Back in 1935, Amelia Earhart was flying high above the sea, as the first person to ever fly solo across the great Pacific Ocean from Honolulu to Oakland, Calif. — a distance of more than 2,400 miles. And while piloting a plane across the great blue ocean, she had with her a special drink — hot chocolate. After landing in safely in California, she told interviewers, “That was the most interesting cup of chocolate I have ever had, sitting up eight thousand feet over the middle of the Pacific Ocean, quite alone.”
At least that’s how the book, Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage tells the story. And it’s just one of the many tidbits about women’s involvement in the history of the food of the gods.
Seeing as how March is Women’s History Month, is seems only appropriate to go back and read through the book to see not only how women shaped the history of chocolate, but also how chocolate shaped the history of so many women.
Among the most notable members of chocolate’s past has to be Mrs. Bertha Potter Palmer (Pg. 202). It was she who had the idea for the first brownie. Or at least, she had the idea to ask the chef at her husband’s Palmer House Hotel to make a, “‘ladies dessert’ to be used in box lunches at the Women’s Building at the Fair, edible without getting a lady’s gloved fingers dirty.”
It’s said the “brownie” is still served at the Hilton Palmer House to this very day.
Then there’s the anonymous Virginia mistress (page 291). Back in 1700, she wrote one of the first North American cookbooks that included a chocolate recipe and may have even inspired one of today’s most popular candies.
She was apparently a, “well-educated woman of respectable standing.” And was smart enough to include a recipe for “Almonds in chocolate,” a recipe that might be the 18th century ancestor of the red, yellow, blue, and green, M&M’s.
But women in history did more than just inspire, create and share recipes. Take Emile Sichel, the chocolate smuggler, for example (Page 260-261).
In the 1880s she attempted to smuggle 10 pounds of chocolate into the United States, among other things. The book describes her as a young, attractive lady — the kind of woman nobody could imagine as a smuggler, despite her clear guilt.
Apparently, when she was caught, a customs inspector confiscated her trunk full of smuggled goods, but then, a fire broke out where the trunk was being stored. And in an odd turn of events, the jury was so smitten with Ms. Sichel that they actually ordered customs to pay her $459 for the goods, or about $11,723.25 in today’s money! I guess she was as sweet as the chocolate she was trying to get into the country!
And then there were the women who used chocolates in their love potions. (Page 40-41). A report from March 30, 1626 details the spell Maria Bravo tried to use to “secure the affection of a man she loved.”
In a recount of her testimony about the events in front of the Attorney General in charge of the Commission of the Holy Office, she apparently described talking to “[An] Indian woman [who] told her to take some of her menstrual blood and mix it with chocolate and give it to him and he would love her.”
Unfortunately, the potion didn’t work — which isn’t to say the incident stopped other women from trying similar things.
On April 4, 1629, Magdalena Mends confessed to her priest that she had attempted to gain the affection of a married man. Such a task required two potions though — one to make the man fall in love with her, and another to make the man forget about his wife.
She did almost the same thing as Maria to get him to fall in love with her — mixing her menstrual blood with chocolate and giving it to the man four times a day to drink.
As for getting the potential beau to forget his wife, she was told by, “a mulatto woman” named Magdalena that she should “obtain the heart of a crow and together with the excrements of his wife and add these [items] to his chocolate.”
No word on whether or not those two potions actually did the trick. As for me, I think I’ll stick to eating my chocolate in a Snicker’s bar.