Native to North America and grown throughout the world, strawberries are unique. Unlike other berries, their seeds grow on the outside the berry, not within. This has long made them a symbol of love, romance and fertility through the ages. North American strawberries were tiny: according to Thomas Jefferson over 100 berries could fill a pint. Today’s berries are bigger and sweeter than the native ones.
The First Chocolate
The first chocolate came from Mesoamerica – the regions south of Mexico. The cacao tree has pods and within these beans. And from these beans – come the cacao. We carry cacao beans in the shell – a soft shell, easy to chew and swallow, and those that have been ground and fermented as they are just before becoming commercial chocolate. When people say cacao is good for you – this is what they’re talking about. Enjoy the nibs in shakes, smoothies, cereals and even, as is. Feeling adventurous – try our cacao and pomegranate mix – what Mesoamericans and their peers in the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean were enjoying same time but vastly different place! The perfect combination!
Chocolate in the “New World”
The first sighting of the cacao amongst European immigrants appeared in a petition drafted in 1670 by Dorothy Jones and Jane Barnard “to keepe a house of publique Entertainment for the selling of Coffee and Chucalettoe [sic].” The officials agreed although, as in Europe, chocolate had its detractors, primarily those who considered it a sin. For a sample of their chocolate, why not try our Taza selections or try making some using our fresh nibs. you can find directions here!
Early Chocolate Enthusiasts
About 100 years later, an Irish immigrant, John Hannon, started the first chocolate mill, turning the cacao bean and its internal “nibs” into the ingredients for a coveted, if not bitter, drink. Hannon was brilliant but not entirely business-like and not at all wealthy. So, he brought in James Baker, a wealthy Harvard College graduate and businessman, for help.
After literal nose-to-the-grindstone, the company was producing 900 pounds of chocolate for the Colonists. The Hannon-Baker partnership ended for reasons unknown, but one thing is certain: Hannon went on a trip, possibly to the West Indies in search of cacao, and was never heard from again, likely killed in a shipwreck. The business was called “Baker’s Chocolate’, forever misleading people to believe the brand was just for bakers.
Then, as now, chocolate had many fans, some illustrious. One was Judge Samuel Sewall, who, from 1674 to 1729, kept a journal where he recorded uniquely commonplace goings-on, giving historians access to the lives of the Puritans and candy enthusiasts a glimpse of the early life of chocolate.
In his diary, Sewall wrote in 1697 about having “chockalett” and venison for a breakfast where “Massachuset and Mixco meet.” In 1702, he recorded bringing Minister Samuel Whiting “2 balls of Chockalett and a pound of figs,” because he was “languishing” and Mrs. Stoddard “two half pounds of chockalett” instead of Commencement Cake. Chocolate as medicine and gift was common, as was its alleged aphrodisiac properties. Today, in that regard, little has changed.
Chocolate and the American Revolution
Other celebrated chocolate enthusiasts included Benjamin Franklin. He admired the exotic bean for its alleged health and medicinal value which included curing smallpox. His shipments to officers in the French and Indian War included “6 lbs. of chocolate” (plus sugar, tea, coffee, vinegar, cheese, Madeira, Jamaican spirits, and mustard). His friend and fellow Revolutionary, Thomas Jefferson, said: “The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the preference over tea and coffee in America, which it has in Spain.”
Another benefit: chocolate was a great alternative to British tea.
How did Chocolate Taste?
This early chocolate was a bitter drink which wealthy New Englanders enjoyed at various times, particularly at breakfast or, possibly, instead of breakfast. They had to work to get it, too, first by boiling water which they poured over a cake of chocolate, then stirred constantly until the chocolate had dissolved, and, at last, the liquid was rich and frothy. Depending on the hour and purpose, they may have added sugar, spices, milk, or even wine, which they probably needed after all that effort.
Starting in the early 1800s, the Industrial Revolution was on the march and innovations were on the rise. Among the early entries were nonpareils and, after a break due to the Civil War, came chocolate covered nuts and fruits, chocolate bars – dark chocolate first, then milk, then milk with almonds, white chocolate – and chocolate with caramel and other fillings.
These chocolates were voluptuous, yes, and the best ones of all were French. By French, the chocolates weren’t necessary from France, but were in the “French style,” such as the French style cream-filled candy, introduced in 1851 at the Great Exhibition in London. It won an adoring audience in the US, who have long been enamored in all things French.
The “French-style” creams and other chocolates were marvelous, sweet, yet gritty. That was changed in 1879 when Swiss chocolatier Adolphe Lindt (yes – that Lindt of Lindt chocolate) invented a “conching” machine, which massaged the gritty chocolate into soft and supple submission.
Chocolate in the 1900s
So popular were these chocolates that some post-war U.S. “chocolatiers” devoted themselves to their existence. Others, such as the illustrious Shrafft’s Confectionary of Boston, made them en masse then wholesaled them to smaller companies. Shrafft also carried chocolates in their own retail shops, complete with the French-ish names such as “D’Or Elegante,” and distinct gold-hued packaging. Their ads said:
“From the French comes the motif for this distinguished package, but only Schrafft could have supplied such chocolates. Search among the most exclusive shops of London, Paris, Rome-you will find nothing to compare to them. The golden box of chocolates is now offered for the first time. It contains the daintiest of our French truffle, nuts, fruits, and cream centers.”
Want to try the truly old time chocolates? Our chocolate maker uses recipes that go back to his grandfather who learned the trade at Shrafft’s Confectionary. We use these chocolates for the traditional and more modern candy combinations, such as Peanut Butter Cups, Cherry Cups, chocolate covered Twinkies and Devil Dogs, both invented in the early 1900s.