Nov 29, 2018
by Ron Skaar
Chocolate has been around for over 2,000 years. Early etymological evidence of chocolate consumption stretches back three or even four millennia to pre-Columbian cultures in Mesoamerica.
Ancient Indian people, like the Olmec, developed a highly productive system of agriculture in the Mexican states of Tabasco and Veracruz. Their early use of chocolate began around 1900 BCE with a drink consumed from special round jars.
Cacao residue, excavated from Honduras, dates back as far as 1400 BCE. This substance appeared to be the soft sweet pulp, which surrounds the seeds, fermented into an alcoholic beverage.
Both the Mayans and the Aztec believed that the cacao bean had magical and divine properties. For several centuries, in pre-modern Latin America, cacao beans were valuable enough to be used as currency. According to an Aztec document, one bean would buy a tamale and 100 beans would purchase a good turkey hen.
Sweet chocolate drinks didn’t appear until Europeans “discovered” the America’s. The bitter indigenous drink did not suit the foreigners taste buds at first until honey or cane sugar were added to the mix.
Hot cocoa became immensely popular back in Spain. By the 17th century sweetened chocolate was consumed by the fashionable of Europe, who valued it for nutrition, as a medicine and even as an aphrodisiac.
Drinking cocoa was for the rich, until the invention of the steam engine made mass production possible. “Dutch” cocoa was created in 1828 by removing the cocoa butter from the chocolate liquid and treating the pulverized powder with alkaline salts to cut its bitterness.
Ninety percent of chocolates long history is as a beverage. By the mid-1800’s the cocoa butter was being mixed back with the cocoa powder to form moldable chocolate candy. Fudge, a true American invention, came by accident, from a bungled (“fudged”) batch of caramels.
In the late 1880’s, a student at Vassar College got a recipe for fudge from a cousin in Baltimore.
She made thirty pounds of fudge for the schools senior auction. The recipe for this confection spread to other woman’s colleges, including Wellesley and Smith.
Imagine these ladies perched on stools and furiously stirring the fudge mix over burning gas lamps! The recipe was simple enough but famously delicate, needing precise measurement and cooking time that ends with constant stirring for fudge perfection.
Controlling the sugar solution crystallization is the key to delicate smooth fudge. It is easy to undercook or overcook a batch and end up ruined. This recipe makes fudge with little effort.
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 lb. plus 2 oz semisweet chocolate
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a medium heavy bottom pan with the butter and condensed milk. Heat gently, stirring often until mixture is smooth, do not boil. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla extract. Pour into a lightly greased 8-inch pan and level the top (can use a greased tin foil lined pan). Let cool.
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