For the newsletter this year I'm going to include sharing ideas for gaining a sense of place by linking the past to the present, especially at historic and urban sites. This month’s issue is about hot chocolate in honor of Valentines Day, and explores how to link the past to today through your sense of taste.
A few years ago we were walking the wonderful Freedom Trail through Boston and visited Old North Church (of “one if by land, two if by sea” fame.) We were delighted to find a chocolate shop right next door that had costumed interpreters on hand to make and serve hot chocolate as it was made in Colonial days. Our tasting brought two discoveries:
First, we were surprised that the colonists drank hot chocolate rather than just the tea, coffee and cider we’d heard about. And that eating solid chocolate wouldn’t come until much later.
Second, the chocolate was SPICY. And I mean sexy, exotic, tingling spicy. Not usually words I associate with American Colonial time period. They had samples of flavorings associated with that time period, including cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, chili pepper, annatto, allspice, anise, and sugar.
Sense of Place Tip: Food is a sensual way to link the past to the present.
Learning about the food from another era and tasting it links the past to the present in a very tangible way!
1. Indulge in spicy hot chocolate with your valentine and have a wink at history, the drinkers from our spicy past.
2. Sign up for a cooking class or demonstration at a historic site.
3. Explore the history of a favorite food and see where the trail of discovery takes you.
Link yourself to history with these treats
American Heritage Historic Chocolates made by Mars Inc. is what they served at the Boston site and can be found in many historic shops. They state that after a decade of research they came up with their blend. “Our chocolate is fashioned from recipes from 1750 and uses a sprinkling of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, orange, and red pepper.”
MariBelle We discovered this charming shop one year on a trip to NYC. I’m not much of an alcohol drinker, so we planned to go “chocolate-hopping” and mapped out a half-dozen shops to visit. This place was the first time I ever tried thick, spicy hot chocolate.
Cocoa Sante This is simply the best spicy hot chocolate I have ever had. We found it in a local chocolate shop, but their site says it’s sold at REI stores and some Whole Foods. My favorite is their Azteca, spiced with vanilla, cinnamon, and chipotle pepper.
History of Colonial Chocolate
I came across this article that explores the history of hot chocolate in America. They mention how Benjamin Franklin sold it out of his printing shop in Philadelphia as early as 1739, that Baker’s chocolate was manufactured and sold in Massachusetts by 1765. "During the Revolutionary War chocolate was included in rations and available from the commissary at Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York. Chocolate was reserved in Massachusetts in 1777 for the supply of the army and its export was strictly prohibited.” And there are records of the consumption of hot chocolate by George Washington, John Adams, John Hancock, and Thomas Jefferson and more.
This also caused me to wonder about the availability of spices in the colonies. And like all history, the answer is multi-layered and complex. This book was recommended to me as a good one to learn about the implications of the history of trade: Merchants Kings: When Companies Ruled the World, 1600-1900, by Stephen R. Brown. I’m looking forward to reading it, as learning more about how events from the past shaped our world, helps me make more sense of today.