Banners In The Mist:  newsletter banner illustration dags for tabs

Banners in the Mist:
a quarterly newsletter
delving deep into the past

Hi! I'm Joyce Holt, writer of historical fantasy.

Eventually I'll use this venue to offer sneak peaks of my forthcoming novels. For now, while my career is in the limbo-land of waiting to hear back from agents, I'll devote this quarterly newsletter to glimpses into the past, not necessarily related to my body of work.

This issue takes a different slant than normal...

News from the World of Chocolate: deliciously marching through the ages

reprints of older articles about chocolate
>> new articles about later scrumptious developments! <<

reprinted April 1, 2016     - - -     Volume 3 Number 2

AD 605:
Chalk a Lot
  Up to Good Will

Brimming with great
    trade opportunities

      illustration: turquoise
NORTH AMERICA: Teotihuacán, Mexico— Last evening, sentries intercepted and escorted to the city a string of footsore travelers who state they left their northern homeland more than four score days ago. They certainly bore the dust of a long trek. The guard has taken into keeping their spears and atlatls for the duration of the visit.

This morning at the palace, the traders presented our nobility with lavish gifts of turquoise--gems of a brighter sky-blue than any seen in our wide lands.

To show their delight and appreciation, the nobility held a chokola'j ceremony, honoring the foreigners with cups of steaming, foaming chocol'ha.

The simple northern folk found our Mayan delicacy not much to their liking, according to one member of the palace staff who was not authorized to speak publicly on the topic and spoke on condition of anonymity. One visitor appeared to have burned his tongue and two grimaced at the bitter flavor, revealing their lack of taste for fine cuisine.
illustration: parrot native to Mayan lands
  parrot native to Mayan lands
In the early afternoon, the rustic folk from the north offered more of their amazing skystone goods at the market. To the astonishment of all, they had no interest in the cacao bean exchange but asked instead for parrots.

Our local correspondent, a former fashion editor, took a dim view of their leader's garb--a brown-tone turkey-feather cloak. "How drab!" she told another member of the press. "A splash of parrot-feather reds and blues would certainly liven up the color scheme."

One enterprising merchant noted the copper ornaments worn by several of the foreigners, and smooth-talked his way into a trade of common seashells for the valuable metal. The northerner seemed pleased at the absurd exchange.

The traders say they farm beside the Yota'vayu river [San Juan River] which cuts through a massive, arid tableland. They call themselves Hopi, "the peaceful and civilized." It is expected their stay at Teotihuacán will show our guests the true measure of civilization.

In welcome to our grand city, queen of all the Mayan states, they are invited to attend a game of pitz in the eastern ballcourt this evening. One of our local pranksters showed them a rubber ball, and made as if to hand it over for closer inspection. He let it slip, and the poor Hopi dashed about in alarm as the ball bounced around their feet.
The northerners, of course, had never seen rubber before, since the rubber tree grows only in humid lowlands to the south where midday sunlight streams down from directly overhead. The cacao tree, slightly more hardy, also prefers a high sun.

We must excuse our guests for their ignorance of matters outside their realm where the sun never approaches the zenith, or so they say.

Let us raise our cups of chocol'ha to toast this new trade agreement, bartering our common Mayan shells and parrots for precious copper and turquoise from the lands of the Hopi!
illustration: cacao tree in Mayan art
     cacao tree and parrot
           in Mayan art

Culinary Insert
How to make chocol’ha:

Crack open cacao pods and scoop out the seeds. Ferment the seeds, then dry them. Toast cacao beans on your clay comal (griddle) over an open fire. Crack cacao bean shells to get at the nibs inside. Grind the nibs in your metate (stone grinder) until a stream of liquid trickles off its edge into a clay bowl. Mix that paste with water; add spices such as chili peppers, cornmeal, and dried flower petals. Heat the chocol’ha to steaming, then pour it back and forth between two bowls until it brims with a pleasing foam. Sweeten with honey or flower nectar.

   illustration: metate
        painted bowl showing                 metate used in grinding
       woman grinding cacao
  four illustrations above found at:

AD 1376:
Birth of
  an Empire

Chilling With Xocolatl

Tenochtitlán, Mexico
The streets and canals of our shining city still teem with merry folk this morning after a night-long celebration.
illustration: turquoise
Yesterday Acamapichitli the Wise ascended the throne as Tenochtitlán's first great One-Who-Speaks.

Beyond all doubt, Acamapichitli deserves the role of first Emperor. During his years of governance thus far, his innovations have brought prosperity to every citizen on the island.

  Under his direction, stone buildings now stand in place of the first cane and reed huts. Two pyramids rise at the heart of our city, to be crowned before long by magnificent temples. Work recently finished on large warehouses near the palace.

<< Stone channels drain our streets, hidden under the pavement. Every part of town can be reached by foot or by canoe, thanks to the network of orderly canals Acamapichitli ordered dug.

The causeways to shore have been strengthened and widened, with drawbridges to allow boat traffic through--and to provide defense, in case of war. There has been no need, thus far, for defensive maneuvers, but all can see the wisdom of our far-sighted One-Who-Speaks.

Much traffic tromps across those bridges, bringing trade goods from afar: copper from the Arizona folk in the north, furs and wild fruit from the jungles, and from the south, many bags of cacao beans hauled by long lines of porters.

This morning, one bag of cacao beans split while being carried to the royal warehouses, and city guards had to leap in with spears and clubs to break up the mob of onlookers diving for the precious kernels. Rumor has it that cacao beans may soon become our unit of currency since many folk already use them as a standard in barter.

On this second day of feasting, our new emperor and his noble guests in the palace will savor the luxurious royal drink of xocolatl, drunk cold. (None of that hot cacao brew the Mayans liked.)

Meanwhile, the whole city will feast and rejoice, following today's announcement of Acamapichitli's grandest accomplishment:

The lakebed gardens designed by our emperor have produced seven crops within the space of one year!
Who but our One-Who-Speaks, the wisest of the wise, would ever have thought to create man-made fields from cane-sided structures planted on the shallow lake bed? And then fill them with lake sediment to make a rich and fertile soil?

The markets now overflow with maize, beans, squash, tomatoes, chilies, and a riotous, colorful panoply of flowers, all grown in the ever-bearing chinampa fields that ring our island city.

All hail Acamapichitli the Wise!

diagram of a chinampa plot


The decimal system uses ones, tens, hundreds (ten tens), thousands (ten hundreds), and so on. This is also called "base ten."

The Aztecs use a vigesimal counting system, with ones, twenties, twenty-twenties, and so on. This is also called "base twenty."

A dot represents 1
A flag represents 20
A feather represents twenty twenties, or 400
An incense bag represents twenty 400's, or 8,000

      In 1376AD, the Mexica Aztecs had been building the island city Tenochtitlán for this many years:

(two times twenty, plus eleven ones)

A later Aztec document will list these prices:         (in cacao beans)
a large tomato
    or a tamale =

(1 cacao bean)

an avocado
    or a turkey egg =  

(3 cacao beans)

a pumpkin =
(and so on...)

a small rabbit =

a forest rabbit
    or a turkey hen =  

a turkey cock =

a slave =

If you worked as a porter, you earned 100 beans a day.
What bunch of symbols would the Aztecs use to show 100?

AD 1536:
Obsidian Barbs

    and Poisoned Arrows

Sula Valley, Honduras--

Disaster befalls the Tolupan tribe!
                    Chief Lempira of the Lenca tribe

The greedy Spanish, now entrenched on the northern coast and seeking ever more gold and dominion, came thundering into Tolupan lands last month to force submission to their rule.

Women and children fled into swampland and jungle. The menfolk from all 18 Tolupan villages rallied to Chief Cicumba at his fortification high atop Cerro Palenque which overlooks the lush Sula Valley.

Who is more fierce and fearsome than the mighty warriors of the Tolupan tribe? The black obsidian teeth of their mahogany swords devour every foe who dares do battle. Or so it has always been.

conquistador vs Lenca

To everyone's horror, the Spanish invaders wielded sharp-edged swords of steel. Many of the Spaniards clothed themselves in metal plate, and some rode great snorting beasts with manes and iron-shod hooves.

The earthwork walls of Cerro Palenque have never before failed to fend attack, but alas, they met their doom at last. The walls could not withstand the might of those armor-plated, bearded, arrogant foreignors.

Woe! The Spanish army breached the walls of Cerro Palenque. Battle streamed down the mountainside. On the banks of the mighty Ulúa River, Chief Cicumba fell under the onslaught of the conquistadores.

The surviving Tolupans fled into the rainforest. Tidings trickled to their ears from tribes along the coast, and inland as well, about other Spanish incursions. Would nothing stop this tide of invasions?

Hiding among the cacao groves, the Tolupans watched in horror and rage as the invaders built a stinking town not far downriver from the ruins of Cerro Palenque fort.

Our war correspondent reports from a hideout in the rainforest:
A warrior by the name of Galel gathered everyone together this morning, to tell of a marvel that had happened the night before as he sheltered in a cacao grove nearby.

"A bat spoke to me," he said, "just as in the tale of the monkey giant! He gave me counsel."
hanging bat

    We all took note, for this was a weighty omen.

"The bat told me to trek inland, to follow the river into the heart of the mountains."

"Into the lands of the Lenca tribe?" someone asked.

"The bat said to go to the aid of the Lenca chief Lempira, the Lord of the Mountains. He alone has the might to turn back this evil tide. Who will go with me? Who will rise again to wreak vengeance on those bearded devils?"

So began a journey that lasted many days.

As the straggling group of Tolupan refugees followed the river into the mountains, the forests thinned. The nights turned cold. The air grew dry. The warm, humid land of cacao groves fell behind.

During the long trek, our war correspondent interviewed several of the refugees.
"I went back to the battlefield every night since the massacre," one woman said with a catch in her voice.     "I looked and looked for my husband. Never did find him. Found all my pots shattered, the ones I'd just finished painting and glazing. My neighbor's cacao seedling bed had been trampled. Nothing left but uprooted twigs and torn leaves. And now we too are uprooted and torn from our homeland!"

"Ever since I was a tiny girl," another woman said, "my grandfather told me to beware those Spaniards-- the filthy, hairy-faced vermin. They're all thieves, he told me.



  "And he should know! A couple years before I was born, he was a paddler on a trading boat heading for Yucatan, the very boat that had the misfortune to cross paths with the great sea-ships that came scouting our waters that season.

"My grandfather was dragged aboard, made to explain his wares.
That sea-chief they call Koh-Lum-Boh*, he opened a bag of cacao beans and didn't know what to make of them. The fool! The greedy fool. He could see our folk thought the beans of great value, so he took them. A whole bag! The thief."

"Yes, we should have taken warning," the first woman answered. "We never should have let them set foot on our shores. Ten years ago, they swallowed the tribes of the north coast, and now they're spreading like ants everywhere."

"Even here in the mountains! These aren't the ones who drove us from the coast. Where did these new Spanish mobs come from?"

A warrior spoke up. "They followed the Aztec slavers' route from the northwest. Annihilated the tribe that blocked their path, those Mayan Chortí folk, and swarmed up the river valleys. Destroying on every side. If Lempira can't stop them, no one can."
The Tolupans met up with forces from other tribes, also flocking to Lempira's side. Some had come because of omens. Some were answering a call he sent out by runners.

When the refugees finally reached Lempira's fortress Cerquin-- perched atop a mountain steeper by far than Cerro Palenque in the lowlands-- they joined forces with members of two hundred other tribes, milling in a great compound housing hundreds of adobe shelters. (And a ball court, everyone noted with delight.)

The warriors eyed each other with some distrust. Before this age of disaster, they had been at each others' throats. Now they united against a common foe.

Chief Lempira of the Lenca tribe

Former enemies camped beside each other, sharing cookfires. Lempira had stocked up with provisions enough to last his great host half a year. Everyone took heart. Here they would make their stand. Here they would give crushing defeat to the invaders from across the sea!


This morning at dawn, the army of Spaniards surged to the attack, urged on by their chief Alonso who wore a plume in his steel helmet. He bellowed and shouted, ordering his steel-plated soldiers to rush up one cliff-approach to the fort, then another--but all in vain.

The defenders of Cerquin, that valiant alliance of tribes from lowland rainforest and mountain heights, rained stones and poisoned arrows on the flailing Spanish below, and drove them back every time. From his post on the battlements, Chief Lempira, Lord of the Mountains, jeered at the retreating foe.

Now as evening falls, under cover of darkness, messengers trot sure-footed on narrow mountain paths, heading in every direction. Cunning Chief Lempira has sent out a legion of warriors on a special mission, taking word to folk in every corner of the land.

"Rise up and fight, every tribe at once! Strike at the heart of our enemies! Set all Spanish towns to the torch! Drive them from our lands!"

With the Lord of the Mountains leading all the tribes of the land, the Spanish invaders are doomed!
* Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage in 1502

How to start a cacao tree

Planting a nursery

During harvest time, notice which cacao trees bear the largest quantity of the biggest pods. From those trees, choose a few of the biggest pods.

The same day you pick them, open the pods as usual and select beans from the middle of the pod. These are best for sowing. Do not let them sit longer than a week or they will not sprout. In fact, for best results, harvest your seed beans and plant them on the same day.

Have ready some baskets the size of your head, filled with fine soil mixed with manure. Plant a freshly-picked cacao bean in each.

Set the baskets all together in a spot near a stream. If it's a sunny place, make shade for your nursery by building a screen about head-high and covering the top with palm fronds.

Water your seedling baskets every day. Never let them get bone-dry. Weed them often, and pluck out any voracious insects. If you find diseased seedlings, pull them out and burn them.

Preparing sites for the trees

Four months after planting, walk through the rain forest looking for sites where you want to plant new cacao trees. Soil rich with forest humus is best. Never plant in rocky soil or hard layers of dirt. A gentle slope will do, but not a windy hillside.

Once you have found a good spot, pace off twelve steps from the nearest shade tree, dig a pit, and leave the soil mounded beside it.

Besides many small branch roots that grow near the surface, a cacao tree has a tap-root that descends straight down, deep into the soil. Digging deep will give the tap-root freedom to grow strong and quick.

Planting out the seedlings

Two months later--six months after sowing into the baskets, and at the beginning of the rainy season--fill in the holes you dug earlier. You can also dig in some manure at this time, if you wish. Let the soil sit for a couple of days.

      By now the seedlings should have two or three leaves. That's when they are ready to plant. Sort them and use only the strongest, healthiest plants.

On a day when the soil is moist and the sky is cloudy, take each basket to one of the planting sites in the rain forest. Make a hole in the loose dirt filling the pit. Plant your seedling, basket and all. The basket will rot in the earth.

Pack the soil down around the basket and give the seedling a good watering. For the first few days, take extra care that each seedling is protected from the sun. You can make shades out of palm fronds.

Tend the young trees

During the next few months, check often on your cacao seedlings. If you find any that are diseased or dead, pull them out and burn them. Weed four or five times a year while the trees are small. When they get bigger and cast a lot of shade, weed once a year.

Remember, bare soil dries out quickly. Cover any bare soil with cut weeds or palm fronds to help it stay moist and cool.

In four or five years, your young cacao trees will begin to bear fruit. They can grow as high as five-men-tall, and their branches can spread nearly that wide across.

AD 1660:
The Bishop’s Downfall

Underestimating the power of chocolate

NORTH AMERICA: San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico--

A new house of chocolate opened yesterday on a lane with a good view of the cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas.

cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas

Throughout the day, San Cristobal's old-timers sipped their favorite brew and regaled out-of-town visitors with the 34-year-old tale of the cathedral and the bishop's downfall by chocolate...

Although Bishop Bernardino de Salazar y Frias enjoyed a good steaming cup of chocolate as well as the next person, he frowned upon the local custom of imbibing the thick and spicy drink at every hour of the day.

In particular, during the middle of Mass. Ladies' maids would troop down the aisle with silver trays of the foaming hot beverage, disrupting the services. The bishop pled with his congregation to wait until after Mass. He urged and chided and warned. At last he outright banned the drinking of chocolate during services.


The high-born ladies of San Cristobal protested. They needed the stimulating drink, they claimed, to sustain them through his long-winded rites. How did he expect them to worship when faint with hunger and fatigue?

The bishop stood his ground.

The ladies grew angry. Many of them left his flock and worshipped instead with the local friars.

The bishop threatened excommunication.

The strife grew so heated that one day a riot broke out in the cathedral as sword-wielding husbands defended their wives' inviolate right to a midday cup of hot chocolate.

Not long after the riot, the standoff came to an end when Doña Magdalena de Morales sent the bishop a gift--a peace offering that so perfectly fit the situation. A cup of spiced hot chocolate, which he accepted with grace and drank to the last drop.

Spiced hot chocolate, the way they drink it in the state of Chiapas. This serving, however, included a poison among the spices. Before he died, the bishop cried: "Beware the Chocolate of Chiapas!"

  At San Cristobal’s new chocolate house, an old-timer holds out his cup and tells the visitors, "The jicara gourd, see? Traditional cup for serving chocolate. Want to poison someone? Do it like Doña Magdalena--in a nice spicy cup of hot chocolate, and they won’t notice the taste. We call that, Giving him a jicarazo".
The shopkeeper nods and arches a wry brow. "Around here, when you think someone has gotten what he deserves, you say, They gave him his own chocolate."

Fact: Throughout the years and decades and centuries afterward, the Spanish phrase su propio chocolate (his own chocolate) will ever after translate to "his own medicine"!

AD 1660:
    and Cacao

Treasures of the tropics


SOUTH AMERICA: Cayenne Island, French Guiana--

No one in the Locono tribe of Cayenne Island can understand the reasoning of Dutch governor Jan Classen Langedijk. He is refusing to honor a charter by the West India Company granted to a group of Jewish refugees, providing for a settlement on the island. These refugees fled from Brazil, where the intolerant Portuguese are taking over. Now that the fully-authorized immigrants have arrived, Langedijk is refusing to let them disembark.

The Loconos have heard nothing but good of these hard-working Europeans who keep apart from the Christians. The Jews have a reputation of honor and integrity in dealing with the native population, in stark contrast to the behavior of the hard-handed Spaniards, French, Portuguese, and now even the management of the West India Company.

Three times already the Locono chieftain has protested the governor's restrictions, and every other day has been sending the tribe's canoas out to the great ship anchored offshore, the dugouts loaded with buckets of fresh water and sacks of beans to provide for the stranded Jews.

Two-score Dutch inhabitants of the island also urge the governor to let the immigrants land and take up their labors. Some have declared they will abandon the colony if the governor continues to turn away the Jews, experienced sugarcane farmers, who are sure to bring prosperity to the island.

Cayenne Island has ideal conditions for growing many valuable crops. A few decades ago, the French thought to colonize Cayenne, but couldn't adapt to the tropics. They didn't have the skills needed, couldn't bear the climate, and lacked perseverance.



This morning Governor Langedijk finally relented. The Brazilian Jews have come ashore on the western side of the island--the most "smiling and fertile" tracts, according to one Dutchman--and are already marking out the walls of their planned community, the plot for a sugar factory, and sites for their various plantations.

The Loconos have been tromping the area all day alongside the newcomers, pointing out the best plots for growing indigo and annatto for dyeing, as well as cacao, vanilla and sugarcane for the booming market, at home and abroad, in hot chocolate.

AD 1660:
Queen of Hearts

    The lovely bride of Louis XIV,
        the Sun King

EUROPE: Paris, France, August 26, 1660--

This morning the air rang with cries of "Vive le roi!" and "Vive la belle reine!" as our glorious young king, Louis the Fourteenth, escorted his bride on the traditional "Joyous Entry" of a new monarch.

Parisians lucky enough to live on the processional route decked their houses with banners and hangings, and cast flower petals to rain on the parade. Fountains flowed with wine. Musicians played on stages along the royal path.

Just five days younger than her 22-year-old husband, the petite Maria Theresa looked radiant as she graciously accepted the crowd's welcome. She wore a lovely silk gown trimmed with "gold, pearls, and precious stones, and was adorned with the most splendid of the crown jewels," according to one observer. Layers of lace adorned the puffed sleeves. Beneath the deep V-shaped waist of her bodice, the split overgown was pulled back and draped, revealing an ornate undergown. In the highest French fashion, the queen's dress trailed a long train embroidered with fleur-de-lis.

This marriage seals more than a year’s worth of diplomatic bargaining between the realms of France and Spain, though the betrothal itself happened a mere three months ago.

Louis XIV got his first glimpse of his bride-to-be only days before the June wedding. It is said Louis was appalled by the absurd styling of her Spanish dress, skirts hooped so widely to the sides as to make ledges for leaning her elbows, if she so wished. According to court gossip Madame de Motteville, " Her dress was horrible--white, but of a very ugly material, with jewels set in heavy gold ornaments, and her beautiful hair hidden by a kind of white cap."

But of the princess herself, de Motteville said, "A little additional height and good teeth would have made her one of the most beautiful persons in Europe."

Treaty of the Pyrenees

After recovering from the shock of the ugly Spanish gown, Louis is reported to have said that Maria Theresa had a great deal of beauty and it would be easy to love her. Now after their first two months of marriage -- and an improvement in fashion sense -- that glimmer of interest has grown to a glow of passion, so say all the court gossips.
Rumor also says, however, that Maria Theresa does not participate in the politics of court but prefers to spend her leisure hours gambling and playing card games like Piquet, Triomphe and Quinze.

(See the Entertainment Section below.)

Some say, as the new queen, Maria Theresa should be taking more interest in France's affairs. After all, as daughter of the King of Spain she ought to be well-versed in doings at court.

But Louis XIV, our glorious Sun King, seems not to mind his wife's silence on those grand matters. Ever since he came of age, he has been relying more and more on his own judgment, and leaning less on advisors and ministers, so perhaps he merely shrugs at the lack of a queenly opinion.

One thing the royal couple does share is a love of chocolate, that recent Spanish import from the New World. Maria Theresa herself is the one who introduced the delectable beverage to the king of France. At the time of their betrothal, she sent him an elegantly ornate chest filled with chocolate tablets ready to be grated to make drinking chocolate.

Since then, King Louis has found the sweetened drink so much to his liking that among his most recent appointments was that of a royal chocolate maker.

Hot chocolate has become all the rage, sweetened in Spanish style rather than spiced and bitter as they prefer in the land of its origin. And what's popular at court soon spreads throughout Paris. Chocolate shops are already springing up throughout the realm, at home and abroad -- even among our countrymen sojourning in that uncouth land of England to the north.

17th century chocolate house in London

(from a 1656 issue of the Public Advertiser in England)

In Bishopsgate Street in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house, is an excellent West Indian drink called chocolate to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time, and also unmade, at reasonable rates.


A recipe for hot chocolate, by Don Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma:

"Take one hundred cocoa beans, two chilies, a handful of anise seed and two of vanilla (two pulverized Alexandria roses can be substituted), two drams of cinnamon, one dozen almonds and the same amount of hazelnuts, half a pound of white sugar and enough annatto to give some color. And there you have the king of chocolates."

(newly translated, at Queen Maria Theresa's orders, from Don Antonio's 1631 book, Curioso tratado de la naturaleza y calidad del chocolate: A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate.)


AD 1697:
The Birth of Belgian

Chocolate, that is

EUROPE: Brussels, Spanish Netherlands (Belgium)--

Not long ago, Grand Place -- the spacious plaza at the heart of Brussels -- lay in ruins after bombardment by the French. Nothing remained standing in this historic quarter but the shell of Town Hall.

Today, after two years of repairs and construction, elegant buildings once again rise around the square in a mixture of ornate styles: Gothic, Baroque and Louis XIV.

Work still continues on the towering guildhalls, but some establishments have already opened for business.

Among the elite patrons attending one grand opening was Henri Escher, the visiting mayor of Zurich, Switzerland.

The highlight of his trip, he was overheard in the evening to say, was the delectable beverage offered this morning: hot chocolate, a favorite of our allies, the Spanish.

When Monsieur Escher begged his hosts to divulge the recipe for this luscious concoction, they graciously granted his request, despite one councilman's protest about the competition.

"The Swiss," another luminary replied, "will never rival us and our superb Belgian chocolate! Their specialties lie in making fine sausages and cheeses. Swiss chocolate? I think not!"


Chocolate fondue recipe

Eh -- sorry, hasn't been concocted yet. That will take two and a half centuries more...

Cheese fondue recipe, in honor of Monsieur Escher, above

Allow about 6 ounces of Emmenthaler ["Swiss cheese"] or Gruyère cheese [also from Switzerland] and a wineglassful of white wine for each serving.

Rub garlic around the inside of an iron pot.
Put in a piece of butter to keep the cheese from sticking.
Add grated cheese with a slosh of wine.
Put on very low heat to melt.
Bring cheese to a boil, stirring constantly.
After about 20 minutes, add enough wine to make a batter-like consistency.

Impale a piece of strong-crusted bread on a fork. Dip the bread in the dish of fondue, twisting the fork to wind the strands of cheese safely around the bread. Eat straight from the fork.

Add chopped onion to the pot.
Cider can be used instead of wine.

AD 1778:
Not Only Java Grows in Java

The rise of cacao plantations

ASIA: Batavia (Jakarta), Java, Indonesia--

In a public ceremony at noon today, Governor-General Reynier de Klerck awarded Pieter Zwaardecroon the prize of fifty guilders for his success in establishing Java's first profitable cacao plantation, a welcome addition to the Dutch East India Company's thriving global enterprises in coffee and sugar.

Zwaardecroon had imported his stock of cacao saplings from the Philippines, which has a hundred-year history of cocoa production originated by our competitors, the Portuguese. Zwaardecroon gave passing credit to his armies of Chinese field laborers.

Reynier de Klerck

Following the agricultural awards, governor de Klerck commended naturalist Jacob Cornelis Matthieu Radermacher on the founding of the newly-organized Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences.

Radermacher has already donated to the Society his botanical collection, although they have yet to find a site to house his samples gathered from across Java and Sumatra.

De Klerck did not blink an eye when someone in the crowd shouted, "Bahasa kita, bahasa kita!" -- the native protest against de Klerck's recent efforts to eliminate the Malay language from Batavia's educational institutions.

The official Company position is to ignore such protesters, all-too-common subversives still plaguing our Dutch-held coast. There is no substantial threat from the two native Indonesian kings who have settled into stalemate between their realms. Both rulers tend to ignore our Company affairs as long as we leave the inland alone.


Radermachera -- the "emerald tree" -- is a genus of about 17 species of flowering plants in the family Bignoniaceae, native to southeastern Asia. They are evergreen trees reaching 5-40 m tall, with bipinnate or tripinnate leaves, and panicles of large bell-shaped, white, pink, pale purple or yellow flowers 5-7 cm diameter.

The genus is named after Jacob Cornelis Matthieu Radermacher, the 18th century Dutch naturalist who cataloged much of the flora of Java and Sumatra.

AD 1847:
From Sip to Nibble

On the banks of the Frome

EUROPE: the City and County of Bristol, England--

This morning at the factory on the banks of the Frome River, the folks of J.S. Fry & Sons unveiled a new product: "Eating chocolate."

"No time to stir up a pot of hot chocolate?" Joseph Fry II asked his guests. "Try a quick nibble instead of a sip."

Fry and his brothers handed out samples to the mayor and members of the press. Although at first glance the confection resembles a dark slab of Turkish Delight, the chocolate bar is stiffer and denser.

Most guests ate every last bit of their samples.

"Hard," someone said. "Tough to chew."

"Gritty," said another, "but delicious!"

"Too bitter," one sour-faced reporter remarked. (No doubt he's of the type who adds extra spoonfuls of sugar to his hot chocolate.)

When asked the secret of turning liquid to solid, Fry said only that he returns some cocoa butter to his defatted cocoa powder, creating a paste that can be sweetened and molded. "It helps to start with England's finest-ground cocoa," he added with a smile.

For half a century now, J.S. Fry & Sons has been using a Boulton and Watt steam engine at their factory to achieve their famous extra-fine grade of powdered cocoa. The steam engine had replaced the water-powered machine Fry's grandfather invented back in 1761, which had, in its time, produced a remarkable grade of cocoa.

Now, in addition to Fry's pricey, high-quality, super-fine cocao, and their less expensive Pearl Cocoa (mixed with arrowroot powder), J.S. Fry & Sons will soon be offering the public this delectable, portable, chocolate snack.

AD 1855:
Tree of the Poor

Cacao supplants sugar
      as island's cash crop

AFRICA: São Tomé, equatorial island off Africa's west coast--

An army of laborers has descended upon the abandoned grounds of Roça Praia-Rei, an old sugar plantation on the east coast of São Tomé. It is not sugar cane the workers now plant but young trees, each shade-hungry sapling provided with cover from the blazing sun.

Pico São Tomé: one of the
most prominent landmarks
in the island’s interior.

João Maria de Sousa e Almeida, the new owner, tells us that he bought the roça at auction while visiting Lisbon, Portugal, a decade ago. Since then, de Sousa e Almeida spent several years in Brazil, studying the farming methods at flourishing Brazilian cacao plantations and making plans for his own cacao operations upon his return to São Tomé.

De Sousa e Almeida says that when he returned home two years ago, sailing into port at Santo António Bay, he was surprised and delighted to see upon the banks a lush growth of cacao trees -- used merely as ornamental plantings. They had been set out by his own godfather, judge of the islands, 33 years before.

"Cacao is the tree of the poor," de Sousa e Almeida said while overseeing his field workers. "I bought Roça Praia-Rei for a measly two thousand reis, and expect a leap to prosperity within a decade. The European market is booming for cacao products!"

It's a stretch to classify de Sousa e Almeida as "poor," however. His father comes from Portuguese Brazilian stock. You could say he has plantation in the blood.

And his mother's family has been ruling São Tomé since the Europeans abandoned their sugar fields here two hundred and fifty years ago.

The most recent census counted only 185 whites among the population of more than twelve thousand black or mixed blood.

João Maria de Sousa e Almeida

One of the laborers at Roça Praia-Rei was heard to mutter, "Tree of the poor? Am I to get my own plantation, then?" He wiped the sweat from his brow and frowned. "I have a bad feeling. All these fields will need constant labor, and you know these Europeans. Keep the wages low as dirt so they can pocket all the profit. I heard Sousa dabbled in the slave trade once. Done it before, he'll do it again."

Up through 1872, most of the land on the small island colony of "São Tomé and Príncipe" was under the possession of African natives, descended from earlier generations of workers on the Portuguese sugar plantations. Ninety-six percent of 153 owners were recorded as being black.

The cacao plantation owners did soon resort to the time-tarnished practice of slavery. Although Portugal officially abolished slavery in 1876, the practice continued in the guise of forced paid labor -- hardly an improvement.

Meanwhile, further to the north...

"Plant Intoxicants"
by Baron Ernst von Bibra and Jonathan Ott;
publisher: Wilhelm Schmid, Nuremburg, 1855

EUROPE: Nuremberg, Germany--

Although this newly-published book, analyzing the effects and uses of seventeen different intoxicating plants, is serious reading meant for chemists, the public may find interest in the baron's assessment of the value and use of chocolate:
"Chocolate of fine and good quality is prepared by crushing the roasted and hulled beans between rollers, then mixing them with sugar, vanilla, or occasionally with other spices, and allowing this mixture to cool.

"The chocolate beverage is prepared in various ways: it is simply boiled with water, with some sugar added to it. But it is also consumed with the unavoidable milk, with a lot of sugar, or with eggs.

"Since chocolate is actually a thin paste or soup, and its infusion is not prepared from cacao seeds or leaves as in the case of tea or coffee, it is more appropriate for chocolate than for the two other beverages to be taken with toast, cookies, and all kinds of other things."

The rest of the book is rather dry reading, unless washed down by a cup of hot chocolate.

Don't forget the plate of cookies.

Original title: "Die narkotischen Genussmittel und der Mensch" (Narcotic Stimulants and Man)

AD 1879:
Serendipity Strikes

On the banks of the Aare

EUROPE: Berne, Switzerland--

There was quite a disturbance on Monday morning at a factory on the banks of the Aare river. A passerby heard a cry of, "Fire!" and ran to summon the brigade.

Emergency workers arrived to find no smoke or flames. The factory owner, one Rudolph Lindt, was running up and down the aisles of his factory, crying, "Eureka! At last!"

Once the captain got him calmed down, the story came out. Lindt had forgotten to shut off his machinery when he left on Friday evening, and arrived to hear the rumble of gears and an odd scent on the air.

"I was exhausted and frustrated," said the 24-year-old inventor. "I've tried so many techniques to soften the mass. The last thing I tried on Friday was adding more butter, and when it failed, I could hardly stumble home from disappointment and weariness. So you see, when I opened the door this morning and heard that rumble, it all became clear, my big mistake. I'd left the vat simmering all weekend! Surely the mass would be burning by now. That's why I cried, 'Fire!'"

When asked about the "mass" and "butter," Lindt replied, "Chocolate mass, with more cocoa butter added in -- that was my last failed attempt on Friday. That chocolate bar the English invented, it'll loosen your teeth, it's so hard! I'm trying to create a variation as delectable as Turkish Delight. And I've succeeded!"

Lindt produced a platter with dark brown blobs. "I dipped these out a few minutes ago. They've been cooling. Here, see for yourself." He handed around the platter.

Those lucky enough to get a sample soon had nothing but praise.

"Melts in the mouth -- like spun sugar!"

"Rich chocolate taste, and so silky!"

"Superb! How soon will these be on the market?"

Lindt waved them down. "Not yet, not yet! I have much more experimentation to do. I mean to incorporate condensed milk into my recipe."

"Ah, milk chocolate, like the Nestlé company's product."

"Yes. My competitors up Zurich way. Whose milk chocolate, I must point out, is hard and brittle. They've had four years with that novelty. The demand should be dwindling by now. I'll give them a run for the money!"

The vat Lindt uses is concave in shape, like a conch shell, so he calls his process "conching."

AD 1912:
A Coating of Chocolate

Forget the "spoonful of sugar"!

EUROPE: Brussels, Belgium--

Jean Neuhaus Jr, chocolateer, follows in his pharmacist grandfather's footsteps.

The first Jean Neuhaus, an immigrant from Switzerland, opened a pharmacy in the prestigious Galerie de la Reine where he offered medicines -- with chocolate coating!

Now in the 20th century, the younger Jean has modified his grandfather's product by filling the chocolates with fresh cream rather than medicine. He calls the confection "praline" -- and has already become the talk of the town.

Meanwhile, his wife Louise Agostini has been overheard scolding Jean. "Marketing, Dear, marketing! Don't forget that all-important aspect!" Louise was heard to go on lecturing Jean about gift box designs for the delicious little morsels. "Ballotin" she calls the boxes.

"Ladies will love them," Louise declared. "And a wise man will cater to his sweetheart's whims. Marketing!"


ballotin: a French word for a deep decorative rectangular cardboard box with overhanging edges used for packaging chocolate candies; legacy of the old-fashioned "comfit box" such as the one in Alice's pocket in "Alice in Wonderland" after the caucus race.

art by Millicent Sowerby

...`But who is to give the prizes?’ quite a chorus of voices asked.

`Why, SHE, of course,’ said the Dodo, pointing to Alice with one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her, calling out in a confused way, `Prizes! Prizes!’

Alice had no idea what to do, and in despair she put her hand in her pocket, and pulled out a box of comfits, (luckily the salt water had not got into it), and handed them round as prizes. There was exactly one a-piece all round...

browse earlier issues

visit author's home page

read flash fiction at Wildwood Wandering: weekly blog

email:     jholt.banners(at)

Sign up for this quarterly newsletter
(offered through email marketing service provider MailChimp,
which has an easy unsubscribe option if you change your mind.)