Rabid Fun

John Cowart's Daily Journal: A befuddled ordinary Christian looks for spiritual realities in day to day living.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A Book Of Chocolate

There’s a chocolate bar buried on top of the world.

When Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay climbed the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest, in 1953, Norgay buried a chocolate bar in the snow as an offering to the spirit of the mountain.

I learned this bit of trivia while reading the book Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage edited by Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro (John Wiley & Sons Inc., Hoboken, N.J. © 2009).

I’ve mentioned before how on my weekly library trips I try to pick up at least one book of serious reading in addition to my normal diet of shoot-‘em-up-bang-bang mysteries. Thus, recently I’ve read a book about an 1878 bank robbery in New York; a book about the last days of the Roman Empire; one about a U.S. Army chaplain in Iraq; and one about building a space ship in your backyard.

This reading discipline is supposed to sharpen my mind.

Can’t say that it’s working.

Anyhow, the editors of Chocolate recruited over 110 researchers from 30 countries who worked 11 years to produce the 56 chapters of this book telling everything there is to tell about chocolate.

The 975-page book is printed on high-gloss paper and weighs more than your college physics textbook did; and in places this book reads just as smoothly.

Yet I found parts fascinating.

When the Spanish arrived in the New World, the natives offered them chocolate. The Conquistadors regarded it as a treasure—sort of.

By the year 1571, the Inquisition in the New World began examining sinners about their use of chocolate. This Chocolate book examines 21 trials and provides transcripts of testimonies involving chocolate and witchcraft.

Did I mention that this book is thoroughly documented with illustrations, extensive footnotes and bibliographies for each chapter?

I confess I did not read all 975 pages; I zeroed in on portions I found most interesting.

I learned a bit about the travels of chocolate to the South Pole with the Scott and Shackleton expeditions; and about the use of chocolate on New Bedford sailing ships as they hunted sperm whale; and about an 1779 English law that banished chocolate smugglers to a penal colony for life.

I learned about how a 1641 Spanish galleon, damaged in a hurricane, landed at St. Augustine, Florida, just a few miles from where I live. To save his ship in the storm, the captain had thrown overboard rigging, cannon, and cargo to lighten his dismasted ship. But he saved the chocolate.

After months of bickering between merchants, and after several letters back and forth to the king of Spain, the chocolate was auctioned to people in St. Augustine. The transaction was so important that a detailed inventory was kept of the 222 citizens who could afford to buy that chocolate. That inventory provides historians with information about St. Augustine’s colonial population.

I also learned about medicinal properties of chocolate, which has been used to treat everything from hangover to smallpox.

The Chocolate book’s chapter about the 1764 Smallpox epidemic in Boston contains an interesting prayer that appeared in the June 18th Boston Gazzette newspaper:

O Strengthen and support me during this alarming Trial; soften the Pains and abate the Violence of the Disorder; Let Thy good spirit suggest the most proper Means for my Preservation and Recovery…

But, O Lord, while I am preparing my mortal Part for this dreaded Trial, let me not neglect to prepare my Soul for Eternity. The utmost I can hope from Success in this Pursuit is to prolong my live, perhaps for a few transient Years; let me not fail then to make Provision for that immortal State which will continue when Time shall be no more, beyond the Reach of Disaster or Casualty…

O grant all this, and whatever else is needful for me through Jesus Christ our Lord! AMEN.

Considering that a September 1st report released by the Florida Department of Health says that today one out of every 123 men in Florida now has HIV/AIDS, it might be a good idea for newspapers to begin printing such prayers again.

Another thing the Chocolate book also taught me was about chocolate trade cards, a fad which swept the world of the 1800s. When you bought chocolate in the store, your package came with colorful cards, lithographs depicting cute kids, reclining ladies, Dutch windmills, World’s Fair exhibits, bright birds—people bought, traded, collected and hung these cards in their parlors. Beautiful things!

“A substantial body of chocolate trade cards survives today documenting the assertive marketing strategy of foreign and domestic producers alike,” one author says. “These cards may have survived because of their high production numbers, or because the popular sentiments they expressed appealed to customers. But they may have been saved simply because people like chocolate”.

Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info
posted by John Cowart @ 5:03 AM


At 12:44 PM, Blogger Amrita said...

This post is leading me into temptation...chocolate.

I am sure Sherri will love it.

The vintage photos are lovely.

At 1:33 AM, Blogger Felisol said...

Dear John C,
Chocolate for sure is comfort food # 1.
When I broke my right ankle and my right hand wrist within three days time, (osteoporosis, of course), I consumed snickers bar, snickers ice and chocolate cookies en masse on a daily basis.
I gained fifteen kilos, but I survived mentally as well as physically.

The extra weight has for nine years been of inspiration to hikes, swimming and exercises.
Not a bad thing that either.

In every aspect, chocolate has been expanding my social as well as my comfortable zone.

A hot chocolate cuppa topped with cream is the perfect company as we slowly are entering the fall.
From Felisol

At 9:17 AM, Blogger Van said...

As usual, I am never disappointed when I drop in for a visit to your blog. You are such an inlightened educator. I would have never taken the time to read all about chocolate! I just take the time to eat it - as much as I can! Keep writing.

At 11:55 AM, Blogger Billy Coffey said...

Oh man, I'm so hungry right now...

At 7:22 PM, Blogger sherri said...

Well, of course I love this- but did it mention any biblical reference of chocolate- or chocolate as a cancer cure- or chocolate and people someday being allowed to marry? Just curious.

At 9:25 PM, Blogger John Cowart said...

Sorry Sherri. I checked the book's index and I find no reference to any of your questions. Chocolate must be one of life's great imponderables.


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