25 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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