TT: Chocoholics Anonymous!

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?


15 Responses to “TT: Chocoholics Anonymous!”

  1. Peter Says:

    In fact “proper” drinking chocolate is, indeed, a molten chocolate bar, ideally topped with a cube or two of cheese, at least in my household. The chocolate can be melted in a pot with some milk and then served, or served alongside a mug of hot milk.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Seriously? Where are you from? Is this just a family tradition or a regional one? What sort of chocolate bar would you use? And cheese????

      • Peter Says:

        Seriously 🙂

        The “melted bar of chocolate” is pretty standard across South America (you see it in Spain, too) Generally you’d use a bar of drinking chocolate (much as you’d use baking chocolate for baking.) If you can’t find any, a bar of good-quality plain dark eating chocolate works too (in a pinch you can use something like a plain Hershey bar, but it’s worth spending a little more for good chocolate).

        If you want to try it for yourself heat up some milk in the microwave (a milk steamer for cappuccino works well too) or in a pot over the stove, and either add in the chocolate while heating the milk (if heating on the stove) or just drop the bar into your mug or glass, then stir.

        The cheese is a Venezuelan thing (also popular in Colombia) Ideally one uses queso blanco (lit. “white cheese”), a very soft, mild white cheese – you can substitute mozzarella or halloumi if you can’t find proper queso blanco. Once the chocolate is properly dissolved (if you served the bar chocolate and hot milk separately) drop a piece of cheese approximately the size and shape of a standard full-sized marshmallow on top of the hot chocolate and enjoy. Much like hot chocolate with marshmallows, you just let it melt into the hot drink, then fish out whatever’s left stuck to the bottom of the cup with a spoon when you finish.

        Can be served with breakfast (very popular at brunch) as an alternative to coffee, or as part of an any-time snack, usually with churros or cachapas (a kind of corn pancake).

        I’ll be curious to see how many people are brave enough to try this at home 😉

      • janelindskold Says:

        I’m not sure I’m tempted! And Hershey has really gone downhill, at least here in the U.S. If I did want to try, I’d get a better type!

      • Peter Says:

        Even if you decide to pass on the cheese (and seriously, try it! I’ve converted a lot of people over the years) starting with chocolate (as opposed to the cocoa powder generally used in North America) provides great results, especially if you find a lot of commercial cocoa powder too sweet (it’s also thicker, which is nice on a cold winter’s day. Or as part of breakfast.)

      • Peter Says:

        Same stuff, just with sweetener (possibly powdered milk, and probably a bunch of polysyllabic small print) added. Most “hot chocolate mix” sold in North America doesn’t actually contain chocolate sensu stricto.

        Fun linguistic note I just ran across (and now I’m imagining the look on Arthur’s face as Eddie pours a pot of coffee): in Nigeria hot chocolate (not sure if they use cocoa or actual chocolate) is often referred to as “tea”, due to the Nigerian custom of referring to all hot drinks consumed with breakfast as “tea”.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Actually, to a baker like me, “cocoa powder” by definition is unsweetened. Isn’t language fascinating?

  2. Louis Robinson Says:

    As an assistance to Allan and others, I’ll just mention that a good part of the excitement over chocolate in Chaco Canyon is due to the fact that the nearest source is some 2500km [1600mi] away as the quetzal flies. And since no quetzal in its right mind – or even still in its skin, for that matter – had ever been north of the Valley of Mexico when Chaco was occupied, that chocolate had taken a very roundabout route indeed. I’m going to have to chase down some more info on that – now I’m wondering what Chaco was trading for it.

    Chocolate, or at least chocolate bars, is another of those common things that divide us. We had a long discussion on Baen’s Bar many years ago about Mars products that started, IIRC, when someone made a remark about Snickers and someone else replied “Whaaat!??!!? Snickers doesn’t have…!” I can’t recall the details now, but do remember that I washed up in San Diego in the middle of it and was able to contribute a side-by-side comparison. And bars with the same wrapper really are quite different inside.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Fascinating about the difference between what is in a Snicker’s wrapper. I’m familiar with the caramel/peanut/nougat thing. What I really like as an occasional treat is the ice cream bar version.

      As to Chaco and chocolate… Remember that trade was not always for goods. It’s much more complicated. Intangibles like stories, rituals, etc were important.

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        As I said, I’m going to have to poke around. I’d be surprised if anyone at Chaco extended a Tenochtitlan-style protection racket as far as Mesoamerica, so they were probably giving value for cocoa beans.

        Should have added ‘and with whom’, come to think of it. Pre-Columbian trade networks, as I understand them, really were networks – individual traders weren’t hiking across the continent the way those European clowns did. So I’m also wondering just how many hands those beans had passed through on the way up. Clues are probably sitting in the bottom of a pot some place in Sonora.

      • janelindskold Says:

        All good thoughts… And, yes, the current speculation is “networks” not individual traders. That said, I have some theories as to what was being traded, but I want to save them for a story, so I’m going to be coy!

  3. Sally Says:

    From time to time I enjoy a cup of half coffee, half roasted cacao bean (Crio Bru). No cream or sweetener, as I can’t do either, but they’d probably do good things to it too. I find it a little less bitter than plain coffee, with a mild chocolate flavor.

    • janelindskold Says:

      That sounds interesting. Is Crio Bru a brand?

      • Sally Says:

        Yep. Though I think there’s similar brands.

        By the way, your response to drinking cocoa probably wasn’t to the caffeine as such, unless there was added caffeine. Perhaps you are particularly sensitive to theobromine (a heart stimulant)?

      • janelindskold Says:

        I like the idea of being particularly stimulated by theobromine — especially given that it means “food of the gods.” Not that I’m saying I’m a god, but with all this fiction featuring half-godlings (like Percy Jackson) sensitivity to chocolate would be a fun diagnostic.

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