The Irish Times kindly printed the following article of mine in a Virtual Ireland Supplement featuring examples of blogging, along with pieces from Slugger O’Toole, Damien Blake, Sinead GleesonÂ and Grandad…
With the rain and darkness of the Kerry winter upon us, I have been thinking a lot about chocolate, that magical concoction of comfort. Chocolate, or xocoatl, meaning “bitter water,” originated in Central America as a drink enhanced with chilli peppers and other spices. Made by crushing the cocoa plant’s seeds, it was revered in ancient Mayan culture and was integral to religious and royal ceremonies. Later, the Aztecs grew to love it, and chocolate became a huge part of their economy. They even used cocoa beans as currency. In Aztec mythology, the first cocoa tree came from paradise, carried down on the beam of the morning star by the god Quetzalcoatl.
That’s a story I can get behind. Give me an intense 70% cocoa bar or a velvety hot chocolate as you might find on Ile Saint-Louis in Paris, and the angels start singing. The same goes for high quality chocolate truffles that melt in the mouth or a luxurious, genache-covered cake such as our baker Wiebke’s Sachertorte. When we’re making our chocolate ice cream and mixing in dark Valrhona, I grab a spoon. It’s not just quality control. I love chocolate.
My brother suffers the same affliction, which is half the reason we started Murphys Ice Cream (ice cream, of course, being the other half). Ordering chocolate samples was our first item of business after incorporation, and it’s no wonder. My mother’s a chocolate addict. Her own mother retired to Switzerland (where chocolate has “national dish” status) and brought us bags of the stuff when she visited. Even my father will happily pack away a generous amount when no one is looking too closely.
Strangely, chocolate does not seduce everyone. Columbus was not a fan, so maybe we’re fortunate to have it at all. When he became fully aware of chocolate on his fourth voyage, he dismissed it. Cortes had more sense, however, and he brought it back to Spain in 1528, after conquering Mexico’s supreme chocoholic, Montezuma.
With the addition of sugar, drinking chocolate became the rage in the European courts and then in Paris cafes. In 1657, the first chocolate shop opened in London. Even the clergy took to it, and the Vatican proclaimed about chocolate in 1662: “Liquidum non frangit jejunum” – “liquid chocolate doesn’t count as breaking the fast. That’s something to remember with Lent just a few months away.
It was 1857 before the British chocolatier, J. S. Fry, developed solid eating chocolate; filled chocolates were only invented by the Swiss in 1913. Well into the 20th Century, chocolate was still primarily a beverage.
With that in mind, I have been thinking of widening the range of hot chocolates in our Dingle and Killarney shops (we already have three variations). It’s time to bring out the spices and play. Perhaps some Mayan warmth, in the form of thick, steaming chocolate with a little bite of chilli pepper, will prove the perfect antidote to a blustery winter’s day in Kerry!