I’m teaching a couple of new courses at Harvard University this semester. It seems only fitting to celebrate the two-year anniversary of this blog by sharing a detailed description of one of them, a direct outgrowth of the work that I’ve been documenting here. The course is entitled African and African American Studies 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.
Here’s a goofy Zeega trailer that I made to advertise the course last semester:
So far the course has had an exhilarating beginning. Harvard’s Pre-Term Planning figures indicated that I should expect 16 students in the class, which turned out to be a slight underestimation. On the first day 120 students patiently squeezed into a room designed for 60, then on the second day 165 filled up a newer, larger room. We’re presently three weeks into things, and it looks like our final enrollment figures will settle somewhere in the 190s. We are now comfortably ensconced in our third and final lecture hall, which is a perfect fit our large brood. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised – come on people, it’s a class about chocolate .
A phenomenal team of graduate student teaching fellows has also been assembled to teach students in weekly small group section meetings. They hail from fields as diverse as African and African American Studies, Romance Languages and Literatures, Inner Asian and Altaic Studies, and Studies of Religion, and have expertise in Haitian Vodou, the American prison system, the history of Islam, and medieval European food culture. Each member of the team has a unique perspective on the course materials that greatly enriches our ability to reach students from a wide variety of disciplines. Combined, we have decades of award-winning teaching experience to dole out.
The course does not involve any traditional written papers or exams (perhaps another reason for the large enrollment?); all of the assignments employ digital tools and apps (e.g. TimelineJS, Storify, Glossi, Google Drive) that will allow students to practice new research skills, design attractive multimedia online products, and add to the body of public scholarship on chocolate. The students in this course are fantastic — they’re engaged with the materials, always ready to contribute to discussions, bursting with productive energy, and hungry for both sweets and knowledge. I will update the blog throughout the semester with information on the results of their work.
Thanks to the generosity of many, I’ve also been able to assemble an exciting line up of guest speakers and to plan several guided in-class chocolate tastings. Students will additionally be encouraged to take advantage of local chocolate-relevant collections at Harvard’s Peabody Museum (Maya and Aztec cacao vessels) and Schlesinger Library (cookbooks and advertisements), the Museum of Fine Arts (early American chocolate serving pots), and numerous chocolate shops (e.g. L.A. Burdick Chocolates Cafe, Taza Chocolate Factory). More on all this and other open access course materials in coming weeks.
Without further ado, here’s a summary of the syllabus:
African and African American Studies 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food
Spring Term 2013
Mondays and Wednesdays, 2-3pm + weekly section
This course will examine the sociohistorical legacy of chocolate, with a delicious emphasis on the eating and appreciation of the so-called “food of the gods.” Interdisciplinary course readings will introduce the history of cacao cultivation, the present day state of the global chocolate industry, the diverse cultural constructions surrounding chocolate, and the implications for chocolate’s future of scientific study, international politics, alternative trade models, and the food movement. Assignments will address pressing real world questions related to chocolate consumption, social justice, responsible development, honesty and the politics of representation in production and marketing, hierarchies of quality, and myths of purity.
Gain subject matter expertise:
- on the history, culture, and taste of cacao and chocolate;
- on slavery, trade systems, and business ethics; and
- on big, pressing questions related to food politics, corporate social responsibility, the representation of race and gender in advertising, and labor rights and global trade.
- to engage profoundly with a large body of interdisciplinary primary and secondary sources of varying quality;
- to conduct historical, ethnographic, and digital research;
- to better understand analog and digital scholarship and media and how we store/find/share/create knowledge; and
- to communicate critically and thoughtfully through discussion, writing, and multimedia.
- by working on our own and in a collaborative, hands-on environment;
- by documenting the history and anthropology of chocolate; and
- by proposing creative solutions to pressing problems in the chocolate industry and making these solutions available to chocolate companies and the general public.
The following three foundational course texts are supplemented by book chapters, articles, websites, and films.
- Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
- Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2007. The True History of Chocolate. 2nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.
- Mintz, Sidney. 1986. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.
Unit 1: Origins
Week 1: Introduction
Week 2: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”
Week 3: Chocolate expansion
Week 4: Sugar and cacao
Unit 2: Growing Cacao, Making Chocolate, Selling Sin
Week 5: Popular sweet tooths and scandal
Week 6: Slavery, abolition, and forced labor
Week 7: The rise of big chocolate and race for the global market
Unit 3: Representation, Labor, and the Ethics of Trade
Week 8: Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements
Week 9: Modern day slavery
Week 10: Alternative trade and virtuous globalization
Unit 4: Eating Chocolate
Week 11: Health, nutrition, and the politics of food
Week 12: Terroir and taste
Week 13: The food movement, haute patisserie, and artisan chocolate: the future?
While 2011 was a busy year for publishing on chocolate (see last year’s summary list here), 2012 ushered in a dizzying array of chocolate-related books from multiple genres. Below, you’ll find my picks for several of the best, as well as some from my to-read list.
If there are other recently published books that you don’t see listed here, I would love to hear your recommendations.
Note: It is the case with many of the chocolate cookbooks listed below that they will teach you surprisingly little about cacao and chocolate (and some of it will even be wrong). By all means, get chocolate-centric cookbooks for the recipes and inspiration, then couple them with a text that focuses on source ingredients cacao and chocolate like Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes for a more meaningful introduction to the topic.
Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America
2012 brought us another masterpiece from award-winning chef and scholar Maricel Presilla — Gran Cocina Latina. This cookbook, with more than 500 carefully researched recipes from Latin America, spans the genres of culinary history and ethnography. An entire section of the book is devoted to cacao and chocolate. It is of interest to chefs, home cooks, food travelers, and scholars.
The Elements of Dessert
A must read for hardcore pastry and cooking science geeks, this beautiful cookbook from celebrated pastry chef Francisco Migoya has over 200 recipes for exquisite, elaborate modern desserts.
Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner
This text is a standard for pastry chefs, bakers, and chocolatiers, now in its second edition. It has been significantly expanded and revised to include new recipes, formulas, and business advising sections.
This book has been everywhere this year — prominently displayed in bookstores, on several “best of” lists, and occasionally even selling out on Amazon. The praise is well-deserved, as the recipes, mixed with fun anecdotes from Keller, are instructive and scrumptious. The photography and design make the book worthy of coffee table fame, if you can tolerate the looking without cooking.
The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee: Growing, Roasting, and Drinking, with Recipes
A book not about chocolate, but another celebrated bean — coffee. This is an excellent, instructive text that takes the reader from coffee plant to tastebud. To the best of my knowledge, a similar book does not exist in the craft chocolate world (Presilla’s comes closest, perhaps), but one should.
Original 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book
A reprint of an American classic, of interest and use for almost all home kitchens. Historical chocolate recipes, too!
The sixth edition of a canonical educational text on baking.
Sugar and Spice: Sweets and Treats from Around the World
Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra is an award-winning food historian and writer. In this text, she has collected over 120 clear recipes for sweet treats from around the world. Stories and images make this book equal parts good read and useful cookbook.
The Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook: How to Make Truly Scrumptious Candy in Your Own Kitchen!
For DIY enthusiasts and candy lovers, this cookbook from the popular Liddabit Sweets brand clearly explains home candymaking with fun flavor twists. The photos are lovely and instructive, and the authors’ humor is entertaining.
Luscious Chocolate Desserts
For the reader who wants alluring pictures and mouthwatering, well-tested chocolate recipes designed for home cooks, this cookbook from Lori Longbotham, a former food editor at Gourmet, does not disappoint. 65-plus recipes, clear instructions, and easily-located ingredients make this ideal for someone obsessed with chocolate but new to cooking with it.
I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas
Award-winning chef and pastry chef Marcel Desaulniers provides 72 delectable chocolate Christmas recipes for home cooks. Includes a section on packing and shipping treats as gifts.
Rococo: Mastering the Art of Chocolate, Chantal Coady
Rococo is an elegantly branded product line from one of Britain’s top chocolatiers, Chantal Coady. In this exquisitely designed book, Coady tells the story of her business and provides a selection of plainly written recipes. Also great for display and gifting.
Chocolate to Savour, Kirsten Tibballs
Kirsten Tibballs, Australian chocolatier, pastry chef, Callebaut representative, and founder of the Savour Chocolate and Patisserie School in Melbourne, offers plainly written recipes for enthusiasts in this debut cookbook.
Patrick Roger, en quète de chocolat, Patrick Roger, Jean-Marc Dimanche
Eccentric French chocolatier Patrick Roger has here collected stunning photographs of some of his most celebrated chocolate sculptures, from an exhibit series that illustrates the dangers of deforestation to animals. These remarkable works of chocolate art feature orangutans, gorillas, polar bears, elephants, and more. In French.
Chocolat Café, Pierre Marcolini
Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini has produced a cookbook that brings together chocolate and coffee. The text has recipes, photos, advice on chocolate and coffee pairing, and stories from Marcolini’s life. In French.
Chocolat, Christophe Felder, Domitille Langot
Noted French pastry chef Christophe Felder’s enormous cookbook has approximately 200 recipes for chocolate and pastry, ranging from simple to challenging, traditional to innovative. Felder offers advice on tasting, flavor pairing, and working with chocolate. A good fit for pastry chefs and adventurous home cooks. In French.
Chocolat Menier, Vincent Boué, Hubert Delorme, Didier Stéphan, Héloïse Martel
This cookbook is the stuff of nostalgia for any who grew up eating Menier chocolate. Nearly 300 easy-to-make classic recipes for the home cook. In French.
Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate
Author, entrepreneur, and educator Pam Williams has long been a leader in the chocolate industry. (Regular readers will note that I took an online course at her school, the Ecole Chocolat.) Jim Eber, her co-author, is a specialist in food and business marketing. In this important text, they survey the current state of the chocolate industry — from cacao genetics to farms to marketing to the art of the chocolatier. A must-read for the serious chocolate geek.
Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa
This travel narrative from historian Catherine Higgs traces the travels of Englishman Joseph Burtt, hired by Cadbury Brothers Limited to investigate claims of forced labor on the cacao plantations of Sao Tome and Principe, through Africa. Burtt’s early twentieth century “fieldwork experience” of sorts, and subsequent slow, but deliberate reporting on the abuses he witnessed played a role in influencing a number of important changes in African labor practices and chocolate industry ethics. (This history is detailed in different form in Lowell J. Satre’s Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business) An important read for those interested in chocolate industry ethics, labor rights, African studies, and history of chocolate.
Taste Matters: Why We Like the Foods We Do
How do genes, maternal diet, culture, and physiology affect taste? Prescott ponders these questions in this fascinating, well-researched book. Interesting as much for the information it provides as for the potential it demonstrates for public health causes.
Coffee Life in Japan (California Studies in Food and Culture)
This book isn’t about chocolate, but it is about coffee culture, which presents interesting parallels and contrasts. A carefully researched, thoughtfully written history-ethnography-memoir about the experience of coffee in Japan.
Chocolate in Health and Nutrition (Nutrition and Health)
If ever there was an argument for keeping libraries well-funded, this book is one. Try to borrow it from the library if you can. (A WorldCat search shows where to find it.)
An academic text with a very high price point, this text is unique in its broad level scholarly, data-driven treatment of the research on chocolate and health.
The Science of Ice Cream
For ice cream professionals and serious enthusiasts, this book will not so much teach you how to make ice cream as about the science behind how ice cream is made.
On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao
Rabbi Deborah R. Prinze traces the historical connections between Jews, religion, and chocolate in this unique text. While at times the links drawn are slightly overstated, the author’s passionate writing makes for a fun introduction to the topic.
Chicago’s Sweet Candy History (Images of America)
A book of photographs with trivia mixed in, this is an enjoyable way to picture 150 years of Chicago’s confectionery history.
The Trebor Story: How a Tiny Family Firm Making Sweets in London’s East End Became Britain’s Biggest Sugar Confectioner, Creating Iconic Brands Before Selling to Cadbury and Later Kraft Foods, Matthew Crampton
The lengthy title more or less summarizes this book, written by a fan of the Trebor family business in an engaging style. Of interest to those studying business or confectionery history.
Du Cacao et Des Hommes, Voyages Dans le Monde du Chocolate, Alfred Conesa
French researcher Alfred Conesa spent six years traveling the world investigating cacao and the lives of people who care for it. His resulting book is organized in two parts – the first describes the history of the cacao tree, the second traces the metamorphosis of cacao fruit from its first indigenous uses to present day popularity. The book is illustrated with artwork by cacao producers. Of interest to anthropologists, historians, agronomists, indigenous studies scholars, and serious chocolate enthusiasts. In French.
Peaches for Father Francis: A Novel
The third book in the best-selling Chocolat series, this story takes Vianne Rocher back to Lansquenet, the French village where readers first learned of her magical chocolates. While Harris’ descriptive style itself relies on stereotype, her writing makes the heavy themes of religious and cultural tolerance easy to stomach, and provides a heartwarming emphasis on the importance of food and chocolate to building community.
The Chocolate Thief
Paris, chocolate, romance, comedy — a fun read all around.
Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot
A period drama fantasy, one reviewer aptly summed up this book’s style as “Jane Austen meets J.K. Rowling.” Plus there’s talk of an enchanted chocolate pot. An entertaining read for young (and young at heart) adults.
Palmeras en la nieve, Luz Gabas
Moving between colonial and present-day Fernando Pó (now called Bioko), the northernmost part of what is now Equatorial Guinea, the only Spanish-speaking African country, this novel is part dramatic intercultural love story, part ode to the magic of growing some of the world’s top cacao. The cacao is named Sampaka, just like the Barcelona-based company Cacao Sampaka (see what the author did there?). In Spanish.
Sweet Coco: Chocolate Maker’s Apprentice
Perhaps the only children’s book to describe the process of taking cacao from bean to bar chocolate, following a young girl’s magical journey with her favorite chocolate maker. I found the story and rhyming cloying at times, but the book is nevertheless instructive and well-designed.
Too-Loose the Chocolate Moose, 30th Anniversary Edition
It’s not easy being a moose made of chocolate. This millenial childhood classic has been rereleased for its 30th anniversary.
Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot
A moving, if somewhat romanticized, account of Operation Little Vittles, a candy drop initiative carried out by an American pilot during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949.
La fabuleuse histoire du gâteau au chocolat!, Orianne Lallemand
This colorfully illustrated children’s story tells the tale of a troublesome dragon wooed by chocolate cake (with recipe). In French.
Ok, it’s not a book, but this French film is a delight! If you love chocolate, introverts, romance, and laughter, you must see it. In French with English subtitles.
What’s next on my chocolate reading list?
Cacao, Michèle Kahn
The world of chocolate, ever wacky, does not disappoint. This week’s story involves a cake artist who “creates edible chocolate baby heads from life-size moulds.” The UK’s Daily Mail has the details.
We’ve had a rainy December here in New England, quite different from the dream of a white Christmas that many hold dear. But chocolate always helps to inspire the holiday spirit. Below you’ll find several of my favorite recipes from some of today’s finest (pastry) chefs and chocolatiers. Happy holidays!
Olive Oil Cake
Pastry chef Kim Boyce specializes in baking with whole grains. In this unique recipe, she brings together spelt flour, olive oil, rosemary, and chocolate.
Goat Cheese Souffles
For dramatic flavor effect, pastry chef and chocolatier Michael Recciutti’s recipe pairs goat cheese and cacao nibs.
Espresso and Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chef Rhonda Ruckman’s Twitter feed, featuring photos of her latest pastry creations, often made with Patric Chocolate, is a favorite of mine. This recipe, from her days as proprietor of the now-closed Dallas bakery Doughmonkey, features a classic flavor pairing — dark chocolate and espresso beans — in fudgey cookie form.
Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies
Kathleen King’s thumbprint cookies are soft, chewy, and chocolatey.
Chocolate and Cinnamon Swirl Meringues
This meringue recipe from Annie Rigg tastes like a chocolatey, spicy, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside sugar cloud.
The Martha Stewart recipe for chocolate babka with cinnamon is sumptuous and buttery. It is an annual star in our household.
And why try only one when you could try three hot chocolate recipes? This year, I am packing the dry ingredients with instructions and gifting them to loved ones.
Aztec-Style Hot Chocolate
British pastry chef and chocolatier Paul A. Young’s spiced hot chocolate recipe is earthy and warm.
Hot Chocolate Agasajo
Chocolate expert and James Beard award-winning chef Maricel Presilla brings together stellar chocolate with a vibrant blend of spices in this unforgettable recipe.
Hot Chocolate with Máchica
This second recipe from Presilla with barley, dark brown sugar, and cinnamon is hearty and satisfying.
The world of tea is far vaster than we previously imagined. This was the conclusion that Trevor and I reached last Sunday after enjoying our holiday present to ourselves: a tea tasting at the acclaimed L’Espalier restaurant in Boston. Organized and hosted as part of a monthly series by accomplished Tea Sommelier Cynthia Gold, the event was dedicated to the 239th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party (known in its day simply as “the destruction of the tea”). On the menu were five teas – all of which were of the tea varieties that were dumped by the chest into Boston Harbor – and one colonial tea punch. We were tickled to learn that the record of which teas and how many thousands of pounds of each were on board the ship has survived, and it was quite the treat to try their present day incarnations.
Equal parts history lesson and tea tasting/pairing exercise, the event was a perfect combination of delicious fun and tea education. Over the course of two hours, Chef Gold wove together thoughtfully researched historical trivia, detailed notes on each tea, and advice on pairing tea with food.
The teas were, in order:
- China Green Young Hyson, Anhui Province (fun fact #1: It was George Washington’s favorite.)
- Fishhouse Punch, A Colonial Tea Punch
- Gunpowder Green
- Bohea Black, Wuyishan China (fun fact #2: It was Benjamin Franklin’s favorite.)
- China Black Congou, Anhui Province
- Lapsang Souchong
Three of the teas (Gunpowder Green, Bohea Black, and China Black Congou) were also paired with food inspired by colonial New England menus. While the tea, freshly steeped and served in glass stemware, stood out for its simplicity, there was more than enough sugar for an entire holiday season in the form of no fewer than seven distinct desserts. Especially noteworthy were the Brulee Indian Pudding with vanilla Chantilly cream, rum raisin scone, and squash macaròns.
My favorite of the teas was the China Green Young Hyson. A light, smooth, ever-so-slightly grassy green tea harvested “before the rains” in the Anhui province of China, it tasted of the gentle warmth of spring. Trevor and I both agreed that it was a paragon of subtle-tea. [wink] All of the teas, however, taught us something new about the flavor of properly stored and prepared tea as well as our own preferences.
The event menu and Chef Gold’s presentation got me thinking more about pairing tea and chocolate, which is something that I see often in bonbons but less in pairing events like those that involve chocolate and wine or, with growing popularity, chocolate and beer. Many chocolatiers prepare truffles, barks, and bars that bring together dark chocolate and Earl Grey, white chocolate and green tea, or chocolate and chai spices. And even though I tend to eat chocolate on its own, without accompaniment, I would welcome pairings that bring together excellent, well prepared teas with sophisticated, well made bar chocolate. The China Green Young Hyson’s spring-like quality and the gentle handling it receives in harvest and preparation reminded me immediately of Pacari Chocolate’s organic and biodynamic 70% Raw bar. One could also imagine a contrasting pairing of a smoky, meaty Lapsang Souchong with a chocolate bar like Patric Chocolate’s 70% Rio Caribe Superior that tastes of nuts and dried fruit, for example. Or a matched pairing of a jasmine-scented tea with a bar that has delicate, floral notes – the limited edition Rogue Chocolatier Piura bar of my taste memory dreams would be divine. The chocolate decadence cake with matcha sablé that we tasted this Sunday was a start, though muddied by an unremarkable cocoa powder.
Chef Gold’s recommendation for an online tea retail shop: Upton Tea, which also happens to be based in Holliston, MA, just west of Boston. We rushed home to order holiday gifts for some of our favorite tea lovers. I also spent a contented evening reading Chef Gold’s superlative book Culinary Tea, which provides a wonderfully clear introduction to the world of fine tea and over 150 creative recipes for using tea in cooking.
In short, I highly recommend attending a tea tasting at L’Espalier. Trevor and I plan to return soon ourselves. More on the related worlds of chocolate and tea to come.