October 2020

Chocolate

Chocolate has always been a significant part of my life. I have an insatiable craving for it, a nearly genetic craving, and here’s an overview of my relationship with it through my life.

Of late I’ve discovered that I can keep the addiction under control by allowing myself a cup of hot chocolate (made with a sugar substitute blend) at bedtime if I’ve been good (or at least relatively good) about my carbohydrate intake during the day.

Several years ago I discovered that I could buy online 5 kg. slabs of the fine Callebaut 100% chocolate and 5 kg. bags of their cocoa powder. Callebaut is the finest chocolate I’ve found that is available commercially at a bearable price. The only better chocolates I’ve found are the small boutique bean to bar outfits. I use Callebaut for my hot chocolate and for the chocolate syrup that I pass out along with my jams and jellies.

Before that I’d been using our local Guittard chocolate and cocoa powder. That’s good stuff, and I’d still be cooking with it if I hadn’t found a source for the Callebaut.

Back near the beginning of 2012, I was at the Bartlett Street Market (a farmers’ market since expanded into the Mission Market along 22nd Street) and spotted a couple of handsome young men named Todd and Cam behind a card table offering samples of their Dandelion Chocolate . Well, I never say no when someone offers me a taste, especially of chocolate, and most particularly when it’s offered by a handsome man; but my eyes rolled back in my head at the first taste. I’d never had better and still haven’t. It’s widely available in expensive boutique markets and top-end groceries, but is blindingly expensive .

Before Dandelion and Guittard I was using Scharffen Berger (until Mr. Scharffenberger sold the company to Hershey and they moved the production back east).

For years before that I’d been experimenting with a long list of cocoa powders because back then the only chocolate in my chocolate syrup was cocoa powder. The brands I remember: Ahlaska [sic], Arriba (an Ecuadorian varietal that’s 22% cocoa butter), Blooker, Cadbury, Dagoba, Droste, Equal Exchange, Ghirardelli (“Old Dutch Medium Process 24% cocoa butter”), Guittard, Hershey’s, Lake Champlain, Navitas (a raw Peruvian powder) Nestlé, Peet’s, Rainbow Grocery bulk (which i was told is Guittard), Rapunzel, Schokinag, Valrhona, Van Houten, and Wondercocoa (in spite of its insipid name and being 99% fat-free, pretty good stuff).

In the mid-eighties, I talked the folks at a bakery on upper 18th Street into selling me 10 lb. slabs of Guittard milk chocolate, which I displayed at my parties on an extra-large chopping block with a large knife stabbed into it so that guests could chop off chunks or, depending on the guest, slivers. The leftovers I used in cooking or ate. In that same era and on the same street, Fran Gage had a bakery in which she sold a magnificent chocolate crème brûlée of which I allowed myself one every few days.

Twenty years earlier, in the mid-sixties, I was in the Army and stationed in Frankfurt am Main; and my two main memories are my discovery of the Toblerone bar at the PX and the superb Sarah Bernhardt Torte at the Café-Konditorei Stark on Eschersheimer Landstraße. That torte was a great stack of many variously textured layers, many of which were chocolate, and I still dream of it.

Before that, memories fade; but I still treasure my first encounter, another twenty years back. It was early in 1945 and I was still three when my uncle Robert was on leave from the Army and paid us a visit, bringing with him a six-pack of Hershey bars. This was a real treasure because only soldiers had it. Chocolate had been unavailable on the civilian market since near the beginning of the war, so I’d never tasted it.

My mother was not perfect, but she did many things right. In this case, she introduced me to this new food by saying it had to be eaten in a special way. A serving was one square, and she would break it off the bar for me and place it on my tongue, warning me not to chew it but rather to let it slowly dissolve on my tongue to prolong the delicious taste. If you just chewed yours up greedily and swallowed, she’d be sitting there for some time with her eyes and mouth closed wearing a beatific smile and refusing to talk until hers dissolved. I foolishly gobbled the first one, but not again until some years later when chocolate had become common and I could eat it unsupervised.

And even now, on those evenings when I allow myself a cup of hot chocolate, I take small sips slowly, so as to make it last.

Meanwhile, since I don’t have a photo of chocolate, how about one of my new deluxe cherry pitter. You load the hopper with stemmed cherries and push down the plunger to take the pit out of the waiting cherry, which then rolls into the waiting bowl while another rolls into the pitting point. Repeat as necessary. That little saucepan in the background is for the pits that fall out behind.

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Epiphyllum anguliger

I’ve grown only two plants in the genus Epiphyllum. Decades ago on Noe Street I had an Epiphyllum oxypetalum with nocturnal flowers so fragrant that one blossom would perfume the whole flat. I had it in a west window; and it grew so large that it was pressing the ceiling, so I put it out in the garden, expecting it to become a tree. It didn’t, but rather went and died on me.

Then about ten years ago a friend gave me a start of the Epiphyllum anguliger; and after three years it produced a blossom that, unlike the oxypetalum, opens before full darkness and remains open until noon the following day. It also has a pleasant fragrance, but not nearly as strong as the oxypetalum.

Its finest attribute, though, is that on several occasions blossoms have been fertilized and set fruit. This gave me an opportunity to edit the Wikipedia entry for Epiphyllum anguliger to better describe the tasty fruit and provide a photo of it.

Then, last year, just as I’d become accustomed to increasing numbers of blossoms, the damn thing went on strike and produced not a single bud. Well, I thought, at least I got to photograph and eat some of its fruit before it stopped blooming.

I was inspecting it daily for buds last month when finally, I spotted one and another and another until I counted a dozen. Then I started holding my breath because usually about half the buds shrivel up and drop off when they’re less than an inch long. Not this year. In fact I lost only two buds and ended up with ten blossoms that opened on two successive nights. I put it out on the table in our courtyard for the two nights and days the blossoms were open so others could see the remarkable display, and eight of the blossoms got fertilized and set fruit thanks to being outside with all those critters.

For the next few months I’ll be playing my warm, moist breath over the fruits to help them ripen.

A note on taxonomy: At some point in the last couple of years one of those nosy botanists, unwilling to let good enough alone, did some molecular research and discovered that the E. anguliger should really be classified in the genus Disocactus. For the time being, I’m continuing to call it an Epiphyllum since hardly anybody knows about the reclassification.

Surely you didn’t think I’d fail to post a photo of the bloom display. This is on the second day when the second night’s blooms are drooping and the night before’s are spent.

Epiphyllum anguliger
Epiphyllum anguliger
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