The Heritage Kitchen. Traditional treats for today's Gourmets. Homestyle jam, jelly, marmalade, chutney, wine jelly & fruit preserves. Just like Grandma made.
Food for Thought: Chocolate



Being a god has privileges. Take food for instance. Masters of the Universe do not eat ham and eggs. The Greek gods supped on ambrosia, sipped nectar and never shared their divine vittles with mere mortals. The Israelites were more fortunate. When they were starving in the wilderness, Jehovah showered them with a special delivery of heavenly manna. The Aztecs had the best deal. Quetzalcoatl fed his faithful chocolate.

As Keeper of the Garden of Paradise, Quetzalcoatl cared for the Tree of Life. It was a wondrous plant. Unlike every other tree in creation that flowered and bore fruit only once a year, the cacahuaquchtl was ever-blooming. At all times its deep green foliage was dotted with pretty little white flowers and fruit in all sizes from teensy green newborn nubs to huge mature pods in shades of scarlet, orange and deep purple. When opened the pod revealed its prize: a tight cluster of twenty or more seeds each covered with sweet white pulp. Once dried, roasted and crushed the seeds were mixed with hot water and spices to create tchocoatl, a life sustaining liquid that imparted energy and a sense of wellbeing to all who drank it.

So key to existence was this marvelous tree that its seeds were used as money. A rabbit could be purchased with ten dried beans, a pumpkin with four, a slave with one hundred, and a night's pleasure in a brothel with eight. Montezuma's imperial warehouse was stacked high with more than 960 million cacao beans, and each time an Aztec drank chocolate, he was drinking real money. In today's culture that can be likened to lighting a cigar with a twenty dollar bill. It was a golden age when money literally grew on trees, nevertheless like other currencies, cacao was subject to counterfeiting. Unscrupulous people stuffed hollow beans with ashes or mud.

Unfortunately chocolate's divine origin was an element that led to the fall of the Aztec empire. According to Mesoamerican mythology, one day Quetzalcoatl boarded a raft and sailed east across the ocean toward the rising sun leaving his faithful waiting and praying for his return. When Cortez arrived wearing iron armor and riding a strange steed that was also sheathed in iron (horses were unknown in the Americas until the Spanish invasion), Montezuma and his people hailed the bearded conquistador as their returning chocolate deity. Recognizing the case of mistaken identity as a way to further his own interests, Cortez took advantage of the situation and demanded that the Aztecs hand over their royal treasures.

Joyfully the people led the invader to their biggest cocoa plantation and served him large goblets of their holy chocolate drink. Cortez was amused and much more interested in the huge golden cups than the beverage itself. Whether it was tchocoatl's energy boosting and aphrodisiac virtues or the fact that it was served by lovely lasses that turned Cortez into a cocoa fancier little matters. The great conquistador was instantly hooked. For the rest of his life he kept a filled chocolate pot on his desk ready for sipping at any time night or day.

When Spanish missionaries arrived in the New World they set about convincing the locals to adopt a new god and began by transforming tchocoatl into a less stimulating brew. Eliminating the Aztec's spice and chile pepper additives, the clergy mixed chocolate powder with sweeteners and another New World find, vanilla. The result was delicious. So delicious that less than one hundred years later chocolate drinks had become so popular in Spain that Pope Clement VIII was faced with a serious problem. Church rules stipulated people must fast for twenty-four hours prior to taking communion, but Spanish ladies insisted on having their morning cup of chocolate before mass. His Holiness was obliged to concede.


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