed into something humans enjoy. The plant prefers equatorial regions that have ample rain.
Lindsay explained that after being harvested and dried, the beans are transported to factories where they are cleaned, roasted, graded and shelled to extract the nib, which is ground and liquified to make a liquid that is further refined into cocoa solids or cocoa butter.
Lindsay reports that Columbus ran across cacao beans in the West Indies on his fourth (and last) voyage of 1502-04. They were initially unappreciated in Europe as cacao is bitter and requires several key steps of knowledgable processing.
Spanish Conquistador Hermán Cortéz learned to appreciate chocolate by observing how highly it was valued in Aztec culture, where cacao beans even functioned as money. After learning more about chocolate's preparation Cortéz brought those “secrets” back to Spain, circa 1528. At that point the beverage was further modified to suit European taste and enjoyed growing appeal as an exotic, mystical discovery.
Spain would have preferred to monopolize early control of chocolate, but that proved impossible. Interestingly, chocolate's rise to popularity was enhanced by the Church's decision that the beverage did not count as food - it could be consumed during the many times Catholics were expected to fast.
By the 1650s increased production had made chocolate affordable enough for a growing middle class. Chocolate or coffee houses sprang up where businessmen and intellectuals could gather to converse over stimulating beverages - with no danger of drunken excess. To meet demand, cacao was grown in more (tropical) places and chocolate manufacturers emerged across Europe and even in the American Colonies.
Some of the best-known early companies were either founded by Quakers, or adhered to Quaker principles: a quality product of no social harm, at an honest price, with fair treatment of workers. These included Fry's (1728, England), Cadbury (1824, Birmingham, England) and Rowntree Mackintosh (1862 York, England), acquired by Nestle in 1988. Cadbury's was known for higher wages, shorter hours, paid vacations and medical benefits for workers who lived in a model village which featured many unheard-of amenities.
A BBC article from 2010 explained how and why Quakers became prime figures in the chocolate industry despite being a very few in number:
The move into chocolate began with cocoa drinks in the 19th Century as a reaction against the perceived misery and deprivation caused by alcohol, says Quaker historian Helen Rowlands.
"Quakers and other non-conformists at the time were concerned about levels of alcohol misuse in the population at large, they were part of the temperance movement.
"Cocoa was a way of providing cheap and available drink. It was healthy because you had to boil the water to make it when they didn't have good water supplies."
A History of Chocolate
Presentation by: Coral Lindsay
Article and Photos by Lucy Martin