Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Story of Chocolate

The Story of Chocolate
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Everyland magazine, January 1917. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, Jan. 2012.

WHEN the Spaniards first landed in Mexico and Central America they found the native Indians using a drink which the Spaniards had never before tasted. The Aztecs called it chocolati, and today we call it chocolate but very few who eat chocolate or drink cocoa ever stop to think how it is made.
If you have once seen a cacao tree,—for cocoa and chocolate both come from this same tree,—you will never fail to recognize the tree again, for there is no other tree like it. It is a very pretty tree, with rich green leaves, which are bronze red or purple when young, but the queerest thing about it is the way in which the flowers and fruit grow. Instead of budding from the ends of twigs, the cacao flowers sprout directly from the rough bark of the limbs and trunk, and the fruits look very funny hanging everywhere upon the bark as if tacked on. The cacao fruits are rough and brightly colored with purple, red, or yellow, and a tree, covered with the yellow fruits or pods, looks as if it were bearing squashes.
Within the pods is a mass of white slimy pulp, and in this are many brown seeds or beans. The ripe pods are very carefully cut from the trees,—for if broken or torn off, the trees are injured—and, as fast as cut, they are gathered in baskets and carried to some spot where they are dumped in piles to be opened. This is done by men with big sharp knives called machetes (mah-chay'-tayz), and as each pod is split open the pulp and seeds within are dumped into trays or baskets. As soon as a basket is full of the pulp it is carried to the "sweating-house," where the pulp is dumped into boxes with holes in the bottoms and which are covered over with leaves or matting. After a few days they are changed to another box, where they are left for two or three days more, by which time the soft, white pulp has entirely disappeared and the beans have changed to a rich purple color. This process is called "fermenting," and a great deal of care is necessary in fermenting the beans, for, if badly or carelessly done, the cocoa or chocolate will be poor and the beans will not bring a high price.
When the seeds are properly fermented, they are spread upon huge trays to dry, and as the least rain or dampness injures the beans, the drying trays are usually made with wheels running on tracks, so that the trays with their loads of beans may be quickly run under a shed in case of a shower. As the beans are drying in the bright sunshine they are raked about by men who walk among the beans barefooted and shuffle and tread them about to smooth and polish them. On many of the smaller estates the beans are dried on cowhides, placed on the ground, or in trays placed beside the road, and one may often see chickens, dogs, sheep, cattle, and children scratching and playing about in the beans. This seems like a very dirty method of drying anything which is to be used for food, and many people who see the beans with animals or barefooted black men walking about in the trays, think that cocoa or chocolate must be very filthy. But this is not the case, for, when the beans reach the factory or mill to be made into cocoa or chocolate, the outer skins with all the dirt are removed. The cocoa and chocolate we buy in the stores are made in big factories and go through numerous machines and many processes, but in the countries where the cocoa trees grow the people make the chocolate by pounding the beans in a mortar. Then they add sugar and a little cinnamon or vanilla, and mix the ground beans into paste with water and roll them into little sticks or cakes. When these are dissolved in water and milk, they make a very rich but nourishing drink, exactly the same as the Spaniards first tasted in Mexico nearly half a thousand years ago. Nowadays cocoa is grown in so many places and in such large quantities that it is not as valuable as it was once. In former days in the West Indies the theft of cocoa was punishable by death, and in some countries the cocoa beans were used as money.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.