Two Sisters Share Valentine’s

Thursday, February 13, 2014    

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We could think of no better way to honour the great Saint Valentine and his very special day than to speak about chocolate and its origins. Cocoa, or cacao, is native to Mexico where in its earliest forms it was consumed by Mayans as a ritualistic beverage, often during weddings and marriage ceremonies, thus providing the first known link to chocolate as a food of love.

Cocoa beans were in fact so valuable in the Americas that they were also used as a form of currency, a detail that was not lost on the early Spanish conquistadors. Cocoa was such a coveted and valued drink in the New World that its method of preparation was kept a secret by Spanish Catholic monks, who were the only people who knew how to process the cacao fruit into dried beans. The unsweetened drink was not palatable to the Europeans until Spanish nuns transformed it into a delicious beverage by adding milk and sugar.

By the mid-1600s, this popular milky drink made from the paste of the cacao beans had gained widespread popularity in France. It was praised as a delicious, health-giving food enjoyed by the elite, which was also purported to have medicinal properties. By the 1700s, an innovative French entrepreneur had come up with the novel concept of a "chocolate house" where high society would gather to socialise and consume this delicious new treat. By the mid-1700s this concept had taken flight in London and chocolate houses became hugely popular. Not too long after that, confections from the fruit of the cocoa tree were being produced all throughout Europe. By the 18th century the introduction of the steam engine resulted in the mechanisation of cocoa bean grinding, which reduced production costs and finally made chocolate affordable to all.

On the eve of Valentine's Day, however, we simply could not look at chocolate without addressing how chocolates became the gift

of choice on the day for love. The story begins in 4th century BC when Roman emperor Claudius II banned marriages because he felt they resulted in fewer young men enlisting in the army -- a reasonable deduction, we agree. A young rebel priest who was an aficionado of 'el amore' named Valentine was at odds with this decision and began marrying couples secretly. His outright defiance of the law resulted in him being put to death on February 14. In honour of his death, Valentine later became the patron saint of lovers and love.

Chocolate was exclusively consumed in the form of a beverage until 1840 when it was eaten for the first time; by 1849 the Cadbury brothers (hailing from England and using Jamaican cocoa, no less) had finally perfected the formula for chocolate as we now know it by blending cocoa butter, chocolate beans and sugar to create the

first box of chocolates. In 1861, Richard Cadbury had

the inspiration to create a heart-shaped box of chocolates for Valentine's Day so that suitors would be able to give the sweet taste of chocolate to their sweethearts. In celebration of this week's episode of Two Sisters and a Meal, in which we explored Jamaican cocoa, we share some inspired recipes for chocolate. Whip up these yummy, simple treats for your sweetheart, or simply treat yourself.

Editor's note: Michelle Rousseau and her sister Suzanne are epicurean adventurists and self-avowed Caribbean-ophiles. Their show, Two Sisters and a Meal, airs Sundays at 5:30 pm on TVJ with repeats on Tuesday at 9:30 pm. Their first book Caribbean Potluck will be published in May by Kyle Books, UK and their web series Island Potluck can be viewed at twosistersandameal.com

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