Happy Cinco de Mayo!
What better day to delve into a little history about my favorite new world discovery, chocolate?
The Mayan, Toltecs, and Aztecs were all familiar with the beans the Aztecs named cacahuatl. They traded them in markets with the dual role of food as well as currency. Conquered provinces were allowed to pay their taxes to the Aztec rulers using the beans as currency.
The Spaniards, led by Hernando Cortes, discovered a huge reserve of cocoa beans in the possession of the Aztec emperor of Mexico, Montezuma.
Somewhere along the line, the people discovered that a chemical reaction takes place which mellows out the flavour of the beans if they are allowed to ferment. This was the first development in turning the beans from currency into food. Systematic cultivation, fermentation, and further processing soon followed.
In this pre-European era, it wasn’t yet possible to keep the oil and fatty part of the beans separate from the water to which it was added. The way they made xocolatl (xoco = bitter, atl = water) was to add cold water to the ground up beans, and stir it vigorously with a wooden whisk, so that the paste remained suspended in the water. It was reported that Montezuma drank xocolatl several times a day from beakers made of pure gold.
The natives were also inclined to spice the drink with native vanilla, wild honey, pita juice, and occasionally chile powder. Spanish officers added aniseed, cinnamon, almonds, and hazelnuts.
It wasn’t until it was brought back to Europe and modified a great deal over several centuries that chocolate took on the form we know today.
Traditional Mexican chocolate is still made by roasting the beans, grinding them on a flat, porous stone with a stone rolling pin until the fats and solids form a pliable mass. It is then pressed into blocks, bars, or balls.
I have a recipe for traditional Mexican chocolate, but a lot of patience, strength, and know how are also involved.
4 1/2 lbs sugar
3 1/2 oz. cinnamon stick and almonds
added to 2 lbs of roasted cocoa beans
Bring a coffee pot full of water to a boil, and add for each portion 2/3 of an ounce of grated or finely chopped chocolate with an equal quantity of sugar. Allow to boil for 7-8 minutes.
Fortunatly industrialization has given us cocoa powder and Nestle Quick, among other chocolate products, so we don’t have to slave over a grinding stone to get our chocolate fix.