Category Archives: Chocolate

Early Modern Euro-Indigenous Culinary Connections: Chocolate

By John Kuhn, Wesleyan University and Marissa Nicosia, Pennsylvania State University-Abington College

On a chilly November afternoon, we gathered in a student lounge to grind cocoa nibs in a borrowed molcajete and read early modern recipes with a class of undergraduate students. Inspired by previous hands-on exercises, we asked students thinking about indigenous cultures in the seventeenth-century Atlantic to consider recipes as a kind of evidence. [1]

This pedagogical exercise took place at Wesleyan University in Fall 2016, in John’s course entitled “Pirates, Puritans, and Pequots: Literatures of the Early English Atlantic,” which brought together the literary archives of the English Renaissance and the first century of English expansion westward into the Atlantic. The course’s final two sections dwelt extensively on Anglo-indigenous and Anglo-African contact, real and imagined, in the early Atlantic. In these units, students engaged with a recent wave of scholarship that has attempted to expand our sense of the colonial archive. Scholars like Walter Mignolo, Elizabeth Hill Boone, and Birgit Rasmussen have shown the limitations of approaches to the question of early modern indigenous history that focus solely on texts produced by Europeans; Saidiya Hartman, in the slightly different context of transatlantic slavery, has made a related point about the archive. One way around this problem—that of the European near-monopoly on textual production and the ties between textual production and the often violent action of colonial development—is to turn to the techniques of material history, thinking through how the circulation of objects and technologies worked in the newly global economies of the seventeenth-century. Attending to these stories helps expand our ideas about agency and cultural contact. This is perhaps clearest in the history of food and, particularly, the wide-ranging influence that indigenous technologies and tastes relating to tobacco and chocolate had in the period, as Marcy Norton’s work has demonstrated. Turning to the history of food, then, has the potential to show students a more nuanced story about cultural contact that uncovers the agency and influence that indigenous cultures exerted back across the Atlantic.

We had the idea of bringing these scholarly insights about Anglo-indigenous contact to the classroom by tracing food history through English recipe books: unruly documents rich with medicinal, culinary, and other household materials such as accounts and records of births and deaths. On the one hand, these books provide rich material about places, people, ingredients, and practices unlike other archives. On the other hand, they are difficult to read, classify, and often mute on the conditions of their making and aspirations of their makers. Among the many things recipe books can show us about food history, these manuscripts bear the record of indigenous influence in Europe.

Winche’s recipe for ‘chacolet’. Source: Folger Shakespeare Library: http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/d3uh21
Making chacolet. Credit: John Kuhn

Rebeckah Winche’s hot chocolate is a case study in rendering a familiar food strange. [2] Our recipe workshop had two distinct parts: transcription and cooking. Transcribing a few recipes, including Winche’s receipt for “Chacolet,” introduced students to using recipe books as sources and to reading secretary and italic handwriting. The recipe starts with roasted and ground cocoa beans. It is heavily spiced with vanilla, cinnamon, and chili pepper and sweetened with sugar. The instructions advise you to form your chacolet mix into cakes and let them cure for three months before using. This is a delectable and portable preparation in its original form. We didn’t wait three months. Following the practices Marissa developed in the Cooking in the Archives project, we asked students to identify the key ingredients and practices in Winche’s recipe. Then we distributed three different updated versions of the original recipe. One group started with roasted cocao beans and ground them by hand in a molcajete. Another used cocoa powder. We taste-tested the different mixes, all possible modernizations of Winche’s original recipe.

Making chacolet. Credit: Marissa Nicosia

Students had prepared for the workshop by reading Marcy Norton’s “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics,” and this was the starting point for our discussion. As we moved through the ingredients and Marissa spoke about them in turn, students were also struck—as we had hoped they would be—by the vast global trade networks embodied in a single recipe. They were also, once the final product was assembled, interested in the strangeness of the hot chocolate—both the graininess of the hand-ground nibs and the unfamiliar spiciness added by the chili pepper—helping them to see the way that indigenous chocolate-making tastes were influencing even English recipe keepers like Winche living in London and Buckinghamshire. This exercise, paired with a later digital material history project that examined the many objects found in Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative,[3] produced in the contested Anglo-Algonquian Massachusetts borderlands around the same time, helped students to see the way that material history can reveal new stories about cultural contact in the early modern world.

[1] Amanda E. Herbert, “Chocolate in the Classroom”; Amy L. Tinger, “Making Ink”. Marissa has written about teaching with recipes here: “Cooking Almond Jumballs at the Folger Shakespeare Library

[2] For more information about Winche’s manuscript, take a look at this post written for the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective Transcribathon. Elaine Leong, “The Winche Project.”  Here is a link to images of the manuscript. Marissa also has also written about preparing this hot chocolate recipe. Alyssa Connell and Marissa Nicosia, “Chacolet,” The Collation. Amy L. Tigner wrote a wonderful series for this site about chocolate recipes in early modern manuscripts: Tinger, “Chocolate in Seventeenth-Century England, Part I”; Tinger, “Chocolate in Seventeenth-Century England, Part II”.

[3] This digital project, called “A History of Mary Rowlandson in Seven Objects,” built on the insights about material history begun in this cooking project, and can be found here.

‘Recipes for Relationships’: Food, medicine, families and cultural engagement

By Leah Astbury

"Chocolate," in Johanna Saint John, Commonplace/Recipe Book, 1680, MS 4338, fol.46r, Wellcome Library, London.
“Chocolate,” in Johanna Saint John, Commonplace/Recipe Book, 1680, MS 4338, fol.46r, Wellcome Library, London.

Anne Dormer wrote a series of letters to her sister Elizabeth Trumbull between 1685-1691 about her health and unhappy marriage to the widower Robert Dormer. She described how ‘I apply my self to tend my crazy health, and keep up my weake shattred carcase broken with restless nights and unquiet days.’ She reflected in one letter that her body was ‘like a horss [horse] to tug through all I have endured of illness and childing.’ She was overwhelmed by her troubles and worried that she could not ‘write of my affaires so freely as I would and has kept me from writing many times when it would be an ease to my heart to taulk to thee.’ Dormer, like most early modern English middling and upper sort women, self-medicated. Kings Dropps ‘alwayes relieiue me’, she described. She also, however, sought to ‘divert’ herself by playing with her two ‘sweete children’, thinking of her ‘kind friends’ and ‘a dish of chocolate’. This latter indulgence she found the ‘ greatest cordiall and revivieing in the world.’

Dormer’s approach to restoring her health was tripartite: she took, purchased, or prepared remedies, took comfort in the presence of friends and family, and consumed chocolate. Such reflections are the central historical interest in the AHRC Cultural Engagement project supporting collaboration between medical historian Leah Astbury and the artist Emma Smith, alongside several Cambridge community groups. ‘Recipes for Relationships’ seeks to explore the connections between food, medicine and the household in seventeenth-century England and the current practices of Cambridgeshire residents through a series of workshops led by Leah and Emma.

In March we had The Recipes Project’s very own Dr Lisa Smith talk to us about ‘Recipes to Improve Your Love Life: Advice from the Eighteenth Century,’ which attracted a diverse crowd of interested university and non-university members. The discussion was diverse and engaged. Through workshops and at the talk, we have been collecting recipes and ingredients that people use to strengthen and ease relationships, from aphrodisiacs, to foods to quieten small children, or in the case of Anne Dormer, things we use to self-medicate during times of distress.

Unsurprisingly chocolate continues to be a source of solace in times of stress. Interestingly, what our workshops have revealed is that although household routines shift and change with age, food continues to be personally medicinal in the same way that Dormer describes.

As medical historians we are constantly reminded of how central age and the life-cycle was in determining diet and regimen in early modern culture, and community members similarly reflected on how their domestic routines and habits had changed with age and different family structures. We recently met with a knitting group. Most of the members are 70+ year old women who now live alone. This change in circumstances has meant fewer laborious family sit-down meals – or at least this is limited to one day a week when children and grandchildren visit. Food, however, continues to play a personal and restorative role in these women’s lives even when preparing meals for one. For one woman, a simple dinner of poached eggs on toast was a tonic. For others there was nothing sweeter than a glass of wine in the evening.

Anne Dormer’s dish of chocolate, and the knitting group’s eggs on toast, will form part of the ‘Recipes for Relationships’ recipe book we are compiling. This book will be shared at a four course banquet on 29 April in Murray Edwards College, Cambridge to thank contributors and share our findings.

If you have a recipe you would like to contribute, please email: recipesforrelationships@gmail.com or visit https://recipesforrelationships.wordpress.com/

Leah Astbury has recently completed her PhD on maternal and infant health in seventeenth-century England. She is currently a Research Associate at the Department of History & Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, working on marriage, health and domestic medicine. 

Thomas Gage’s Chocolate Recipe and Regimen of 1655

By R.A. Kashanipour

In A New Survey of the West-Indies of 1655, the English friar Thomas Gage celebrated the ubiquitous consumption and qualities of chocolate throughout the early modern Spanish Atlantic World, particularly in New Spain. “Chocolate,” wrote the Dominican priest, was consumed in “all the West-India’s, but also in Spain, Italy, and Flanders, with approbation of many learned Doctors in Physick.”  He lavishly described chocolate as “unctuous, warm [with] moist parts mingled with the earthly” all the while defining it as “one of the necessariest commodities in the Indias.” Gage noted that seemingly everyone in seventeenth-century Mexico and Guatemala imbibed in the frothy and sweetened beverage. According to the friar, Indians produced it, women demanded it, Spaniards celebrated it, and doctors healed with it. [1]

Thomas Gage, A New Survey of the West-Indias, second edition (1655). Courtesy of the Kislak Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Thomas Gage, A New Survey of the West-Indias, second edition (1655). Courtesy of the Kislak Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

 

Arriving to Mexico in the port of Veracruz in 1625, Gage reported that his first meal among his Dominican brothers was a lavish affair in which “no fowls were spared, many capons, turkey cocks, and hens were prodigally lavished.” The entire party was entertained “lovingly with some sweetmeats, and everyone with a cup of the Indian drink called chocolate.” In the Maya highlands of Chiapas, two cloisters of Dominican nuns, “talked about far and near,” were renowned not for their spirituality and devotion, but rather for their skill in making chocolate. The consumption of beverage was so commonplace that the bishop of Guatemala threatened to excommunicate women that consumed chocolate during Mass, presumably in lieu of the Eucharist. [2]

Thomas Gage, "Chapter XVI - Concerning two daily common Drinkes, or Potions," A New Survey of the West-Indias, (1655), 106.
Thomas Gage, “Chapter XVI – Concerning two daily common Drinkes, or Potions,” A New Survey of the West-Indias, (1655), 106.

 

Gage detailed a recipe for the Mesoamerican “chocolatical confection” that was a rich mixture of indigenous and European herbs and spices.[3]

Put into it black pepper which is not well approved of by the physicians because it is so hot and dry, but only for one who hath a cold liver, but commonly instead of this pepper, they put into it a long red pepper called chile which, though it be hot in the mouth, yet is cool and moist in operation. It is further compounded with white Sugar, Cinnamon, Clove, Anise seed, Almonds, Hazelnuts, Orejuela [anona], Vanilla, Sapoyall [mamey], Orange flower water, some Muske, and as much of these may be applied to such a quanitie of Cacao, the several dispositions of Achiotte, as it will make it look the colour of a red brick.[4]

To prepare properly, he noted that the ingredients must be dried and ground with an Indian metate. The cinnamon and chiles were to be first beaten with warm water and powdered cacao. Subsequently the anise and other herbs and spices were to be individually added to the confection before being “searced” or sifted to remove the shells and hulls. Finally, powdered achiote was to be added to enrich the beverage with a hearty color and earthen flavor.[5]

Far from a mere observer, the friar admonished the regular and remedial qualities of a fine cup of chocolate. “For myself,” he wrote, “I must say that used it twelve years constantly, drinking one cup in the morning, another yet before dinner between nine or ten of the clock, another within an hour or after dinner, and another between four or five in the afternoon.” When he needed to study late into the night, he “would take another cup about or seven or eight at night, which would keep me waking till about midnight.” This four to five cup-a-day, twelve-year regimen of chocolate kept him “healthy, without any obstructions or oppilations, not knowing either ague or fever.” However, if on occasion, he neglected his regular routine, he found himself weak and infirmed with a “stomach fainty.”  He was, in other words, completely habituated to the consumption of chocolate.[6]

[1] Thomas Gage, A New Survey of the West-Indias, second edition (London: E. Cotes, 1655), 106, 110.
[2] Gage, 23.
[3] Gage, 107.
[4] Gage, 108.
[5] Gage, 108.
[6] Gage, 109.

Additional Resources:

Sophie Coe and Michael Coe, The True History of Chocolate (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996).

Martha Few, “Chocolate, Sex, and Disorderly Women in Seventeenth-and Eighteenth-Century Guatemala,” Ethnohistory 52:4 (2005), 673-687.

Marcy Norton, Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010).

A Cartography of Chocolate

by Kathryn E. Sampeck

While in some ways colonization happened in people’s heads—through formal edicts and informal conjuring of new attitudes and affiliations—colonial change occurred also through bodily, tactile encounters. The work of creating new combinations of objects and spaces to re-order a sense of self and community, the doing of colonizing, relied upon sensory experiences such as taste. Because colonization ineluctably involved geographic links, recipes provide an opportunity to map out a history of taste using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a powerful program that displays spatial associations of evidence. GIS gives us the chance to see with fresh eyes. GIS mapping[1] of the ingredients for colonial cacao drink recipes gives a nuanced view into colonial entanglement by more precisely defining taste networks stretching across the Atlantic from the sixteenth through the early nineteenth century.

Figure 1. Branch, fruit, seed, and flower of a cacao tree. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University.
Figure 1. Branch, fruit, seed, and flower of a cacao tree. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University.

Pre-Columbian texts as well as sixteenth-century chronicles of colonization of Central America and Mexico described cacao beverages [Figure 1]. The particular flavor, scent, and appearance of these drinks distinguished different concoctions that were iconic of a region [Figure 2]. Most sources state that the cacao beverage “chocolat” came from colonial Guatemala.[2] ‘Chocolat’, a word from the southern Central American language Pipil (Nahuat) [3], is one of few untranslated American food names, unlike ‘maize’ versus ‘corn’ or ‘tlilxochitl’ versus ‘vanilla’. People every day and across the world speak a little Pipil when they ask for chocolate.

Figure 2. A depiction of each stage of indigenous cacao beverage making. From Montanus, Arnoldus, 1671, De Nieuwe en onbekende Weereld: of Beschryving van America, Amsterdam, Jacob Meurs Boek-verkooper en Plaet-snyder, op de Kaisars-graf, schuin over de wester-markt, in de stad Meurs. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University.
Figure 2. A depiction of each stage of indigenous cacao beverage making. From Montanus, Arnoldus, 1671, De Nieuwe en onbekende Weereld: of Beschryving van America, Amsterdam, Jacob Meurs Boek-verkooper en Plaet-snyder, op de Kaisars-graf, schuin over de wester-markt, in de stad Meurs. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University.

One of the earliest references to chocolate was a poem on an allegoric arch erected in Guatemala in 1579 that stated chocolate was cacao flavored with achiote.[4] As more and more people on both sides of the Atlantic consumed chocolate, exactly what chocolate was became a shifting target across space and over time. Indigenous American recipes in materia medica, cookbooks, and treatises had common ingredients of chile, vanilla, and achiote. Frequent European flavors were cinnamon, almonds, anise, ambergris, and musk. How then, to compare what literally are apples and oranges?

The Jaccard similarity coefficient calculates the percentage of common ingredients. The result has spatial information—the geographic source area for the recipe—and a measure of the degree of similarity to other recipes, represented by the thickness of the arrows in the GIS map [Figure 3].

Figure 3. GIS map based on the degree of similarity of chocolate recipes. Courtesy of Jonathan Thayn, Illinois State University.
Figure 3. GIS map based on the degree of similarity of chocolate recipes. Courtesy of Jonathan Thayn, Illinois State University.

These culinary paths show that Guatemalan, Mexican, and European cacao recipes significantly differed from each other. These are sharply divided lines, formed perhaps by an inception in Guatemala, then “speciation” in other regions. Untranslated in name, the wide array of kinds of chocolate did communicate sensory experiences of sweetness, spices, colors and scent that were a mimesis by colonists of Mesoamerican values.[5] This simulacra of taste, however, was fundamentally altered from the substance that inspired it, a process that created instead icons of chocolateness rather than rote copies of Pipil chocolat [Figure 4]. At the same time, one, untranslated term, chocolate, grew to incorporate a much wider realm of meaning, referring to a broad class of conditions, flavors, and colors. The colonizing process made chocolate intimately unfamiliar. Chocolate is the epitome of the discordant core of colonialism.

Figure 4. European man grinds cacao in the same manner as a Native American. From Chez Thomas Amaulry, 1687, Le bon usage du thé, du caffé, et du chocolat pour la preservation & pour la guerison des maladies, Lyon, ruë Merciere, au Mercure Galant. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University.
Figure 4. European man grinds cacao in the same manner as a Native American. From Chez Thomas Amaulry, 1687, Le bon usage du thé, du caffé, et du chocolat pour la preservation & pour la guerison des maladies, Lyon, ruë Merciere, au Mercure Galant. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University.

[1] The GIS map was created by Jonathan Thayn of the Geology and Geography Department of Illinois State University.

[2] Mariscal Haz, B. (ed.) Carta del Padre Pedro de Morales. (Mexico City, Colección Biblioteca Novohispana, V. Centro de Estudios Lingüísticos y Literarios, El Colegio de México. 2000 [1579])

[3] a language of southern Central America (colonial Guatmala) from the same language family as Nahuatl of the Aztecs

[4] Mariscal Haz (2000) p. 57.

[5] Norton, Marcy  “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review 111(3), .(2006), 660–691.