The Ladies' Tea Guild

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Historic Cooking: Californio-style Chocolate from ca. 1777.

A cup of Californio-style Chocolate.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Redone Challenge(s): Sweet Sips and Potent Potables April 5 - April 18, 2015 and History Detective (January 29 - February 11, 2016) 

The Recipe: The recipe I ended up using is an amalgamation of multiple original recipes from the period.  Foodways from the Spanish and Mexican colonization period of California’s history, is not a very widely-talked about subject.  The documents that contain the information about food during this period are largely still in 18th century/early 19th century Spanish, although some of them have begun to be translated into English and other languages in the past few years.  The available documents are also mostly from the very beginning of the Spanish colonial era (begun in mainland Mexico in the 16th century) or from the very end of the Mexican colonial era – or even afterwards, in the later memories of the people who lived in California during that time.  Therefore, a fair amount of extrapolation is necessary to re-create foods that would have been familiar to the Californios – people of Hispanic descent who lived in California before the Gold Rush. 

Chocolate began as a bitter, spicy beverage among the Aztec elite.  They drank it for ceremonial purposes as well as ordinary ones, and incorporated many local flowers and spices in its manufacture.  They used cacao beans and pods as a form of currency, and presented it as gifts to other rulers, including the Spanish conquistadors, when they first arrived. The earliest Spanish recipe that I could find for chocolate was written by Antonio Colmenero, translated by Don Diego de Vades-forte in "A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate" which was published in London in 1640, in Spain before 1631.  It includes the original Aztec ingredients, as well as Spanish substitutions for some of the items that were unavailable in Spain, and instructions for preparing the cacao beans and spices so that they are ready to melt in hot water.  

“To every 100 Cacaos, you must put two cods of the long red Pepper, of which I have spoken before, and are called, in the Indian Tongue, Chilparlagua; and in stead of those of the Indies, you may take those of Spaine; which are broadest, and least hot. One handfull of Annis-seed Orejuelas, which are otherwise called Vinacaxlidos: and two of the flowers, called Mechasuehil, if the Belly be bound. But in stead of this, in Spaine, we put in sixe Roses of Alexandria beat to Powder: One Cod of Campeche, or Logwood: Two Drams of Cinamon, Almons, and Hasle-Nuts, of each one Dozen: Of white Sugar, halfe a pound: Of Achiote, enough to give it the colour. And if you cannot have those things, which come from the Indies, you may make it with the rest.”
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)