Questions/Answers with Chocolate Author, Kay Frydenborg

frydenborg chocolateThe Chocolate Scientist is a (working) title to inspire the imagination, and served that purpose, while not doing justice, to Kay Frydenborg’s recently published Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat. Written with tween and teen interests in mind (but delicious for all readers), her work surveys the medical, social, cultural, economic, religious, geographic, scientific, and culinary history of how humanity takes advantage of theobroma cacao (the “chocolate tree”) and its criollo, forastero and trinitario beans.

Kirkus Reviews pronounced the book, “A deliciously informative, engaging and sweeping chronicle…;” and The San Francisco Book Review said, among other nice things, “The writing is lively and the information compelling.”

Frydenborg’s Chocolate takes readers far beyond the simplest engagement with a checkout line candy bar, as it did in many ways for the established writer who claims that before beginning her research into what she thought would just be her next book, “I knew very little about chocolate other than that I liked eating it.”

She lives near (yes, it’s true) Hershey, Pa., with college-sweetheart husband Lans, but grew up in Sarasota, Fla., where her favorite chocolate treats were M&Ms, rich dark chocolate fudge, Toll House cookies made from the recipe on the back of the Nestle’s chocolate chip package, and her grandmother’s fudge pie (posted below). She also dreamed of having a horse — which she now does (and is named Remy), along with two dogs (current “muses,” Saada and Junie). Also in her background are experiences as a hotel maid, editorial assistant, preschool teacher’s aide, newspaper staff writer, freelance magazine journalist, and constant scribbler of stories, articles, poems and books.

Taking time from home and work, the occasional whipping up of a quick batch of too-addictive brownies (with 100 percent cacao, butter sugar, vanilla and an egg or two), and her current project, a book exploring the co-evolution of dogs and people, she kindly answered a few questions about Chocolate.

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: How did the book change from when you first had the idea to where your research led?

Kay Frydenborg: Chocolate began, in my mind, as a very different book from the one it eventually became. I had recently published my first nonfiction young readers’ book for Houghton Mifflin — Wild Horse Scientists — which was part of the venerable “Scientists in the Field” series, and I was thinking of ideas for another book in that series, which is aimed at middle grade readers. I came across a couple of stories — one in the New York Times and another on National Public Radio — about the discovery of some rare cacao growing in a remote location in Peru. This particular variety of cacao had been thought to be extinct. The article mentioned several people who I quickly tracked down, and who became important characters in my book. One was Dan Pearson, the entrepreneur who inadvertently stumbled upon this rare source of chocolate, and another was Lyndel Meinhardt, a senior biologist and cacao expert with the USDA/Agricultural Research Division. Lyndel was based in Beltsville, Md., which is an easy drive from my home in Pennsylvania, so I knew interviewing him there would be uncomplicated in terms of travel. I was intrigued by the idea of scientists hiking through the jungle in the Amazon, hunting for wild chocolate. So my original proposal to my editor was this book, tentatively titled “The Chocolate Scientist.” Turned out my editor and the company’s managing editor quickly envisioned a much bigger book about chocolate, for a somewhat older reader — a stand-alone book rather than one for the SITF series. I knew very little about chocolate other than that I liked eating it, like most people, so I knew this would be a more ambitious project than I’d envisioned. But I loved the challenge of it, and I love research, so I was off. How great that part of my “research” would involve sampling lots of amazing chocolate!

CAC: What was the best chocolate taste you had while writing the book and what were the circumstances?

KF: It’s hard to name just one, but writing the book definitely changed my chocolate-buying and eating habits. Even though I live not far from Hershey, Pa., and wrote a good deal about Milton Hershey in the book (it’s a great American story), I discovered a whole world of fine chocolate that I’d never really known existed. I guess one of my chocolate highlights was receiving some dark Peruvian chocolate from Maranon Chocolate, Dan Pearson’s company, along with some Maranon cacao beans and nibs. Also, the first time I baked my grandmother’s fudge pie recipe with good 100 percent dark chocolate, or brownies with same, the results were amazing.

CAC: What is different about how you think about chocolate as a result of the work you did for the book, and has anything you found out about chocolate worked its way into future projects?

KF: The part of the story that really grabbed me was the social justice aspect of chocolate and its long history. There are many parallels with other products we enjoy every day, and my consciousness was definitely raised about the human cost of some of those beloved products, and about how consumers can sometimes effect change that makes the lives of people in other parts of the world better. The environmental aspect of the story was also important to me. My current project is on a totally different topic — dog evolution — but the history of European conquest of the Americas that I first researched for Chocolate also plays a big part in this next book, so I felt as if I already had my footing on that history, at least more than before researching and writing Chocolate.

CAC: In what ways does your work on this book change how friends and family consume chocolate?

KF: In my own family, we eat more organic dark chocolate than before, and I hope my family and friends who read the book will see that as a good change to make in their chocolate consumption habits, too.

CAC: Why did you decide to include recipes, and which was your favorite?

KF: It just seemed like a natural addition to a book about such a popular food almost everyone eats. I thought it might add another layer of appeal and accessibility to a book that was rather heavy on history and science, because everyone cooks and everyone eats — and many people would rather eat chocolate than almost any other food! I enjoyed experimenting with savory chocolate recipes (there’s one for chocolate chili in the book), but I guess I’d have to say my sentimental favorite is my grandmother’s fudge pie, which I have been making since I was a child.

CAC: Which upcoming projects excite you?

KF: My next book, as I said above, is about dog and human co-evolution, and I’m very excited about it. It will be called A Dog in the Cave: Co-evolution and the Wolves Who Made Us Human,and it’s for about the same age reader as Chocolate, with I hope a lot of adult interest too. I’ve loved dogs all my life (currently have two) and I’m fascinated with paleoanthropology, so it’s a perfect subject for me. Like my other books, this one will be a mix of science and history (plus great dog stories). The scientific discoveries in this area in the last few years have been nothing short of astonishing — it’s a very, very hot field right now, with new discoveries coming out so fast it’s hard to keep my book current even as I write. I’m currently working on revisions, and the book will be out in early 2017. I’ll be writing more about this as publication gets closer — interested readers could check my website and blog, which is linked to the site for news about me and all of my books. I’ll be signing copies of Chocolate at the upcoming Fine Chocolate Industry Association annual event in NYC on June 27.

My Grandma Crowell’s Fudge Pie

(from Chocolate by Kathryn Frydenborg)

Beat until soft ½ cup butter
Add 1 cup sugar gradually; blend until creamy; beat in 2 egg yolks
Melt, cool slightly, beat in 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (100% cacao)
Beat ½ cup into butter mixture
Add 1 teaspoon vanilla
Whip until stiff; 2 egg whites; ⅛ teaspoon salt
Fold into batter
Bake in a greased 8-9 inch pie plate at 325 degrees about ½ hours
Serve with vanilla ice cream (optional)

Don’t Hit Them, Eat the (Chocolate) Books

chocolate booksMuch can be said about chocolate as the hook upon which to hang a narrative. For non-fiction it might be the big bang for a review of issues arising from an incident of killing bears in New Hampshire, or destroying monkey habitats in the Cote d’Ivoire. The cacao pod can also germinate into a policy discussion on international trade as Canada and Mexico currently threaten a war using US chocolate as a hostage. It may also support an economics case study as in the case of how Venezuela’s President Maduro screws up Venezuela’s cocoa trade as he also dissolves the positives in the remainder of his country’s economy.

Or it could be the genesis for fiction. Recently, proving that powdered cocoa actually can expire, an Italian granny poisoned famiglia by serving from a package more than 30 years old. For novelists in search of ignition, there are also the tragic tales with comic elements of the Syrian refugee who on his eighteenth attempt to flee the country’s misery nearly drowned in a tank of British chocolate, and the Granite State hunter who killed the bears with dark chocolate but was so heartbroken he took the season off hunting them with bullets.

While the quality brown continues to intrigue authors and readers, changes in publishing provide less incentive to write those stories. However, as long as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tops lists of favorite books at least a few cocoa-themed books to make it to shelves.

Among recent publications to seek are mystery writer Joanna Fluke’s latest in the Hannah Swensen series, Double Fudge Brownie Murder, as well as the paperback Hallmark Channel movie tie-in for The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.

For readers whose interests head in the direction of gay-themed steampunk romance there is H.B. Kurtzwilde’s Chocolatiers of the High Winds, while those with a preference for the more evangelical Christian of themes may find succor in the pages of Deb Burma’s Living a Chocolate Life.

Providing middle-schoolers interested in health (or needing to write a report on something interesting), something to chew on there is Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg. Finally, there is the most traditional of looks at chocolate: the methods and recipes book of a noted chocoaltiere, in this case choco-genius Fritz Knipschildt’s (and co-author Mary Goodbody’s) Chocopologie

If after reading all this you find yourself too tired to red, there is also Book, The Baking of courtesy of Ann Reardon.

#chocolate #videos #books

VDay. Ruining Good Chocolate Via Stress for at Least 147 Years

dead cupidSTRESS! But a few days left until #VDay2015! What to do, to do, to do, etc. The whole 24 hours are supposed to be about “love” … and not (in polite society anyway) the kind between mother and child. The love we’re talking about is fed by CHOCOLATE!

The tradition is a fairly long one. Richard Cadbury began to mass produce the “chocolate box” 147 years ago. The first one featured a picture of daughter Cadbury’s daughter cuddling a kitten and the success led to first Valentine Day candy box — for what it is worth, VDay and Candy begins 496 CE when Pope Gelasius I claims 14 February for St. Valentine and then meanders its way through history. Paradoxically, Cadbury’s time was Victorian, so in keeping with the age the giving of purpley-wrapped candy was a way both to suggest and sublimate sexual urges.

If perchance you want to suggest or sublimate in other, more modern ways and honor old St. Val on or before Saturday, there is always Nutella make-uping;

creating animal chocolates;

mixing your wines and chocolates; or booking a chocolate vacation or cacao-themed cruise.

Of course, you could just go it alone … and without even thinking about chocolate

But not thinking about chocolate can never be recommended. It’s probably better to give in, to not even try and face down this fiesta de amor. Better to live and love another day. Succumb to the pressures of what has become — thanks in no small part to that Victorian capitalist Cadbury — a “manufactured lovefest” no matter the cost in terms of taste.

#chocolate #valentines day #travel #humor #history

Not Just VDay Junk Food

heart on chocolateIronically and regrettably, Valentines Day has become a day not so much to celebrate chocolate as to debase it as a commodity, a mostly forgettable but expected token. Transformed cacao pods gift wrapped in the celebration of a saint (or perhaps a massacre depending on how you are feeling about love this 14 February) is an expected part of the background for the holiday much like tinsel on a Yuletide tree. The result is that for most of the media and holiday participants, chocolate receives the same respect whether the offering is the drugstore staple, a $4.99 Whitman sampler, or an artisanal aspirer like the $260 To’Ak chocolate bar. (Not to insist or suggest that price defines the brown stuff, just that there are recognizable differences in both the quality and meaningfulness between these two particular chocolate offerings.)

It’s a sad state of affairs as, whatever one’s taste, chocolate should never be considered just a junk food indulgence. Admittedly, with just over two weeks left to go it is unlikely much can be done. Even if there was the will there is no way the day can be turned into a festival of analysis about chocolate’s health benefits or a consideration of its reputation as a premier aphrodisiac.

Given the world today, it is definitely easier to go along and get along by treating all chocolate giving and receiving on V-Day within the current desultory tradition. But if you can’t, if conscience or knowledge makes each chocolate an expression of emotion resonating with judgment of the specific qualities of the proffered morsels then the love (or lack of) provided with the gift is a much more complex communication to unravel. It’s enough to give one a cheap-chocolate headache.

For the strong of heart and keen of mind: unless you are absolutely sure of your love for the day vow to neither offer nor accept chocolate. Actually, even for them given how often the day ends in disappointment it might be better to hide oneself away.

To be safe, ban chocolate from V-Day and wait instead for 15 February for when the pressure for perfection in communication is less. Build your own, new and better chocolate traditions celebrating singles awareness day, scheduled for Lupercalia — a Roman precursor to V-Day partly celebrated with the pairing of lovers by random selections from a bowl of names. Just a note: nothing says you can’t celebrate it with another individual, preferably someone with whom you are smitten.

This is all not to suggest that chocolate and V-Day get divorced — or that we re-establish the mating rituals of Lupercalia — just that maybe for the day, good of chocolate, and peace of mind they should gain a bit of separation.

However, if you are going along and getting along in keeping with the current commoditification of Valentine’s chocolate, at the very least put in some effort when you give or gain chocolate (and love).

Someday It Won’t Be Thanksgiving Without Chocolate

chocolate turkeysTurkeys be damned, or at least brought down a peg. Thanksgiving turns out to be a holiday of a lamb … as in Mary Had a Little Lamb …

As in, we don’t have the 1621 Pilgrims and Wapanoag (who together likely savored venison, and certainly not the pictured chocolate turkey) to thank for the upcoming onslaught of overdoing both food and shopping. We should actually thank Godmother of Thanksgiving, Sara Josepha Hale, who is more famed as progenitor of the rhyming tale of the young miss and her wooly pet.

Hale, an editor of early 19th century magazines for New England gentlewomen, made it her mission to lobby for a national holiday for giving thanks, which President Lincoln decided in 1863 would be a useful way to mark the third year of America’s Civil War.

Regrettably, we can’t also thank Hale much for anything in the way of chocolate. Additionally a cookbook author, she seemed to think of it mostly as a drink and gives very chocolate short shrift in her very long-named 1856 work, Mrs. Hale’s new cook book. A practical system for private families in town and country; with directions for carving, and arranging the table for parties, etc. Also, preparations of food for invalids and for children.

Given the mythmaking that has been part of its history there is no reason that just because Godmother Hale wasn’t a proto-chocolatista that chocolate should not in future years play a prominent place in the T-Day story and traditions (chocolate-loving mythmakers wanted).

It would be nice for a full cornucopia of cacao creations to be a central place in the holiday’s mystique, but the fruit of the cacao tree does already have a small place among the day’s desserts, although that place is primed for expansion.

Perhaps the holiday’s prandial delights could be made even more robust with a post-meal palate cleanser such as chocolate cabbage leaf cups for vanilla ice cream, or chocolate pudding shots to accompany viewing television or touch-football-in-the-backyard. (If the thankful spirit moves you so, feel free to thicken up what is billed as a “health” recipe libation with another chocolate-based liqueur.)

Ultimately, the history and traditions and myths of the day don’t matter. Life is about mouth (and soul) pleasing. To insure some pleasure, one can always rely on genius chef Michael Symon and his newly developed Chocolate Pumpkin Pie. As likely everyone already knows, with the right chocolate added and no matter whether there is or isn’t turkey on the menu — or even if its journey to the the table was a disaster — the day and meal will be the stuff(ing) of family legend as well as national myth.

#chocolate #Thanksgviving #recipes #foodhistory #history #myths

Funeral Cakes, Death, Chocolate & More

chocolate skull cakeOctober is National Dessert Month, and also in its build up to Halloween, a celebration of death in various but still appetizing forms. What could be a better time than to talk about the choice between cake and death, as Eddie Izzard does,

or a touch more soberly to discuss (Chocolate) Funeral Cakes?

Not yet completely soberly. We note that serving a chocolate skull cake might work for some, but is for most people a goober of bad taste at funerals.

Funeral cakes are traditional, and traditionally quick and easy to construct: death is not something for which one is supposed to prepare. Generally, they also aren’t the most sophisticated taste fusions, as there should not be that much time to make them, and, presumably, the baker has more imposing thoughts hanging above his or head. That said, they do come in a multitude of varieties, ranging from the out-of-the-box ordinary to the out-of-the-bottle versions such as Coca-Cola chocolate funeral cake with Coca-Cola icing.

None of this should be confused with Day of the Dead cakes — often, surprisingly enough, baked for weddings. That holiday, blooming from Mexican roots is celebrated post-Halloween, over November’s first two days.

Back to funeral cakes, which also (in hopefully the final tangent) are also not to be confused with the popular restaurant dessert, “death by chocolate,” which is usually an excuse for a junior, so-called,”patissier” at a chain restaurant to see how much chocolate s/he can cram into a dessert at an appropriate for the owner price point.

While death by chocolate is not related, food studies Ph.D. candidates will surely be able to trace the links between funeral cakes, funeral biscuits, funeral cookies and journal cakes. All of which is apparently within the domain of knowledge required of your average funeral director.

For most non-funeral directors, however, all the knowledge of funeral cakes usually required is that it be relatively easy to make and that it mostly arrives as a sheet (or half sheet) cake in the spirit of what The Pioneer Woman calls The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake. Ever.

One last (promise!) side note, while name-brand chefs have recipes for almost everything, none seems to have put their name on a funeral cake concoction. It’s not clear at all why. Would it really be that bad for their brand? It’s not like they would likely be dragged into a bit of funeral cake and workplace noir (as envisioned by Team Action Seal for the 2014 Austin 48-hour film project), featuring stolen break room swag and the may-it-live-forever-online quote, “My [funeral] cake was gone and my life was over. Things couldn’t get any worse. Then things got worse …”

#chocolate #halloween #dayofthedead #foodhistory

Brazilian vs. Netherlands Chocolate to Decide Third Place?

futbolA lot of complaints about today’s game to claim World Cup’s third place, featuring despairing host Brazil and The worn-to-a-quick Netherlands. Interestingly enough, among those weighing in is former German star, Der [hopefully only briefly] disgraced and displaced Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer.

No secret: this is a game played for the greater glory of the advertisers and the money that flows into the kingdom of maligned FIFA Godfather Sepp Blatter. Rather than putting the players through another grueling (possibly soul-sucking) opportunity to end their campaign with a loss let’s consider a Choc-off, which, honestly, in many ways makes as much sense as ending a game of fluid and dramatic movement based on the stationary puppet show of the stupid penalty kick shootout. Chocolate reveals the strengths of a nation’s character — along the lines of the popular but discredited theory regarding — as much it can be revealed by eleven folks ability to run for miles in order to kick a ball between some posts and into (or out of, as the case may be) plastic netting.

While it seems to offer the home team a huge advantage, today’s contest should be between the chocoladelletter (more or less a big S for Santa created at Christmas) and the Brazilian national chocolate ball, the Brigadeiro. On the underdog’s side, it would be remiss not to add that we do have the Dutch — specifically chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten — to thank for Dutch chocolate powder and all its contributions to the world of better chewing and swallowing.

Today’s match-up:

The Dutch Chocoladelleter

vs. the Brazilian Brigadeiro

You choose the winner. And, if by chance you wish to prepare for tomorrow’s final by thinking along these same lines, here is an introduction to German and Argentinian chocolate sides. [Quick note for American fans: In case you are checking in for your German Chocolate Cake info, it is American and named after an Englishman, Mr. German, of German’s chocolate.]

Celebrating Columbus & Chocolate Makes More Sense

ColumbusIt is silly to celebrate Italian-navigator-sailing-for-Spanish-royal-glory Christopher Columbus as discoverer of the United States of America on an October Monday. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about recognizing the Genoan for the much more important role he played in bringing chocolate to Europe, which then sent it back this way.

But, mostly, we don’t.

Even as he brought cacao beans with him upon return from his fourth voyage in 1504 Columbus doesn’t get the nod as a prime player in the drama and joy of development of the magic bean. Today, July 7, “international chocolate day,” we honor instead Spanish Franciscan Friars who by means history does not chronicle achieved a tipping point of popularity leading to today, in 1550, being the official (?) “discovery” of chocolate by Europeans.

And, yes, we recognize this overlooks the historical fact that the actual “discovery” of the human-elating properties of roasting the beans inside the cacao pod, which had taken place years before and thousands of miles away in a different hemisphere. For a somewhat elementary look at that, consider The Discovery Channel’s 40+ minute look at the history and discoveries of chocolate

In case you don’t have the time or interest to learn a few more things about chocolate then just remember the key takeaway from the video: chocolate gets you drunk.

Happy Chocolate Day 2014, the most important 464th (?) anniversary you’ll ever celebrate!

Chocolate Pudding One and All, 2014

chocolate puddingCelebrate National Chocolate Pudding Day with a contemplation (and, soon enough, with the chocolate pudding itself). Alone, pudding can mean nearly anything

Its dictionary definitions are a bit more (well) definitive, but not much more. Basically, it can be almost any dish someone finds delicious [i.e.,edible, for some] but is usually soft, sweet, creamy or thick and served as a dessert … unless it has some sort of protein baked in.

And even pudding’s history is a bit murky. However, where we’re talking “chocolate” pudding, and will ignore the history and meat and fish versions. Which still leaves an enormous amount of room for improvisation.

For a few bites with extra “good” fats — also offering an easy vegan version with a maple-syrup/agave-for-honey trade — consider bacon chocolate guinness challah bread puddingthis Chocolate Avocado Pudding. Or, going whole hog (so to speak) in the other direction, there’s a land out yonder where Bacon Chocolate Guinness Challah Bread Pudding  can run wild.

You can also go southern or secular, as is your want. There’s enough time left in today’s celebration to whip up some Chocolate Banana Pudding with Louisiana flair, or inspire some Jewish guilt in others by serving a Chocolate Babka Bread Pudding.
As the Marketplace podcast [] punningly pontificated, the goal of this whole contemplation is to be “pudding you in the mood for chocolate.”

DO NOT, we repeat DO NOT end up with some store-bought pudding style cup. While, yes, we did start out by saying almost any comestible could qualify as a “pudding,” you definitely deserve better. And we’re positive of that even though we may not know you.

Speechifying With Chocolate

darkCan there be a touch of hype when talking chocolate? There can be,but we are almost always happy to move beyond the silliness on behalf of taste and entertainment. Which is why we heartily recommend listening to claims about how a chocolate bar has led to a revolution in teaching math, and, not to put too fine a point on it, HOW CHOCOLATE CAN SAVE THE PLANET!!!!!

The good folks making the claims did so at Ted Talks, a series of short presentations that often enough are seen in videos going viral that feature an animated presenter who begins with a counter-intuitive assertion or fringe experience and then as PowerPoint slides in the background hover makes his or her way to a larger — if sometimes and somewhat limited by real life — truth. To be fair, sometimes the TTs are performance art for aspiring high brows and other times they are just another platform through which someone promotes their brand. However, that shouldn’t take away too much from these celebrations of cacao.

Nigel Nisbet explores his path from teacher to math gamer content visionary thanks to an epiphany he had while considering the packaging of the Toblerone bar, while Shawn Stevenson highlights a bit of history and science and while most of it is how an individual can be healthier, the overall theme is that if all individuals are healthier then the entire planet will be better as well. (For another Ted Talk on how chocolate consumption perfects the person, see the earlier post Choco-Hype, Healthily Speaking, highlighting the claims of David Wolfe.)