Above: Raw cocao beans on the right, roasted and de-husked beans on the left.
When I first decided that researching early use of chocolate in Britain would be interesting, little did I realize how difficult it was going to be. In the great part this was because I had very little knowledge on the subject. I knew that the Spanish had brought chocolate back from Mexico and that it had been consumed in Western Europe more or less continuously, but that is all I knew. What I didn't realize was for all of the millions of chocolate bars, kisses, truffles and bunnies eaten now, these items actually has very little to do with how people have historically viewed chocolate or the form that they consumed it in.
So now a little potted history of chocolate***. The cocao tree is a modest looking understory plant of the forests of South and Central America, however, cocao has be cultivated for so long in this region that it is unclear if truly wild populations exist. All exsting "wild"populations could actually be feral, such is it's close association with humanity. Linguists now believe that this plant became a named item by approximately 1000 BC, from this point it seems to have been used as a luxury item by successive waves of Central American civilizations until finally Europeans first came into contact with it during the Spanish invasions of what is now Mexico in the 16th century. The first contact by Europeans with chocolate seems to be when Columbus on his fourth and final voyage captured a Mayan trading canoe and its cargo of cocao beans off the Yucatan coast. Further and more sustained contact was made by the Spanish during their invasion of Mexico, where they encountered the cocao beans being used to produce a foamy drink for the Aztec elite. While at first the Spanish didn't particularly like this drink, by the end of the 16th century cocoa beans were exported back to the Old World and was being used to produce foamy cups of chocolate. The major difference between the Aztec and the Spanish mode of drinking the dish was in the addition of sugar by the latter. Throughout the 17th century "chocolate" gradually became known in Western Europe, although it essentially remained the same beverage drink as consumed in Mexico. Consumption of chocolate in the solid form was not unknown, but it was extremely rare.
Given that the vast majority of chocolate is now consumed in the solid form now, why wasn't this the case historically in Europe? While it is possible to derive some sense of why people didn't consume chocolate in the solid form by reading contemporary texts, another angle is to actually just eat some 17th century chocolate! This is possible as numerous historical texts give recipes for producing chocolate and one English text (Henry Stubbe's "The Indian Nectar or a Discourse concerning Chocolata" 1662) gives very detailed instructions. In general these historical recipes were identical in all important respects, using the Mexican metate to grind the roasted beans and then moulding the chocolate paste until it set. Major differences occured only in the amount of sugar used and the type of additional flavours added. By obtaining some raw cacoa beans I was able to produce something that should pass as 17th century chocolate. First I roasted the cacoa beans in a hot oven, as soon as they husk loosened from the kernel I removed the beans, cooled them and removed the husks completely (very time consuming). Lacking a metate I ground the kernels finely in a food processor, then placed the grindings into a heated motar where I processed them to a finer, sticky paste. At this point I added sugar and flavourings and placed the mixture into a mould to set. Although many different flavourings and levels of sugar was used historically, I decided to only use vanilla and 1/3 weight sugar to gain as "pure" an impression of the flavour of chocolate itself. Below is shown the fruits of approximately three hours of labour.
Above: 17th century chocolate. Actually, this is pretty much any chocolate from pre-history to the early 19th century.
So what did it taste like? Well actually it tasted like chocolate, some fruity plum and raspberry flavours, but essentially anybody would recognise it as "dark chocolate" by flavour. No real surprise there then. What did differ a great deal was the texture. Now I'm sure that 17th century professional grinders of chocolate produced a finer texture, however I am going to assume that my journeyman effort would past muster.... Overall my impression was that it was dry and crumbly, more like shortbread then modern chocolate texture. What was a big surprise was that to a modern palate like mine it was actually quite pleasant. I had assumed that it would be bloody awful and that this explained why people didn't eat chocolate in the solid form historically. This doesn't seem to be the case and when you think about it, it isn't relevant anyway as you can produce chocolate as a flavouring for other solid dishes (think chocolate cake) where texture of the chocolate isn't an issue. So why isn't there any 17th century chocolate cake recipes?
I think that the main factors which lead to chocolate being consumed as a beverage, rather then a solid in England, were those of habit, economics and health. For the first two points, simply put it had always been presented as a beverage so why change, and as consuming solid chocolate uses a great deal more chocolate then if used to produce a beverage it will obviously be much more expensive. The last point is somewhat more complicated as the 17th century model of health differed radically to modern medical theory, however peopler were just as obsessive nevertheless. Essentially people were unsure where this new product fit in to their model of healthy living. Henry Stubbe's text devotes a huge amount of space to argueing that chocolate is actually quite healthy in liquid form (and very good for your sex life) but even he is wary of consuming it as a solid:
"...It is true, Hippocrates saith, It is easier to be nourished with Drinks, solid meat; and that They, who have need to be quickly refreshed, must be dieted with Drinks, or potable liquors: but these two sayings make not for the giving of Chocolata in Paste, or Confects, no more then his recommending in sundry cakes........."
So in otherwords drinking chocolate was very healthy, but solid chocolate in 17th century England was considered in the main to be not especially good for your health. Surprisingly, while it is known that chocolate was being consumed as a 'healthy' beverage in by the end of the 17th century in England, the are still very few recipes for chocolate in any form in the many cookbooks published during this period. In fact almost none. After reading many texts the only recipes I can find that give an idea of what early English chocolate are like, are from the texts produced by England's first established female cookbook author Hannah Woolley.
"A Queen like Closet", 1670.
To make Chaculato
Take half a Pint of Claret Wine, boil it a little, then scrape some Chaculato very fine and put into it, and the Yolks of two eggs, stir them until well together, and sweeten it with sugar according to your taste.
"The Ladies Delight", 1672.
"To make Spanish Chaculate"
Boile some water in an earthenware Pipkin a quater of an hour; then sweeten it with sugar, then scrape your Chaculate very fine, and put it in, boil it half and hour; then put in the Yolks of Eggs well beaten, and stir it over a slow fire till it be thick.
Above: Woolley's "Chaculato", made following the recipe above. As "Claret" of the time was rather different to the Bordeaux reds of today, I used a blend of Cabernet Rose and Muscat wines (as this is what I had in the house). It tastes like the most chocolately and boozey hot-chocolate that you can imagine. One tiny cup was enough for me.
Another reason why recipes for chocolate where not common in 17th century English texts may be because of the issue of politics. By and large chocolate was consumed in coffee houses and these had the reputation of being anti-establishment. So much so that several unsuccessful attempts where made by the Stuart monarchy to ban public houses serving "Coffee, Chocolate, Sherbet, or Tea". Most mainstream cookbook authors and especially pro-Stuart authors like Robert May were simply not going to include recipes for chocolate as it was perceived as being a beverage for the wrong sort of people. Nevertheless as chocolate was consumed and eventually lost it's rebel image and the use of chocolate as a healthy beverage stumbled on throughout the 17th and 18th century in England. It is clear from reading some texts that while most people in England where aware of the existance of chocolate, it's use still was far from general. In fact in one case an instruction for creams of "tea, coffee, chocolate &c" is given as a footnote to a recipe for "Cream made with Gizzards" - simply replace the gizzards with Chocolate!
This isn't to say that chocolate wasn't popular in England and some use for chocolate as a flavouring for solid or near solid dishes are given. Charles Carter in 1730 gives several recipes using chocolate, Chocolate pudding (see recipe below), tart and cream and in the middle of the same century Hannah Glasse gives a recipe for a chocolate cream (today it would be called a chocolate "mousse"), later at the end of this century John Farley gives instructions for making chocolate flavoured cream and a sort of chocolate meringue pie. But by and large in the 18th century chocolate still remained a "healthy beverage" and so it remained into the begining of the 19th century. In fact, at the begining of the 19th century most recipes for chocolate or cocao/cocoa were in the "invalid cooking" section of cookbooks. The industrial revolution had changed the way that chocolate/cocoa powder was made, but essentially while steam was being used to produce a finer, more consistent grade of product, it didn't differ hugely from the product being made in pre-conquest meso-america. The great leap forward in chocolate processing technology occured in 1828 the Dutch chocolate maker Van Houten developed a relatively inexpensive way of pressing cocoa beans in such a manner that the majoritory of the cocao fat or "butter" was squeezed out. Cocao beans are approximately 50% fat by weight, before Van Houten's development this ment that cocao beverages contained a great deal of fat also. In practical terms this made the cocao solids hard to disolve and the fat either had to be removed or dispersed thoughout the solution. This is the reason many earlier recipes for chocolate drinks are boiled for such a long period, are whipped to a frenzy or are mixed with egg yolks and/or cream - all a ways of dealing with the fat issue. Van Houten's breakthough lead to two great developments - modern de-fatten drinking cocao and if sugar and extra cocao butter are added back to the finely ground cocoa solids you can produce a solid, melting, modern-type chocolate bar. By the middle of the 19th century this modern type of chocolate bar was produced by Fry's in England. By the end of the century, more technological improvements and innovations had put the solid form of eating chocolate firmly on the track to becoming the most popular confection of the 20th century. Chocolate is now so popular that most people don't realise that for that most of it's history chocolate was actually a drink and in bar form it is so iconic now that commercial "chocolate" can be produced that contains little or no cocao butter and can contain as little as 15% cocao solids. So five hundred years of after the introduction of chocolate to Europe, people will drink a hot cup of cocoa or chocolate before bed or when ill, with out realising they are part of grand tradition of drinking chocolate for reasons of health and the reality is that most chocolate that is consumed is actuallly in the form of "not-actually-chocolate" bars.
Charles Carter's "Chocolate Pudding" from "The Complete Practical Cook", 1730, as adapted by me and rather delicious. The original recipe suggest that the pudding mixture is either baked in pastry shell as a tart or boiled (in a pudding cloth). I like making puddings in a cloth, but in this case I decided to make individually moulded puddings, as they are more practical and are likely to be of more use to interested cooks.
The main ingredients. 80gm sponge fingers, 80 gm chocolate*, 50 gm candied citron peel.
Finely grind the sponge fingers and chocolate, add the finely diced citron peel** , 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of mace. Blend together 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks with 250 ml of cream and 1 teaspoon of orange flower water, very well, until foamy. Fold this into the dry ingredients and fill, buttered and icing sugar dusted pudding moulds or tea-cups. Steam for 40 minutes, take off the heat and carefully turn out.
Pudding made in a teacup and turned out.
* Assuming that you will not have 17th century chocolate in you pantry, substitute Mexican chocolate or good quality dark chocolate.
** Citron peel can be replaced by candied ginger. Not in original recipe.
***The history of the cocao tree (Theobroma cacao) and chocolate is as complicated as it is interesting, for more details I suggest reading the truly excellent "The True History of Chocolate" by the anthropologists Sophie and Michael Coe).