Chocolate is as closely associated with the Festival of Love as are roses and cheesy cards. This is why at Cocoa Antics we find ourselves quite preoccupied with Saint Valentines Day. In the run up to this most romantic of holidays, I have found myself pondering over it’s origin. The more cynical amongst us would say it is a capitalist con to make us spend more money, but there must be some other explanation!
After a quick bit of googling I discovered that the day actually originated as the day of celebration for the saint and martyr Valentinus. He was executed by the Romans for performing illegal Christian weddings, an act that would for ever associate him with love.
However it was not until the days of Geoffrey Chaucer that the 14th of February was associated with romance, and it would not be until the 19th century that people would exchange cards, roses and chocolates!
I would like to end on the words of the great Chaucer, to inspire a little romance for this week…
From Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Birds.
The life so short, the craft so long to learn,
The attempt so hard, the victory so keen,
The fearful joy, so arduous to earn,
So quick to fade – by all these things I mean
Love, for his wonders in this worldly scene
Confound me so that when I think of him
I scarcely know whether I sink or swim.
Apart from the usual things associated with Christmas, such as presents, turkey and carol singers, one thing comes to my mind: excitement. The exciting prospect of spending the season with family, all thats delicious food, and of course Father Christmas!
Of course it would be ridiculous to save all that excitement up for just one day, so ways to spread the Christmas thrill over festive season had to be thought up. My favourite, and probably most chocolaty of these, is the Advent Calendar.
The Advent Calendar is usually the first sign on Christmas in any home, followed by the tree and Quality Street tins. The tradition of the Advent Calendar, like so many of our Christmas traditions, originated in Germany in the late 1800s. Originally the little squares would contain bible passages, but with the secularisation of Christmas they were replaced with little toys, or my favourite, chocolate!
What comes to mind when you think of hot chocolate? Relaxation? Luxury? Deliciousness? What if I told you the word chocolate actually comes from the Aztec word for a drink: xocolatl, from xocoli (bitter) and atl (water)?
“The divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink [cocoa] permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.” Montezuma II (1502-1520)
The cocao tree originates from the Gulf of Mexico, where conditions allowed for plantations as far back as 1500 BC. I have to thank the Mayans for my business Cocoa Antics, because they were the ones that discovered a drink could be made by mixing the ground cocao beans with water. This incredibly bitter drink was called cacahuatl.
In Mesoamerica xocalatl was highly valued, reserved for nobility, priests and high officials, but banned from women (thank goodness times have changed!)
However, 16th century Spaniards disagreed strongly with the Mesoamericans. One missionary, Jose De Acosta, once claimed that it was so ‘loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste’ .
Since then, chocolatiers have been working tirelessly to create the chocolate we know and love today. My efforts to to create a hot chocolate void of bitterness gained the Great Taste awards seal of approval. I can now safely say that Señor De Acosta would love my chocolate spoons!
- Mayan Chocolate- More Than Candy (glovesfortexting.wordpress.com)