The Charm of Chocolate, an article on cacao trees, cocoa, & chocolate: November 21, 1920 LA Times  

The Los Angeles Times,
    November 21, 1920, p. 2:

The Charm of Chocolate


    To the Parisienne mondaine luxuriously sipping her vanilla-scented morning cup of frothing cocoa as she reclines on her lace-trimmed couch, or to the busy shop girl in a New York store secretly nibbling her chocolate candy, how much of the knowledge of how their loved delicacies were gathered is ever given a thought?

    The cacao tree--in the raw state it is spelt cacao, in its manufactured from cocoa--is grown only in the tropics proper. It is a lover of the hot, humid atmosphere of the great forests of the Amazon or the sheltered valleys of the Brazilian mountains where it is sufficiently sheltered from its deadly enemy, the wind. It is indigenous to South America, and was a favorite beverage with the old Aztecs, and their cousins, the Incas of Peru...

    The early Portuguese and Spanish settlers were quick to recognize its value, and introduced it into the European courts in the seventeenth century, where it was much esteemed for its flavor and for its satisfying qualities as a food.

    From South America it quickly spread to the neighboring West Indies, where it found a congenial home, and later on it was taken over to the tropical coast of West Africa and finally to the Far East.
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    But its zone is strictly limited to those climates that possess a heavy rainfall and a high temperature that does not vary greatly. It grows from Central America down to as far as the State of Bahia in Brazil; from Jamaica to Trinidad; from the Gold Coast down to the Cameroons; and in the islands south of India--Ceylon, Java, Sumatra, Borneo and the Philippines.

In the Depths of the Cacao Tree's Shade.

    The tree never grows very tall, about thirty feet or so, and has a handsome growth and foliage. Like so many of the tropical trees, when it puts forth its new foliage, the young leaves are deficient in chlorophyll, the green coloring matter in leaves, so that when they first make their appearance they are tinted a curious pale plak or terra cotta and hand limply down. However, in the strong sunlight they soon gain their natural green and stiffening.

    To those who have seen the big twelve to fifteen inches long pod of the cacao, its tiny flower appears ridiculous. These little white starry flowers blossom in groups from what are known as "cushions" on the trunk itself or on the branches, so that the fruit appears to be growing directly from the bark.

    The pollination of these small flowers is still a puzzle, for they are not visited by bees or other flying insects, though ants and thrips will do so. Neither is there sufficient wind to carry the pollen far under the dense canopy or foliage.

    The fruit grows into a large pod, which, as it ripens, takes on the most lovely colors of orange, red and yellow in every shade and mixture, so that the heaps of gathered fruit appear a very beautiful sight. They are gathered by men and boys armed with sharp knives and hooks on the ends of long bamboos for those on the higher branches.
    The pods are heaped and women and children break open the thick outer covering and expose the seeds inside. These are of a dark purple color and encased in a white substance which is sharply sweet and pleasant to suck.

    Oddly enough the seed in the raw state has no taste whatever of chocolate, and it has to undergo a considerable preparation before it does so. It is rather puzzling therefore to think how its use was first discovered to the American Indians.

The Creole Dance of the Cacao Bean.

    The women scoop out the seeds, or beans as they are called, and they are then taken to the barbecues, where they are placed in vats or boxes and allowed to ferment for a period of from three to six days, being turned over several times to insure an even fermentation.
    This operation is of the greatest importance, for by its means is the good or poor "break" obtained, that is, when the bean is broken it shows a good chocolate color and appears crisp and fresh, giving forth a rich aroma.

    After the fermentation, [in the Eastern method] the beans are [given a] light washing to get rid of any of the mucous substance that may still adhere to [them, and then are placed] in the sun to dry, a process of several days. On the bigger plantations artificial drying is resorted to when, as too frequently happens, the sun does not appear for weeks from the raining skies. This method does not give to the beans that bright red color so desired by the buyers.

    In the West a solution of red clay is poured on the beans when they are partly dry and danced on with the naked feet to color and polish the beans. It is quite a sight to show the stranger this cacao dance, as the pretty Hindu girls with their high-held skirts and their silver anklets jingling on their feet, or the saucy Creole girls, smiling with their white teeth as only a West Indian girl can, merrily dance on the beans for the delectation of their fairer sisters of the north.

    This claying of the beans is held, by those that advocate the process, to not only improve the looks of the product, but that is acts as a preservative against the damp which is so fatal to the cacao bean. But there is another side to the question, for the small planter is apt to be tempted to so heavily clay the bean so as to very considerably add to their weight. This clayed skin does not hurt the cocoa, for it is removed with the skin after roasting before the bean is ground to the powder in the factory.

Caracas is the Aristocrat of Chocolate.

    There are numerous varieties of cacao, but that with the most delicate flavor, commanding the highest price, comes from its original home of Caracas in Venezuela, and from Nicaragua. Transported to other countries it has proved too delicate to thrive.

    The seeds are sewn in pots before planting out under the shade trees already established, for so delicate are the young plants that they have to be very carefully protected against wind and strong sun.

    With careful cultivation, pruning and manuring, the cacao tree will bear in four years, but too often, as in the old days, little or no attention is paid to scientific cultivation, and it is generally six years before a crop is gathered.
    The life of the cacao is as much as a hundred years, so that the careful planting in the first place is of the utmost importance. In Grenada, for instance, the trees are grown without any shade at all, but they are given a high state of cultivation whereby they reap large crops of excellent quality. The Portuguese Island of Santo Thome also pays great attention to its cacao cultivation, and has made a world-famed name for itself.
    But the majority of the other cacao-producing countries have sacrificed quality to quantity. Especially so this is the case with Brazil, whose State of Bahia produces a considerable portion of the world's cocoa. Here the soil and climate of the province of Illious is particularly suited to the production of cacao, but so unscientifically have the plantations been planted, and so scarce is labor, that there is scarcely any attempt at cultivation, and the preparation is so ill-attended to that the fermentation is faulty and the drying insufficient, so that a large percentage of the beans become moldy or attacked by weevil before they reach their destination. In fact the merchants take the poor cacao that contains, say, 30 per cent bad beans, and, mixing it with that of 10 per cent, make a marketable article for the United States of America to buy as first-class cocoa.

    For it is North America that buys the bulk of Brazil's crop. It is extremely unlikely that the apathetic Brazilian government will ever make a serious effor to check the disease which is already threatening the industry.
    The cocoa from the West Indies mostly goes to Europe, save a certain proportion that America has to buy in order to leaven up the poor stuff she buys from Brazil and for use in the higher grades of chocolate; for while the Brazilian product is good enough to make the cheaper chocolates, it is deficient in the delicate flavor of that from other countries, and being of a strong type it cannot absorb such delicate flavorings as vanilla, which is often added to the better types of cocoa.

The Germans Have Made a Success in the Cameroons.

    A newer field for the growing of this product is the West Coast of Africa and from this source the cocoa is not much better than that of Brazil, as it is all grown by ignorant natives who have no care for its proper cultivation or scientific preparation. Disease too is rampant. But in the Cameroons, the plantations were laid out by the Germans, and, in conjunction with the cultivation of the oil-palm, is proving a great success.
    In the West Indies the cacao plantations mostly belong to the old French and Spanish Creole families. But, since the indentured immigration from India has ceased, it has been so difficult to obtain sufficient local labor at a reasonable rate that many of the plantations appear to be in a sadly neglected state of weeds and parasites of moss and fern on the branches, and neglect encourages the spread of the many diseases to which the delicate cacao is a prey, so that the future of the industry in Trinidad and the neighboring islands does not seem too bright.

    Cacao cultivation does not lend itself readily to the introduction of mechanical cultivation to replace the lack of labor, nor were the old plantations, made in the days when slaves were plentiful, laid out with regard to the conserving of labor.

The Flavor of Chocolate is Enhanced by Proper Making.

    The manufacture of cocoa beans into the powdered product of commerce is interesting. The beans are first roasted and the thin shells removed. They are then subjected to crushing, and the rich oil, or cocoa butter, as it is called, extracted, for were this to be allowed to remain the product would be apt to become rancid, and in the cocoa brewed for drinking purposes the oil would float on the top in an unpleasant way, besides rendering the cocoa indigestible to many people. So this oil is removed and cooled into moulds and forms a very valuable product for the drug trade.
    The crushed beans are then allowed to dry out before crushing into powder to which is added certain fats to take the place of the oil that has been removed, and a certain amount of sugar.

    For the manufacture of chocolate, the powder is subjected to a great deal of rolling and beating in order to reduce it to as fine a paste as possible before putting it in the moulds, for no sense of grittiness must remain.

    In the West Indies we have watched the Creole women patiently crushing up the beans by means of a round stone rolled on a flat one. The chocolate thus produced they roll into little sticks for sale in the local markets. It contains, of course, all the oil, and is therefore much richer in food value.
    The way to make this into a perfect cup of delicious cocoa is to crumble the chocolate stick into the cup, add the boiling water or milk, and then use the swizzle stick. By this method no sign of the oil appears, and the drink retains all its full richness and aroma.

    This applies to the making of all cocoa--never boil the chocolate, but first add the sugar and then the boiling milk, beating the whole up till it froths.
    The value of a cup of cocoa thus made is very great, as well as exceeding comforting on a cold day. Thus this product of the tropics finds great favor in the cold countries of the north, and is one of the most important items in the concentrated menu of those who seek their fame or fortunes in the lands of ice and snow.

    A word as to the vanilla with which chocolate is so often flavored. Few people know that this is the product of the only orchid that is of any economic value. It grows from the ground and climbs up the stem of shady trees. Its clusters of green orchids have each to be fertilized by hand. When the beans are ripe the pods are picked, plunged into hot water and dried in the sun. They are then subjected to a daily "stroking" by the supple fingers of an Indian, till the crystals gather thick on the outside. Much of the essence on the market is synthetic.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1920 was equivalent to $10.77 in 2008.
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QuickShop Food
QuickShop Kitchen & Dining

Classic Chocolate Articles:
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Cacao & Cocoa in Ecuador 1899
The Charm of Chocolate 1920
Cocoa in Dutch Guiana 1876
Cocoa in Guatemala 1888

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Classic Sugar Articles:
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Louisiana Sugar Cane 1896
Maple Sugar Time 1897
Vermont Maple Sugar 1904
The Snare of Sugar 1920
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