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A Colonial treat: Old-time chocolate

Imagine going to the doctor with a cough and leaving with a prescription for chocolate.

It's not a likely scenario these days, but in the 18th century, chocolate routinely was given to people with lung ailments and coughs, says Jim Gay with Colonial Williamsburg's Department of Historic Foodways.

Chocolate was abundant in the American Colonies in the 1700s, even as early as the late 1600s, Gay says. Chocolate was available to everyone at reasonable prices - except in Europe, where it was heavily taxed. "Chocolate is more American than apple pie," Gay joked during a recent demonstrationcalled "Secrets of the Chocolate Maker" in Williamsburg's historic Peyton Randolph House.

Gay dispels the myths of chocolate's history and heritage during daylong demonstrations of how chocolate was made and used in homes in the 18th century.

He and his colleagues start with raw cocoa beans, roasting them in iron pans over coals on a kitchen hearth. They shell the beans to free the seeds or "nibs," which are ground in a bowl, then on a hot stone with a steel pin. What's left is a gritty liquid that will harden into blocks to be grated for cooking.

Eighteenth-century chocolate was the modern equivalent of bittersweet or dark chocolate and primarily was used in beverages, says Gay. It was consumed at breakfast and added to coffee, beer or wine.

Artisans used the same technique, although the Colonies had at least 70 companies that made chocolate, according to Gay, who began researching the history of chocolate about a decade ago.

He found newspaper advertisements from the 1700s that featured cocoa, chocolate-making equipment and related items for sale. Also found were records of chocolate taken on overseas trips and eaten by soldiers in the Revolutionary War.

Gay called chocolate companies to see if they would send him some beans. He found a chocolate stone to grind the nibs and began learning how the process works.

When the chocolate is ground, sugar and spices such as nutmeg are added.

Initially at the Peyton Randolph House, Gay says, "We just wanted to see if we could show people cocoa beans. For a long time, we were the only people doing it."

The cocoa beans that are used now in Gay's demonstrations come from the Mars candy corporation. In 2006, the company started producing American Heritage Chocolate. It's produced in small batches using 18th-century methods, Gay says. It's sold at Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, Monticello and other historic sites.

The Williamsburg demonstrations are held the first Tuesday of each month, except in the summer. The next demonstrations are planned for Feb. 3 and March 3.

Source: The Virginian-Pilot

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