Old chocolate is amazing.
And I don’t mean old as in you found last Halloween’s leftover bag of miniature Snickers bars, and after removing both the fake and the real cobwebs, you classified it as … edible-ish.
I mean old chocolate as in 250 year-old chocolate.
Okay, maybe I mean a 250 year-old recipe for chocolate, but I’m hoping that might be implied.
Regardless, I recently had a chance to taste this luscious libation when I last visited one of my fathers’ homes. Forefathers that is.
Although not technically related, I do feel a special kinship with Thomas Jefferson in that he and I share a lot of commonality:
Thomas Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State. I was the first United States Secretary of Stately Housekeeping in the ramshackle kindling fort my brother and I made when we were kids. Both Jefferson and I argued endlessly with the Secretary of the Treasury over fiscal responsibility and where we would spend our combined allowance—I mean finances.
Thomas Jefferson was a leader in enlightenment. He brought about awareness and understanding to millions on a plethora of subjects. I am a leader in de-lightenment. I bring about awareness and understanding to my children on the cost of keeping a room lit with no one in it to enlighten. (Hold your groans, it only gets worse from here.)
We shared a great love of books, both played the violin, and astonishingly enough, it appears we employed the same hairdresser for much of our adult lives.
But it’s the love of Colonial chocolate that brought me closest to Jefferson on my last visit to his shiny little shanty. The architecture of Monticello could not compete with the spindly legged table set up in his yard that was used to demonstrate a ‘made from scratch nectar’ enjoyed by our late president and many lucky citizens of the 18th century.
The event was the Heritage Harvest Festival. Coined as America’s First Foodie, Mr. Jefferson invited friends and family to one of his annual backyard BBQs. He’s good like that, allowing folks to trample through his garden and kids to climb his trees. I bet if he were alive today, he’d have been right out there on the West Lawn with the rest of us, eating a pulled pork sandwich and washing it down with a local brew.
Or he might have been standing behind me as I attempted for the third time that day to pass myself off as a curious newcomer to the demonstration of ‘How the colonials made their chocolate drink.’ Free samples in miniature Dixie cups were handed out after you watched someone explain the roasting of cocoa beans, the process of de-shelling the beans by hand and the grueling work of grinding the cocoa nibs via mortar and pestle.
Yes, arduous work.
Thank you for the sample.
(Wait for 30 minutes behind a tree)
Get back in line.
There were a million things to learn about at this historical heritage happening. We were encouraged to Celebrate the harvest and the legacy of revolutionary gardener Thomas Jefferson who championed vegetable cuisine, plant experimentation and sustainable agriculture.
And to Taste a bounty of heirloom fruits and vegetables and learn about organic gardening and seed-saving during this fun, affordable, family-friendly festival.
But I’ve had bushels full of fabulous fruit and veg this summer already, and was plum up to my earballs in articles and lectures on sustainable farming and gardening.
I WANTED THAT CHOCOLATE.
Okay, yes, every day I make sure to eat a fistful of mahogany magnificence, but this is not the point. The point is that what I usually have in my fist did not measure up to what I saw casually proffered to passersby via cherub-faced young ladies. What they held out on their trays should have been deemed illegal. It was addictive, enslaving—I was hooked.
It was cocoa bean crack.
At one point in 1785, Thomas Jefferson penned that chocolate would surpass American love for coffee and tea—just like it had happened in Spain. Clever, clever Spaniards. I’m guessing over there, little kids had set up chocolate stalls and kicked the idea of lemonade stands to the curb.
Even Benjamin Franklin understood the importance of this ambrosia. Somehow, between his good looks and charm, he arranged six pounds of chocolate to accompany every officer, termed “a special supply” for those who marched alongside General Braddock’s Army during the French and Indian war. I’m guessing most Americans today would be asking for a refill after a week and a half tops.
Back up top at Monticello, I finally succumbed to guilt and temptation and forked out the twenty some dollars for the small tin of the American Heritage Historic Chocolate drink. It will sit on my desk for months as I gaze longingly at it, but I will repeatedly tell myself it should be saved for something monumental like a presidential election, or something worthy like passing a test, or a kidney stone.
Likely, next September will roll around and I will receive another invitation to visit the grandpappy of our population. I will rootle around on my desk searching for my tickets and come across the tin, having been buried beneath overdue Netflix movies, bills and yes, last year’s Halloween candy.
I will head to the hill for some history (okay, we all know I’m just going for the chocolate) and try to soothe the guilt that bubbles up admonishing me for wasting money on something I didn’t even consume.
But then I will remind myself that the chocolate is 250 years old already, so what’s one more year. In fact, I’m totally with Mark Twain on the subject: Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.
- Wallops sends chocolate into space. (Timesdispatch.com)
- 30 Thomas Jefferson Famous Quotes (nguyenlongho.com)
- Heritage Harvest Festival (cvilletomorrow.org)
- 19 Famous Thomas Jefferson ‘Quotes’ That He Actually Never Said At All (businessinsider.com)