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Yummy Hot Chocolate Day

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This sweet treat dates back almost 2,000 years to the Mayan people.

The Mayans of Central America are believed to be the first to discover cocoa as early as 900 AD. They learned that the beans inside the cocoa pods could be harvested and made into a liquid that would become a treasured Mayan treat. They traded three pods for one pumpkin.

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Mayan chocolate was very different than the chocolate we know today. It was a liquid made from crushed cocoa beans, chili peppers, and water. (There was no sugar in Central America.) They poured the liquid from one cup to another until a frothy foam appeared on top. In fact, the word ‘chocolate’ is said to come from the Mayan word ‘xocolatl’ which means ‘bitter water.’

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It may have been bitter water, but it was held in such high esteem that Mayans called it the “food of the gods.” Cocoa was so revered that images of cocoa pods were painted on the walls of stone temples and Mayan artifacts have been found that show kings and Mayan gods drinking chocolate. Cocoa was often consumed during religious ceremonies and marriage celebrations. All Mayans could enjoy cocoa, regardless of their social status.

Cocoa beans were very valuable. The Aztecs used them as money, and were very protective of their beans. They paid for food, clothes, taxes, gifts, and offerings to their gods using cocoa beans. Having a pocket full of beans was like having a wallet full of cash. As far as the Aztecs were concerned, money really did grow on trees.

Chocolate arrived in Florida on a Spanish ship in 1641. It’s thought the first American chocolate house opened in Boston in 1682. By 1773, cocoa beans were a major American colony import and chocolate was enjoyed by people of all classes. Chocolate pots became a rage.

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Unsurprisingly, Benjamin Franklin himself was in on the early American chocolate craze, and even sold chocolate out of his printing shop in Philadelphia.

During the Revolutionary War, chocolate was provided to the military as rations and sometimes given to soldiers as payment instead of money. This chocolate came from the West Indies. Because of its caffeine and high calorie content, it was a reliable source of energy for soldiers on the front. Chocolate consumption among Americans dates back to colonial times—George Washington and the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War would have consumed chocolate as a hot beverage, for example.

Chocolate cups, like this one owned by George and Martha Washington, were typical of the colonial era. Most chocolate cups had two handles, on opposing sides, while tea cups of the period had no handles at all. Image credit: George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum, and Gardens’ 2012 annual Colonial Chocolate Society meeting presentation.Chocolate cups, like this one owned by George and Martha Washington, were typical of the colonial era. Most chocolate cups had two handles, on opposing sides, while tea cups of the period had no handles at all. Image credit: George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

Chocolate was also provided as K rations to soldiers during World War II.

K-ration; original outer green color cardboard box contains: waxed cardboard box shell with “CHESTERFIELD” cigarette pack, toilet paper packet, one stick of gum, and eight biscuits, confectionery chocolate D bar, bouillon powder packet, can of pork loaf; manufactured by the Kellogg Company; World War II era.

In fact, the U.S. War Department collaborated with chocolate manufacturers to produce Ration D bars, especially suitable for extreme temperatures sometimes encountered on the front. A mixture of chocolate, sugar, powdered milk, oat flour, and vitamins provided 600 calories per serving and made a very effective survival food.

Box for U.S. Army Field Ration D (

The Ration D chocolate bar was designed to withstand extreme temperatures and provide substantial energy for troops.

Brown, yellow, and blue wrapped “Hershey’s Tropical Chocolate” bar. Small print on the top reads, “REG. U.S. PAT. OFF”. Small print on the side of bar reads, “MANUFACTURED BY HERSHEY CHOCOLATE CORPORATION, HERSHEY, PA.” The top left corner of the wrapper is torn, revealing the inner foil wrapping. Another variant of the Ration D bar was Hershey’s Tropical Bar, used commonly in the Pacific Theater.

Studies have shown chocolate contains antioxidants that can reduce the risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure. Chocolate contains many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and biochemical compounds—all of which help give our body a satisfying health boost. Hot chocolate even increases the microcirculation in your skin. Who knew a hot chocolate obsession could be so good for our health?

Also, it’s a mood booster. When we drink hot chocolate, its chemical compounds signal the brain to release endorphins and serotonin, which elicit our feelings of calmness. These neurotransmitters work to reduce pain and stress, keeping us worry-free and happy! Hot chocolate is clearly happiness in a cup.

So the decision for today is how many cups of chocolate are needed to celebrate National Hot Chocolate Day. Enjoy!
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Chocolate, Chocolate, and More Chocolate

Ahhh Chocolate!

February is when we consume even more than usual, often from heart-shaped boxes gifted by an admirer. And then chocolate arrives in Easter baskets to continue its place in our homes; most children are satisfied with one chocolate bunny. From Hersey kisses to Kit Kats, all the bite size candies are packaged in seasonal colors to catch our eyes. Cadbury has 21 different flavors of chocolate eggs.

My mother was a fan of a Whitman’s sampler, and she would hide it around the house. Maybe she needed to know there was some close by. I asked her one time which piece of candy in the box was her favorite. She quickly responded, “All of them, of course.”

Probably one of the most universally loved foods, the average American consumes roughly 11 pounds of the stuff a year!

It is hard to imagine a world without chocolate and this love of the heavenly substance stretches all the way back to our country’s colonial roots. Before the mid-1800s, if you had a craving for the world’s favorite sweet, you drank it!

The first printed evidence we have of Chocolate being used in London is in the notice in the Public Advertiser in 1657:

“In Bishopsgate St is an excellent West India drink called chocolate to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time, and also unmade at reasonable rates.”

By the end of the Commonwealth in 1659, Thomas Rugge, a London diarist, was writing in his Journal about coffee, chocolate and tea as new drinks in London, and referring to chocolate as ‘a harty drink in every street’.

This is an 1800 chocolate cup crafted in England.

English worcester porcelain chocolate cup, 1800

Chocolate has its origins in South America where archaeological evidence indicates it was being cultivated and consumed over 3,000 years ago. The Spanish were the first Europeans to try the spicy chili and chocolate beverage of the Aztecs. They introduced it to Europe in the 1600s where, with the addition of sugar, it became the height of fashion.

In 1755, Benjamin Franklin bought chocolate to support the troops in the French and Indian War.

Drinking chocolate of the 18th century was different from our modern day cup of cocoa. It was made with either cacao nibs or blocks of compressed chocolate that were then grated or ground to a paste and dissolved in a warm liquid inside a dedicated chocolate pot.The chocolate was added to any combination of water, milk, cream, wine, or even brandy for an extra kick. This mixture was combined with sugar, though less than we use because it was an expensive import in colonial America. Other common ingredients included chili pepper, vanilla, nutmeg, or allspice. This resulted in a rich, sweet, spicy, and bitter drink that the colonists couldn’t get enough of.

The American Heritage Chocolate Block
Today we can buy chocolate blocks as American housewives did 200 years ago. Whether shaved, melted, or crushed, chocolate found its way into kitchens.

We know that many early Americans were fans of chocolate, but it wasn’t available to everyone. In the 1700s, chocolate was still a fairly expensive drink, similar to tea or coffee, making it a beverage of the upper and middle classes. It was seen as a nutritious and filling health food, commonly had with breakfast.

In1757 George Washington ordered 20 pounds of chocolate from British merchant Thomas Knox. While living at Kenmore Plantation, George’s sister Betty Washington Lewis ordered a gallon of chocolate.

It may seem strange to us that there were special cups just for drinking chocolate. However, since it was a luxury item enjoyed by the upper classes, it had a specific set of objects associated with its preparation and consumption. A teapot or teacup could have easily functioned for drinking chocolate, but the purpose of this specialized material culture was to show off wealth and sophistication.

For this reason, a well-to-do colonial household would have separate sets of vessels for the making and consumption of tea, coffee, and chocolate. Using the right one in the right way let your peers know you were a well-educated gentry woman or man.

Chocolate cups and pots were often made of fancy material like silver or porcelain to show off the wealth of the owner and reflect the nature of the luxury ingredient. Chocolate cups can be identified by their straight sides, unlike the gently sloping sides of a teacup. Similarly, 18th century chocolate pots generally are taller and have straighter sides compared to contemporary teapots. They also have a shorter spout with no strainer and often have a straight handle that juts out from the body.

The most recognizable feature of a chocolate pot however is a hole in the lid where the chocolate mill, or molinillo, would be inserted and rubbed between the hands to briskly stir the chocolate, creating a delicious froth on the top. Kind of makes you want to try eighteenth century chocolate drink, doesn’t it?

The next time you’re enjoying a bite of a Snickers (my dad’s favorite) or sipping your instant cocoa, think of the lofty origins of that treat and be grateful to the sweet-toothed colonials who so prized delicious chocolate!

As Charles M. Schulz quipped, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”