JANE: So, Alan, when I read your most recent “wot I red on my hols,” I noticed that you have recently had a birthday.
ALAN: Yes – having birthdays is a bad habit I seem to have stumbled into. I get older every year, damnit!
JANE: No matter! I’m going to wish you Happy Birthday anyhow, so there!
We once did a Tangent on birthday celebrations,
so I am sophisticated regarding the customs of your alien land. Today I’d like to discuss something much more serious: chocolate.
In your “hols,” you stated that your birthday banquet concluded with an enormous chocolate cake. You seem to have enjoyed it with great enthusiasm. However, many times you have stated that you do not care for chocolate.
What I want to know is how anyone can say he is indifferent to chocolate.
ALAN: Habit, more than anything else, I think. When I was a child chocolate (and sweets in general) were still rationed – a hangover from the war. Even when they finally came off the ration, they were still comparatively expensive. So chocolate in particular was a rare luxury which I seldom, if ever, saw.
JANE: That’s actually fascinating. Do you remember when rationing began to loosen up?
ALAN: I’m not sure when rationing finished – sometime in the early 1950s. I don’t really remember it, I was far too young. It was just one of those grown up things that I didn’t understand. But I do remember having my mum’s ration book as a toy to play with. Presumably that was after rationing was over…
I also remember eating what was probably my first ever piece of chocolate. It was made to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, so I would have eaten it in 1953 or so. I seem to recall quite enjoying it. Indeed, even today if I happen to eat a piece of chocolate I do enjoy it. But I have no great urge to seek it out and I can, quite literally, go for years without having any chocolate at all.
Indeed, I ate only one small slice of the birthday chocolate cake. Other people consumed the rest of it.
JANE: I tremble… Although we didn’t have rationing, my parents were much more likely to supply us with fresh fruit rather than candy. And, believe me, that wasn’t suffering. I still remember summer-warm peaches, plums, and grapes, fresh from local farms.
Maybe because of that, even though I can – and usually do – eat chocolate on a daily basis, it still seems very special.
Other than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I don’t really know much about English chocolate. Tell me about something uniquely British.
ALAN: A common chocolate bar of my youth was Frys Five Boys. The bar was divided into five pieces, each of which had the face of a boy moulded into the chocolate. Each boy had a different expression on his face. A little bit of googling tells me that the five faces were Desperation, Pacification, Expectation, Acclamation, and Realisation – these presumably being the steps along the way to obtaining and eating the chocolate.
JANE: That’s rather weird – especially Pacification – I really can’t see how that fits in at all.
We didn’t have candy bars with faces on them, at least that I remember. My favorites as a child usually involved nuts or coconut, and these remain combinations I really like. For a while, I tried Three Musketeers bars, because they were thicker than your average Hershey bar – even a Hershey with almonds – but they really were too sweet.
To this day, when Jim and I are given a box of mixed chocolates, I get the coconut pieces, he gets the creams and cordials, and we share the rest, although, in fairness, I get somewhat more of the nuts, because he’s usually still working his way through creams.
Do you prefer milk or dark chocolate?
ALAN: I’m not sure I really have a preference, since I eat it so rarely. But I think probably dark chocolate because I don’t have a very sweet tooth.
JANE: I definitely prefer dark chocolate, although I won’t turn down milk chocolate, if it’s of good quality. Sadly, many of the standards of my childhood – like the basic Hershey’s kiss or Reeses peanut butter cup – are now made with such poor quality chocolate that you can feel the sugar grate against your teeth. I usually avoid these. If I’m going to have the calories, I’d like to enjoy them.
ALAN: Since you are so fond of chocolate, I’m sure you must have a store of chocolate anecdotes…
JANE: Many, but there’s one that seems especially appropriate here. Some years ago, when I was invited to be Guest of Honor at a convention in Wisconsin, the Guest Liaison asked me if there was anything special I’d like put in my room. She seemed disappointed when I told her my drinks of choice were water and coffee, and asked if there wasn’t a special treat I’d like.
I told her that I usually started my day with a bit of chocolate. To my astonishment, when we arrived, she presented us with a very large tin filled with homemade chocolate truffles: her own handiwork. They were very delicious. I still have the tin and whenever I use it, I think with great warmth of Heidi Oliversen and her talent and kindness.
ALAN: Tins are wonderful things. Robin has an old chocolate tin sitting in the back of the pantry waiting for just the right thing to be put into it.
I think I must have a slightly naïve view of chocolate. To me, it’s always been something solid that I chew and I remember being very puzzled to read about people drinking it. Drinking chocolate? What’s that? Is it just a molten chocolate bar? Eventually I did actually come across proper drinking chocolate, but I don’t like it very much. It’s very bitter, unless you overload it with so much sugar and milk that the chocolate seems almost to be an afterthought; which rather destroys the point of it, I think.
JANE: Ah, yes… Drinking bitter chocolate is an indigenous American tradition. It is often mixed with spices like chile which gives it an added kick. There was great excitement in the archeological community a few years ago when some vessels from Chaco Canyon were analyzed and chocolate residue was found. There was much speculation as to whether it was in common use or reserved for special occasions.
The few times I’ve had drinking chocolate, I’ve found the caffeine boost almost too much. For someone who routinely begins her day with a cup of black coffee and four chocolate covered almonds, that’s definitely saying something.
ALAN: I have a chocolate related question for you, but I suspect the answer might be complicated. How about I ask you next time?