Colonial Chocolate Spices: Chili Pepper

Visitors to Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop are often surprised to discover that our colonial drinking chocolate is seasoned with eight different spices. American Heritage Historic Chocolate is flavored with cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, chili pepper, anise, orange zest, salt, and annatto, as well as a small amount of sugar. We will be taking a closer look at each of these spices to explore their origins and uses in colonial American cooking.

Chili pepper gives our colonial drinking chocolate just the right amount of heat. The spicy flavor of chili peppers is one humans just can’t resist and is one of the world’s oldest and most popular seasonings. Chili peppers are most commonly the fruits of the Capsicum annuum plant, although several other species of Capsicum produce popular chili peppers as well. These small, shrub-like plants are members of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes, and tobacco. Many varieties of the Capsicum annuum plant are cultivated to produce peppers with varying degrees of spicyness, from sweet bell peppers to hot cayenne peppers. The flesh and the seeds of the fruit are both consumed and are used fresh, cooked, or dried.

Chili peppers originated in central South America, but spread throughout South America and up through Mexico as early as 8000 years ago. Evidence indicates that people were farming chili peppers as early as 5000 BCE, making them one of the oldest human cultivated crops. Christopher Columbus gave chili peppers their name after mistakenly assuming they were related to black pepper, which they are not. He brought the seeds back to Europe, where they were initially grown as ornamental plants because Europeans were not accustomed to their spicy flavor. The Portuguese spread chili pepper plants along their trade routes to India and Africa, and the plants were soon grown throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. Today they are grown around the world in both tropical and temperate climates.

Chili peppers were cultivated early in the American colonies, and both sweet and spicy varieties were used in colonial recipes. Sweet bell peppers were used primarily to make pickles from their thick, mild flesh and were grown at Thomas Jefferson’s estate likely for this purpose. Spicy cayenne peppers were used to season sauces, meat, and seafood dishes. In the winter of 1779, Lieutenant Thomas Anburey, an English prisoner of war, wrote that “many officers, to comfort themselves, put red peppers into water, to drink by way of a cordial.” It was also noted in the colonial period that chili pepper plants were an attractive and showy addition to a garden, especially relative to the amount of space they take up, so they could be used as both an ornamental and edible crop. Chili pepper was used to season chocolate long before the beverage was first introduced to Europe, with the Aztecs adding a lot of chili to their chocolate to create a very spicy drink. It continued to be used as a chocolate flavoring in Europe, although Europeans enjoyed their chocolate considerably less spicy than the Aztecs did. In the American colonies, chocolate was made using recipes similar to those used in England, which often included just enough chili pepper to give the beverage a bit of heat.

Chocolate Dipped Ice Cream Cones

With temperatures reaching 90 degrees here in Boston, we’ve been keeping cool with our favorite summertime staple, ice cream! Surprisingly, this frozen treat has been enjoyed in America since the colonial era. Before modern refrigeration, making ice cream during the summer months required the use of ice that was harvested and stored during the previous winter. Only the very wealthy could afford an ice house and the labor required to harvest and move large quantities of ice, so cold summertime desserts were primarily a novelty for the wealthy. However, as demand grew ice cream became increasingly accessible, and in July of 1790 a confectioner in Virginia advertised both ice and ice cream for sale. You can see the process of colonial ice cream making here.

Aside from being perfectly cold and creamy on a hot summer day, the best thing about ice cream is its endless variety. 18th century recipes for ice cream include both familiar favorites like chocolate and vanilla and more unusual flavors such as tea, parmesan, and even oyster! Today we enjoy ice cream in countless forms, from sundaes and soft serve to ice cream sandwiches and cakes. With so many possibilities, sometimes the simplest option is best, and it’s hard to beat a cone of your favorite flavor when the temperatures rise. This recipe will help you make the most of your summer ice cream breaks by adding a chocolate coating to the rim of your cones. What could be better than a bite of refreshing ice cream, rich chocolate, and crispy cone all at once?

The best part of this simple recipe is how easy it is to customize. Add nuts, sprinkles, or candy pieces onto the melted chocolate to enjoy your favorite ice cream toppings right on the cone. Experiment with different ice creams and discover how your favorite flavor pairs with American Heritage Historic Chocolate. A half cup of chocolate will make about 6 dipped cones.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or microwave.

To use a double boiler, stir chocolate continuously until fully melted and smooth.

To use a microwave, heat half of chocolate until it is melted, about 2-3 minutes. Stir until it is smooth, and then stir in the remaining half of the chocolate until it is fully melted.

  1. Dip the wide end of the cone directly into the melted chocolate and swirl it around to evenly coat all sides.
  2. Sprinkle any desired toppings onto the melted chocolate.
  3. Place the cone upside down onto a wax paper covered baking sheet. For a smoother rim, stand cones upright into a piece of foam or a cardboard box with holes poked in it.
  4. Store chocolate dipped cones in the refrigerator until ready to use. Scoop in your favorite flavor of ice cream and enjoy!

Colonial Chocolate Spices: Nutmeg

Visitors to Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop are often surprised to discover that our colonial drinking chocolate is seasoned with eight different spices. American Heritage Historic Chocolate is flavored with cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, chili pepper, anise, orange zest, salt, and annatto, as well as a small amount of sugar. We will be taking a closer look at each of these spices to explore their origins and uses in colonial American cooking.

Nutmeg compliments the cinnamon in our colonial drinking chocolate to create a distinctive spicy flavor that our visitors often comment on. While nutmeg is frequently used alongside cinnamon, its unique story stands on its own. Nutmegs are seeds found within the fruit of the Myristica fragrans plant, an evergreen tree that grows in tropical areas. The tree produces a fleshy yellow fruit that splits open when ripe to reveal a single large seed, which is the nutmeg. Nutmegs are surrounded by an outer coat that is removed and dried to produce mace, another distinct spice. Nutmegs are sold whole or as a grated powder.

Nutmeg is native to several small islands that make up part of modern day Indonesia. By the 12th century, nutmeg was available to the very wealthy of Europe through traders from the Middle East. The Portuguese military discovered and conquered the nutmeg producing islands in the early 1500s and maintained control of them until the early 1600s when the Dutch East India Company seized all but one of these islands, which fell under British control. In 1667,  a treaty between the Dutch and British gave the Dutch control of the last remaining nutmeg producing island in exchange for British control of the island of Manhattan. The Dutch East India Company maintained their monopoly on the nutmeg trade through extreme and often brutal measures until 1769, when a French trader named Pierre Poivre successfully smuggled nutmeg trees off the islands and replanted them in French territories. Today nutmeg is grown in tropical regions around the world.

Nutmeg was one of the most common and popular spices in colonial America and is found in a vast number of 18th century recipes. Today we often associate nutmeg with seasonal fall and winter cooking, and in colonial America it was already being used in some of these familiar recipes, including pumpkin pie and gingerbread, but it was not limited to these uses. It was called for in many sweet pudding recipes, including this sippet pudding and boiled carrot pudding. Nutmeg was also frequently used in savory vegetable, meat, and seafood dishes, such as carrot puffs, onion pie, beef broth, and crab cakes. Nutmeg was such a commonplace seasoning in 18th century kitchens that it is listed in one 18th century cookbook as an ingredient in almost 100 different recipes. It’s no surprise that a spice this popular was also used to season drinking chocolate!

Historic Chocolate S’mores

With summer in full swing, we’re making the most of long sunny days by spending plenty of time outside. Of course, we’ve been enjoying a little chocolate while we enjoy the fresh air, and although it’s hard to beat ice cream and popsicles on a hot summer day, s’mores are the perfect way to end a long day spent outdoors. This summertime classic is guaranteed to sweeten up an evening spent with friends and family gathered around a backyard fire pit or back at the campsite after a long day of hiking and swimming. Nothing says summer quite like s’mores!

These historic chocolate s’mores are assembled with chocolates handmade from American Heritage Historic Chocolate Drink Mix. The rich and spicy dark chocolate balances the sticky sweetness of gooey marshmallows and honey graham crackers to make one unforgettable fireside treat. The chocolates are prepared in just a few minutes, but should be made ahead of time so they have plenty of time to set in the fridge. Keep them cool in the fridge or cooler until just before you assemble the s’mores, so they don’t start to melt in the summer heat. One cup of American Heritage Historic Drink Mix makes about 12 s’mores-sized chocolate disks.

Ingredients:

Directions:

To make chocolates:

  1. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or microwave.

To use a double boiler, stir chocolate continuously until fully melted and smooth.

To use a microwave, heat half of chocolate until it is melted, about 2-3 minutes. Stir until it is smooth, and then stir in the remaining half of the chocolate until it is fully melted.

  1. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of melted chocolate onto a wax paper covered baking sheet. Swirl chocolate with the back of a spoon to create a chocolate disk about ¼ inch thick and 2 inches wide. Repeat until all melted chocolate has been used.
  2. Place chocolate disks in refrigerator until fully hardened. Store in refridgerator until s’mores are assembled.

To assemble s’mores:

  1. Break graham crackers in half and place chocolate disks on one half of each cracker.
  2. Slowly toast a marshmallow over fire until golden brown on the outside and melted on the inside.
  3. Place marshmallow on top of chocolate disk and top with remaining half of graham cracker. Enjoy!

Colonial Chocolate Spices: Vanilla

Visitors to Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop are often surprised to discover that our colonial drinking chocolate is seasoned with eight different spices. American Heritage Historic Chocolate is flavored with cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, chili pepper, anise, orange zest, salt, and annatto, as well as a small amount of sugar. We will be taking a closer look at each of these spices to explore their origins and uses in colonial American cooking.

Vanilla is often thought of as an alternative to chocolate, but the history of these two flavors is much more complementary and intertwined than you may think. Vanilla beans are the seed pods of the Vanilla planifolia plant, an orchid that grows as a climbing vine in tropical forests. These seed pods are only produced when the plant’s flowers are pollinated within 8-12 hours of blooming. The pods are harvested before they are fully ripened, about 6-9 months after pollination. The freshly harvested seed pods are green and flavorless and must undergo a multistep curing process to transform them into the dark, aromatic vanilla beans we are familiar with. Vanilla is sold as whole vanilla beans or as vanilla extract, which is an alcohol and water solution that has been infused with vanilla.

Vanilla is native to Southeastern Mexico and Guatemala. The native people of this region, including the Aztecs, cultivated and cured vanilla primarily as a flavoring for chocolate! Following his conquest of the Aztecs, Hernán Cortés brought both vanilla and chocolate back to Spain in the 1500s. Vanilla was used almost exclusively as a flavoring for chocolate in Europe until the 17th century, when the first vanilla flavored desserts were developed. Spain maintained a monopoly on the trade of vanilla until the 19th century, as attempts to cultivate the plant outside of its native habitat resulted in plants that failed to produce seed pods. While the vanilla plants grew successfully in similar climates, the new environments lacked the primary pollinator of vanilla flowers, the Melipona bee, so the flowers were not pollinated quickly enough to produce seed pods. This problem was solved in 1841, when a slave named Edmond Albius first discovered how to pollinate the flowers by hand. This discovery allowed vanilla plants to be cultivated around the globe and nearly all vanilla continues to be hand pollinated today.

Due to vanilla’s relative rarity and expense in the 1700s, it was not a widely used spice in colonial American cooking. Its primary use continued to be as a flavoring for chocolate, as it was in Europe. It was also used to make vanilla and chocolate creams and ice creams. Before modern refrigeration, ice cream was a very special treat for most Americans during the summer months because the means to store and keep the necessary ice were available to only the wealthiest Americans. In spite of this, ice cream became increasingly popular in America during the late 1700s and early 1800s, due in part to Thomas Jefferson, who often served it to guests during his presidency. Thomas Jefferson enjoyed vanilla ice cream during a trip to France in 1784, brought back a recipe for it, and had it made and served in his kitchens throughout the rest of his life. If you’re interested in making your own frozen dessert, our historic chocolate popsicles are the perfect way to enjoy the historic flavor combination of chocolate and vanilla!

Historic Chocolate Popsicles

Independence Day is quickly approaching, and we’re busy preparing for our annual holiday celebrations at Captain Jackson’s. If you’re in Boston for the holiday, visit us at Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop and the Old North Church for fun and festive events each day of Harborfest. If your preparations for the Fourth of July include planning a holiday menu, we have a chocolate recipe that is sure to pair perfectly with your patriotic festivities.

Chocolate has been enjoyed as part of July Fourth celebrations since in the earliest years of the holiday. This event advertisement from 1791 describes a full day of revelry in honor of the country’s newly earned independence:

A CONCERT of Vocal and Instrumental Music will begin on Monday, the glorious 4th of July, at six o’clock in the morning, and conclude at ten at night, should the day be fair, to celebrate American Independence. Songs, with harmony and martial music, in honor of the day, will be performed. In order to furnish the public with refreshments, tea, coffee, and chocolate, and fruits of the season, will be ready for breakfast.

If you would like to include chocolate in your Independence Day celebration, American Heritage Historic Chocolate, which recreates the 18th century chocolate flavor that the founding fathers would have enjoyed, is the perfect match for a patriotic holiday. Our historic chocolate popsicles use American Heritage Historic Chocolate to make a cool and refreshing treat that’s guaranteed to be a favorite at any backyard party. These popsicles are made by freezing our 18th century milk chocolate recipe, which combines the rich spiced flavor of 18th century chocolate with just the right amount of sugar and milk to create a sweet and creamy frozen dessert. One taste and you may decide to keep a batch of these in your freezer all summer long.

Historic chocolate popsicles can be made using any popsicle mold or ice tray. The simple recipe is easy to scale to the size of your mold and the quantity of popsicles you need. This recipe makes about 3 cups of liquid milk chocolate or 8 small popsicles.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Stir cornstarch into 2 teaspoons of cold milk until completely dissolved. Set aside.
  2. In a large sauce pot, bring 2 cups of milk to a simmer over medium heat.
  3. Stir chocolate, sugar, and salt into milk. Whisk continuously until all ingredients are completely dissolved.
  4. Return to a simmer and stir in cornstarch mixture. Reduce heat to low and whisk constantly for three minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and allow to stand until cooled to room temperature.
  6. Pour milk chocolate into popsicle molds. Insert sticks and place in freezer until completely frozen.
  7. To serve, run molds under cool water until popsicles easily slide out of molds. Enjoy!

Happy Fourth of July from everyone at Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop!

Colonial Chocolate Spices: Cinnamon

Visitors to Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop are often surprised to discover that our colonial drinking chocolate is seasoned with eight different spices. American Heritage Historic Chocolate is seasoned with cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, chili pepper, anise, orange zest, salt, and annatto, as well as a small amount of sugar. We will be taking a closer look at each of these spices to explore their origins and uses in colonial American cooking.

Cinnamon is the spice that our guests usually detect first when tasting our drinking chocolate. The bold taste of cinnamon is as recognizable as the curled, aromatic cinnamon sticks that deliver this flavor. Cinnamon sticks are dried pieces of bark from the Cinnamomum verum plant, which is a small evergreen tree. The branches of this tree are harvested and the bark is peeled from each branch by hand. Once removed from the branch, the lengths of bark are allowed to air dry before being packed and shipped. The dried bark is sold whole as cinnamon sticks or is ground and sold as powdered cinnamon.

Cinnamon is native to modern day Sri Lanka. It has been used as a food seasoning and perfume since ancient times. In medieval Europe, it was a highly coveted spice that was only available to the very wealthy through merchants who traveled to Europe from the Middle East and kept the spice’s origins a closely guarded secret. At the end of the 15th century, Portuguese forces discovered and conquered the island now known as Sri Lanka in order to gain a monopoly over the harvest and trade of cinnamon. Cinnamon was harvested solely from wild plants until the Dutch East Indies Company cultivated the first cinnamon plantations in the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th century, cinnamon was being grown throughout the Indian Ocean region, the West Indies, and Brazil. Today it is grown around the world in tropical climates near the equator.

In colonial America, cinnamon was a popular spice that was used in many dishes and often in greater strength than is typical today. Cinnamon was a common ingredient in familiar desserts, including gingerbread and apple pie. It was also frequently used in beverages such as spiced punches and, of course, chocolate. Less familiarly, cinnamon was used to season and help preserve meats, and in savory recipes like this one for buttered onions. In addition to being used as a seasoning for other food and drinks, cinnamon was enjoyed on its own in recipes such as candied cinnamon, essence of cinnamon, and cinnamon water. Cinnamon was a staple spice in colonial American kitchens and a significant component of the spicy flavor of colonial drinking chocolate.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Here in Massachusetts, June is strawberry season. There is no better time to enjoy this delicious fruit than during the short season when they can be found fresh from a local farm or picked straight from the garden. While it can be tempting to eat ripe strawberries before they make it to the kitchen, we have a recipe that is truly worth the wait. If there’s one thing more delicious than a fresh strawberry, it’s a chocolate covered strawberry!

These chocolate covered strawberries make use of American Heritage Historic Chocolate to bring irresistible new flavors to a classic treat. The rich, spicy chocolate is the perfect balance to tart, juicy strawberries. Pick up some fresh strawberries from your local farmer’s market and treat yourself to this summery chocolate dessert this weekend. A batch can be made up in less than an hour and one cup of American Heritage Historic Chocolate Drink Mix will cover about 20 medium strawberries.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Rinse strawberries and dry thoroughly. If strawberries have been stored in the refrigerator, allow them to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes – 1 hour.
  1. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or microwave.

To use a double boiler, stir chocolate continuously until fully melted and smooth.

To use a microwave, work in smaller batches to ensure a continuous supply of fully melted chocolate. Split the chocolate drink mix into 2-3 portions and heat half of one portion until it is melted, about 1-2 minutes. Stir until it is smooth, and then stir in the remaining half of the chocolate until it is fully melted. Repeat with each portion when needed.

  1. Holding a strawberry by the stem, dip into melted chocolate and gently rotate to make sure all side are covered evenly. Remove from chocolate and allow any excess to drip off. Place chocolate covered strawberry on a wax paper lined baking sheet. Repeat with each strawberry.
  1. Place strawberries in refrigerator until chocolate is fully hardened. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Enjoy!

Winnowing: Separating the Shell from the Bean

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which grow as the seeds of cacao pods. These seeds are surrounded by a thin shell that must be removed before they can be ground into chocolate. During the 18th century, the removal of cocoa bean shells was done largely by hand through a process known as winnowing.

When removed from cacao pods, fresh cacao seeds are coated in a white membrane that quickly turns brown as fermentation occurs after harvesting. Once the cocoa beans are dried, this outer membrane becomes hard and is referred to as a shell. Roasting the cocoa beans further dries out the shells and makes them brittle, so they can be easily separated from the bean during winnowing.

Winnowing is an ancient agricultural process used to remove chaff from grain. In addition to its use in making chocolate, winnowing is also an essential step in the processing of wheat and rice. Hand winnowing uses a winnowing basket that is rounded at one end and open at the other to efficiently toss the cocoa beans into the air and catch them as they fall back to the basket. As the beans are repeatedly tossed, the brittle shells break apart and separate from the beans. To be effective, winnowing must be done outside in windy conditions. The wind blows away the lighter shells as they are tossed into the air, separating them from the heavier beans that fall back into the basket.

Broken cocoa beans and shells in a winnowing basket.

Once the shells are removed, the cocoa beans are ready to be transformed into chocolate. The shells are not used in the chocolate making process, but they do have uses of their own. In the 1700s, merchants often sold cocoa shells alongside manufactured chocolate, so consumers could purchase them to make chocolate tea. Today, cocoa shell mulch is widely available for use in gardens.

The next time you visit Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop, watch 18th century winnowing in action during our daily chocolate making demonstrations and spend some time enjoying our 18th century garden, where you can see cocoa shell mulch in use.

18th Century “Milk Chocolate”

At Captain Jackson’s, it’s no secret that we love 18th century chocolate, so you can imagine our excitement when we recently discovered an 18th century cookbook that contained six chocolate recipes for us to try. The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary: or, the Accomplish’d Housewife’s Companion was written by John Nott, “Cook to his Grace the Duke of Bolton” and printed in London in 1723. You can see the full book here.

In the introduction, Nott explains that his book is “chiefly design’d for the Use of you British Housewives,” but it may be viewed as a “necessary Companion also for Cooks, &c. in Taverns, Eating-Houses, and publick Inns.” Nott’s assertion that his dictionary “is the richest in Variety, and so the compleatest Book, of its Kind, yet extant” is supported by the impressive contents of the book, which include information and instructions for preparing everything from ale to zests.

The first chocolate recipe from Nott’s dictionary that we tried was article 129, “To make Milk Chocolate.” Milk chocolate as it’s known today was not invented until 1875, so we were eager to taste milk chocolate as it was in the 1700s. The resulting dessert is thicker than colonial drinking chocolate, but not quite the consistency of a pudding or cream. It’s almost a chocolate soup! With the addition of milk and sugar, this milk chocolate is also sweeter than traditional drinking chocolate, making it perfect for anyone who finds darker chocolate to be slightly too bitter for their taste. Whether you sip or spoon your 18th century milk chocolate, it’s sure to please as a rich and decadent dessert.

In interpreting this historic recipe, we made a few minor changes. Nott’s original recipe calls for “Chocolate without Sugar,” but American Heritage Historic Chocolate already contains a small amount of sugar. We compensated for this by following Nott’s advice in another of his chocolate recipes: “if your Chocolate be with Sugar, take double the Quantity of Chocolate, and half the Quantity of Sugar.” We also scaled down the quantities of each of the ingredients, so our recipe makes about 4 servings.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Stir cornstarch into 2 teaspoons of cold milk until completely dissolved. Set aside.
  2. In a large sauce pot, bring 2 cups of milk to a simmer over medium heat.
  3. Stir chocolate, sugar, and salt into milk. Whisk continuously until all ingredients are completely dissolved.
  4. Return to a simmer and stir in cornstarch mixture. Reduce heat to low and whisk constantly for three minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and allow to stand uncovered for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Milk chocolate will thicken slightly as it cools.
  6. Pour or ladle into small cups for serving and enjoy!