Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Chocolate Unwrapped

In a January blog I mentioned that one of Margaret Atwood’s cures for writer’s block was, “Eat chocolate . . . must be dark, shade-grown, organic.” The chocolate tree’s scientific name, Theobroma cacao, comes from theobroma, “food of the gods”. I wonder what depressed writers did before the 16th century when chocolate first arrived in Europe.

In 1528 the conquistador, Hernando Cortés, presented Charles V of Spain with cocoa beans. In Mesoamerica the plant had been cultivated for over three thousand years where these highly-prized tropical seeds were fermented and used to make a drink. Chocolate was also prized as currency. Two hundred beans would buy a turkey; one hundred beans a rabbit. Three beans could be traded for a turkey egg, an avocado or a fish wrapped in maize husks. One bean would get you a ripe tomato.

The Aztecs attributed the creation of the cocoa plant to their god Quetzalcoatl, but it was the Mayan people who gave it the name we use today, xocoatl (bitter water).

Given most people’s taste for chocolate, not surprisingly it features in book titles: Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Dying for Chocolate (Diane Mott Davidson’s tale of murder in high society) and Robert Rankin’s The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse where the inhabitants of Toy Town are killed with chocolate treats!

Writing this blog has reminded me of a handwritten note that used to be on my mother’s fridge: Chocolate is in your mouth for a few seconds, in your stomach for a few hours, on your hips forever. Reading about this “food of the gods” is the best way to enjoy it . . . without any calories.

I’m off now to chew on Laura Esquivel’s Water for Chocolate, a novel which features a chocolate recipe at the start of each chapter and combines Mexican mysticism with Esquivel’s love for this wonderful concoction. Viva chocolate! Stay tuned . . .

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