Non-Fiction

Review: The True History Of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe.

Review: The True History Of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe.

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With Easter coming up, and religious considerations aside, our minds are turning to one thing. Chocolate. Whether or not you are buying an Easter egg, it is impossible to escape those cravings. But how much do you really know about the origins of chocolate? 

The True History Of Chocolate begins with the fact that most of what we think we know about chocolate is an ‘accepted fiction’ – something which is so widely believed that it is accepted as fact. Added to that, many people’s true knowledge dates back only to Christopher Columbus and his invasion of Mexico. 

Beginning with botany, and the history of the plants from which the cocoa bean is cultivated, the book explains how cacao pods are harvested from the cacao tree before the cocoa butter is extracted. This explanation of the science was useful because we trace the growth of the tree across the centuries and learn how different societies processed the cocoa butter.

Given that knowledge of chocolate in early civilizations is limited, a decent portion of the book covered what is known about its role in societies prior to Columbus’s invasion of America. Every society in the book is introduced and the evidence that chocolate was processed is explored. 

Later sections cover chocolate in recent history, and how it went from being an aristocratic parlour drink to a solid product available to the masses. 

The book manages to be both readable and informative. It covers different periods of history and wide geography with ease, linking them all to a single plant and the way it has been processed into different forms of chocolate. If you are looking to expand your non-fiction intake, this popular subject is a brilliant way to start.

 

Published by Thames and Hudson. Thanks for my gifted copy. All opinions my own. 

Chat · Guest Post

Chocolate Boxes of Christmas Past – Chris Callaghan Author Guest Post

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Chris Callaghan is the author of The Great Chocoplot. If you liked the sweets in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory you’ll love this. You’ll crave a Blocka Chokka bar as you follow Jelly on her quest to stop the Chocopocalypse. Part adventure, part hilarious satire on modern life, The Great Chocoplot is a fantastic read for Middle Grade readers and big kids alike. Read my review here. 

Chris has written about his memories of childhood selection boxes, and I am so pleased to welcome him for the 14th Day of Blogmas. Huge thanks for the wonderful post. bird

Selection Boxes of Christmas Past – Chris Callaghan. 

The 1970s are where my childhood Christmas memories flutter around my head like the snow falling in Bedford Falls. But it isn’t all memories of Morecambe and Wise, fights over the double edition of the Radio Times, or Boney M having a ‘New Entry’ into the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops – some of my memories are of the classic selection box.

Gchriscchocolateboxeso into any supermarket in the run up to Christmas and you’ll find all manner of chocolate and sweetie delights, packaged in alluring festive trimmings. There will be the occasional box containing a few assorted treats but these, in my opinion, are not quite the same as the traditional selection box of my childhood.

 

I remember that they were a fairly standard present. Usually there to bulk-up a pile of other wrapped presents to enhance the ‘wow factor’ of that 5am entrance into the living room. Also, often handed out by next door neighbours or Auntie’s you hadn’t seen since last Christmas. Even before it was unwrapped you knew exactly what is was, with its distinctive flat, rectangular shape and gentle weight – but of course you had to pretend!

“Ooo, I wonder what it is?” we lied. Still maybe clinging to the hope that it was a Scalextric Set or an Airfix Millennium Falcon. But no, it was a few bars of chocolate and some sweets.

“Thanks, Auntie. That’s brilliant!” we lied again. (I sound a bit ungrateful, don’t I! But let’s be honest, there’s a lot of greed in Christmas – just embrace it!)

 

But once we’d got bored with our proper toys (I’m sounding like a brat again), it was the pile of selection boxes that drew our attention. The first game upon opening would be refitting the treat, which had fallen out due to the tradition gentle shake of the unopened present, into the corresponding compartment in the crinkly and surprisingly noisy plastic tray. Once this was achieved, the decision-making process began.

Do you keep your favourite bar until last or chomp it down right now? That is maybe a decision that a grown up would ponder for a while, but for a child on Christmas morning – it’s easy!! (Greed again)

 

texan_bar__16585I’d always choose the Texan Bar first. An impossibly chewy delight that would not only take forever to eat, but would also easily remove any stubbornly remaining baby teeth. The Texan Bar has since ceased production, probably on Health & Safety grounds!

Then there’s the obvious ones to go for: Galaxy, Mars Bar and a Flake (which would have to eaten while singing the song and pretending to be in the bath).

 

The selection boxes would always come with a game on the back, where you would have to cut out tiny counters from the box itself. Using paper scissors for this task was a nightmare, as they could barely cut paper, so had a hell of a job cutting card (often leaving sore red ring marks around our fingers and mangled bits of card as counters). The game itself could be completed in a few minutes, with minimal enjoyment and rarely got a repeat run.

 

The day after Boxing Day, which is a pretty dull enough day already, would mean our selection boxes had the stuff we really weren’t keen on. For me, this meant Marathon (yes, Marathon kids, not Snickers!) and Topic. Nuts in chocolate still sends shivers down my spine. Although, there was a certain fun in eating around the nasty crunchy bits and spitting them out into the convenient plastic tray area provided with the box. But then as New Year approached, the only sweets left were the ones that you would never buy and were only ever eaten because your own greed insisted that they had to be eaten. This was always the fruit version of Polos, for me. I’ve never been a fan of boiled sweets and even though the proper mint Polos were a regular favourite, these rock-hard luminous rings of sticky doom were not what I’d call a treat!

They were always stuck together by the world’s strongest super glue. It would take the rusty chisel in Dad’s tool box from the cupboard under the stairs to break them apart. Or, if you couldn’t wait, just treat it like one complete lolly stick. Being an impatient/greedy child, it was a huge effort to try and crunch on this multi coloured Polo lolly. The effort didn’t match the pleasure!

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I suppose a selection box could be something you might share. But as kids (and as grown-ups) do we really, really want to share? There might have been the odd thing that was swapped with my little sister, but only if I’d gain an advantage, like swapping a Twix for Curly Wurly. A Twix is, let’s face it, a glorified biscuit, while a Curly Wurly is a … well, it’s a Curly Wurly, isn’t it!!

But as it’s Christmas, I should end by saying that we should all share what we have, because that’s what the festive season is all about. (There, I’ve said it. I don’t mean it, but I’ve said it.)

So, enjoy yourselves, and if you have to share something, make sure it’s something you don’t really like. A tube of fruit Polos, for example.

 

Happy (Greedy) Christmas!

 

Do you have a favourite selection box? Which chocolate would you eat, and which would you trade? Let me know in the comments below.

Chat

Fairtrade chocolate: guilt-free reading snacks.

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Those of you who read my blog regularly, or saw a picture of my chocolate-topped birthday cake will know I love chocolate. It is like catnip for humans. I can’t get enough. It also happens to make the perfect reading treat. It melts in the mouth, allowing your concentration to stay between the pages, and everybody knows there is a connection between chocolate and emotions. Professor RJ Lupin says so, and if nobody else does, that is good enough for me. Chocolate is like an edible hug, and lets face it. Our emotions are at play when we read. Alongisde our heros we confront our craziest fears, and we invest time in characters who can find themselves in grave peril.

Chocolate fuels this bookworm. I thought it would be fun to pair some chocolate with my latest favourite reads. What to choose? I discourage anybody from feeling guilty about their reading snacks. I wouldn’t change my habits for love nor body image. But getting a better deal for some of the poorest people in the world?

That’s the job of Fairtrade. Maybe you’ve noticed the Fairtrade mark and wondered what it means? It means the trade is fair (geddit?) for people who produce food supplies in developing countries. The people who manufacture goods, like my chocolate bars, must meet criteria, such as:

  • paying producers a fair and stable price for goods
  • Entering into longer-term relationships with producers, ensuring longer-term stability. 

The Producers benefit from:

  •  training and skills to develop their businesses
  •  a ‘Fairtrade Premium’ to spend within their businesses or communities.

 

 It shows a commitment to investing in the world’s poorest places. When Fairtrade UK sent an email asking if I would like some samples, I jumped in. I was sent these samples in exchange for review but all opinions remain my own.They sent such a great selection, I was able to pair books and chocolate very nicely. 

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The Midnight Peacock by Katherine Woodfine.

Chocolate: Chocolate And Love – Rich Dark 71%

My first reason for this pairing was the cute peacock decoration on the chocolate wrapper. The Midnight Peacock came out in October. I have loved Sinclair’s all along, but The Midnight Peacock was my very favourite. Aside from being a great mystery, it has this dark, sumptuous atmosphere. This is another reason these make a lovely pair. A little of this chocolate goes a long way, but it doesn’t have the bitterness a higher percentage of cocoa solids would produce. As a milk chocolate person, this made it the perfect dark chocolate for me. Dark, but not cloying, and it has a deliciously fruity smell. 

 

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed. 

Chocolate: Chocolate And Love – Sea Salt 55%img_3621

This is my current read. A book which has taken my Twitter circle by storm, The Nowhere Girls covers some hugely difficult topics such as mysogynistic culture and victim-blaming. As of the first 100 pages, I can see strong relationships being formed between the three central characters. This is a book-group book. A book to send to your closest friends. This is a book which incites discussions which need to happen. It is one to share, so it had to be paired with a sharing chocolate. Sea salted caramel is having a moment, and is a flavour lots of people enjoy. This is dark chocolate, but only just – I mistook it for a heavy milk. The caramel is quite sweet, and put me in mind of banoffee. I love the crunch of the caramel pieces. 

 

The Murder’s Ape by Jacob Wagelius img_3633

Chocolate: The Raw Chocolate Company – Raw Organic Chocolate Mulberries 

I didn’t know what to expect when I saw the packet. I thought these might make a good pairing because the novel is a slow, winding adventure. I liked the idea of loose chocolate, which I could dip my hand into as the hours unfolded. I was worried they might have a chalky coating. You know what I mean by chalky, don’t you? Loose, dusty coating which leaves marks over your hands. The coating wasn’t like that at all. It was sweet and pleasant. The fruit wasn’t overpowering, either, and went well with the chocolate. bird

Guilt-free and scrummy. My verdict? I would love to check out more goods endorsed by Fairtrade UK. The chocolate came with some recipe cards, and those cookies look mouth-watering. Check back later – if the chocolate lasts long enough, I’ll give them a go and share the results!

HUGE thanks to Fairtrade UK for sending the chocolate samples reviewed in this piece. As stated, all opinions my own. 

Do you have a favourite reading snack? Is fair trade something you have thought about? Do let me know in the comments below. 

 

Chat · Days Out

September Staycation #2 – Sweet-toothed Trail

You’ve heard of Grasmere Gingerbread and Kendal Mint Cake. Maybe you’ve heard of Cartmel sticky toffee pudding. I live in a region of sweet-toothed treats, which is apposite. I am Queen Sweet-Tooth. It’s a wonder they’re not rotten! Anyway, what you didn’t know is that Kendal Mint Cake is just the tip of the sugary ice-berg, and that actually, it’s not only the Lake District which produces famously fantastic treats. It’s not only Cumbria. It’s the entire border reigon. 

When we lived in London, me and my parents would spend a week’s holiday in a barn outside of Appleby. Our holidays were planned around food and walks – a convenient balance was achieved, and we ate everything from pub food to giant meringues and three-scoop ice-creams.

For our second staycation day, we chose to revisit some old holiday favourites. I was also on a mission to choose some treats for the top of my birthday cake next month. 

First stop was Appleby Bakery. You’ve seen Appleby-in-Westmoreland on the news. It’s that-place-with-the-horse-fair, except it is so much more. I love Appleby, and I especially love the Appleby bakery, with it’s pies and regional cheeses, and tray bakes. Most of all it’s tray bakes. Today I chose a picnic slice, which is basically a Hagrid-sized florentine. 

Ask nicely and I’ll share.

We moved from cake, into chocolate and ice-cream. Kennedy’s chocolate shop in Orton is a gem. Housed in an old school-house, you can see the chocolate being mixed and shaped in moulds behind the shop, and from windows in the cafe. 

The shop itself stocks every flavoured bar under the sun, all made on site. Selection IMG_2608boxes are family celebration staples – my favourite flavours are from the dessert range – butter fudge cream and Mississippi mud pie. You can get an idea of the selection here. Kennedy’s deliver through the post, and I can tell you from experience that the chocolates arrive safely. 

Savoury food as well as is sweet is available in the cafe, and there is a good range of food, including a menu of daily specials. It was nice to see local produce used, such as Lancashire cheese. 

Ice-Cream is also made on premises, and we enjoyed our ice-cream sundaes. I was particularly taken with the idea of serving in long, thin bowls. This enabled me to try different flavours together. As any serious sweet-tooth knows, ice-cream sundaes served in a cup tend to end up looking like poster paint mixed by a four year-old. 

Complimentary chocolate flowers came with the receipt; a cute touch, but if you haven’t come in for chocolate, I defy you to walk out without. One taste and I was sold. Peeking into the factory while lunch was being prepared was lovely. The opening to the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film? It’s not far off. They actually have sinks full of pure chocolate. Good job they keep the public separate. Full of sugar I might have been, but I would happily have stuck my head under and drunk it all up. 

IMG_2677The birthday cake mission was a success: great plans are afoot, and I’ll keep you updated. It’s not until October 13th, but one thing is certain. This year is going to be a very happy birthday.