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Thursday, September 22, 2005
Ever since its discovery by the Aztecs in ancient Mexico, it has been used as a gift-a concrete expression of a thousand feelings too sweet, too complex for mere words.

LOVE NEED TANGIBLE LANGUAGE, for love cannot be contained nor expressed by even the most sophisticated vocabulary. Music expresses love to our ears...flowers are a visual symbol of our feelings....and Chocolate, allows us to taste love's sweetness.

CHOCOLATE comes from the cacao tree, a tropical plant that thrives in hot, rainy climates. It does not grow well more than twenty degrees north or south of the equator, and it is a delicate and sensitive tree that needs shade and protection from the wind, especially during the first years of its growth. A newly planted cacao seeding is often sheltered by another tree, such as a banana, plantain, coconut, or rubber tree. Once it is well established, though, the cacao tree can grow in full sunlight, so long as it has care and fertile soil.

THE CACAO TREE IS AN EVERGREEN, with large glossy leaves that are red when young and green when mature. Moss and bright lichen cling to its bark, and small orchids often grow on its branches. All year long the tree sprouts thousands of tiny pink or white blossoms that cluster along the trunk and older branches. The fruits comes from green or marron-colored pods that turn to gold and scarlet as they ripen.

The jon of picking the ripe cacao beans is not easy. The tree is so delicate that the workers cannot risk injuring it by climbing the branches to reach for the pods. Instead, the pickers use long handled, mitten-shaped steel knives to reach the highest pods without wounding the tree's soft bark. Ripe pods are found on trees at all times, since the growing season in the tropics is continous.

Each pod holds from twenty to fifty cream-colored beans that quickly turn lavender or purple as they are exposed to air. Although each pod holds so many beans, harvesting cacao beans takes time and patience, for approximately four hundred beans are needed to make one pound of chocolate.

The first cacao trees grew wild in the rain forests of the Amazon and Orinoco river basins over four thousand years ago. By the seventh century A.D., the Mayans had cultiuvated these trees; they took them when they migrated to the Yucatan,a nd there, they paid taxes to teh Aztecs with cocoa beans. During Montezuma's regime, a drink made from the beans was considered to be sacred. It could be imbibed only by the male elite, and the beans were used as currency.

When the conquistador Hernando Cortes returned from Mexicao in 1520, he introduced his own version of the chocolate drink to the courtof King Charles V. When Columbus had tried to impress Europeans with the same drink, they had turned up their noses at the bitter brew, but Cortes caught the King's attention by adding sugar and vanilla to the chocolate. Word of this new drink quickly spread throughout Spain.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, chocolate consumption spread throughout Europe . At first, only the very wealthy could afford it, but the French Revolution also meant the chocolate began tobe consumed by the common folk as well as the aristocracy. In 1828, the Dutcj invented a cocoa press that further reduced the priceof the chocolate.

Just as the Aztecs had considered chocolate to be sacred, Europeans now thought of chocolate as a therapeutic, health-giving substance. Quaker families in England , such as the Fryes and Cadburies,
beganproducing chocolate, promoting it as "healthful and flesh-forming", a far better alternative to gin.

In 1847, the Fry Chocolate Factories in Bristol, England molded the first chocolate bar, and in 1850, Richard Cadbury made the first Valentine Day heart candy box. Milk chocolate was invented in 1879 by two Swiss chocolate manufacturers, Henri Nestle and Daniel Peter. In the United States, Milton Hershey brought mass production to chocolate manufacturing. He also was the first to experiment with use of vegetable fats instead of pure cocoa, which raised the melting point of a candy bar. Chocolate could then withstand the heat of American summers and could also be shipped to troops during the World War II.

The U.S. government recognized chocolate's importance to both the nourishment and morale of the Allied Forces -- so much so that it allocated valuable shipping space for the importation of cocoa beans.

Today, the U.S. Army D-rations a=still include three 4-ounce choclate bars.

(abstracted from the book: SWEETS FOR MY SWEET: A Celebration of Love and Chocolateby:Ellyn Sanna)
posted by infraternam meam @ 12:55 AM  
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Name: infraternam meam
Home: Chicago, United States
About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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