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Monday, November 2, 2020





     Have you ever leafed through a cookbook, searching for a new recipe, then stood in front of your pantry, frustrated at being short a few uncommon ingredients? So, back to the same old tried and true. And that’s when I mentally slap myself up the side of my head, reminding myself to be grateful that I am in the present day, not in the old west, heating up a can of beans over a small campfire. If I planned well, I might also have had some beef jerky and even a dried-up biscuit that I could wash down with strong, black coffee. Coffee was quite a staple in the old west, and even when consumed black, still tasted better than the warm, brackish water in the cowboy’s canteen.

Coffee can be traced back at least to the 15th century. One legend attributes the discovery of coffee to a goat herder in Yemen. He noticed his goats being unusually frisky after eating berries from one of the trees. After consuming some of the beans, he, too, was energized. He brought the beans to his superiors at the monastery. The abbot boiled the berries and after consuming the drink, was alert for hours, even through evening prayers. He shared this discovery with the other monks and over the next two centuries, the benefits of coffee consumption was enjoyed throughout the middle East.

It was served in coffee houses where people socialized and enjoyed entertainment. These gahveh khaneh became such important gathering places and exchanges of information that they were often referred to as Schools of the Wise. Pilgrims to the holy city of Mecca talked of this wine of Araby when they returned home from their travels. Thus, the news spread even further.

By the 17th century, coffee arrived in Europe. When it reached Venice in 1615, not everyone welcomed the drink. The clergy demanded that Pope Clement VIII ban this bitter invention of Satan. Being a wise man, he tasted it first, liked it, and to the consternation of the clergy, gave coffee his papal approval.

            In England penny universities sprang up, so called because for the price of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation. Up until then, beer and wine were the prevalent breakfast drink, but gradually they were replaced by coffee when consumers realized they could function better without starting their day fuzzy-headed with alcohol.

As the popularity of coffee grew in London, savvy business owners brought coffee to America in the mid-1600’s. It had to compete with the preferred drink, tea, until King George III levied such high taxes on tea that the colonists revolted with the now famous Boston Tea Party.

The Dutch are credited for being the first to obtain coffee seedlings and growing them outside of Arabia, with increased success on the Island of Java. In 1714, the Mayor of Amsterdam gave a coffee plant seedling to King Louis XIV.  A few years later, Gabriel de Clieu stole a seedling from the King’s botanical garden and brought the coffee plant to Martinique. The seedling thrived and 50 years later there were over 18 million coffee trees on the island.

People from all walks of life brought coffee seeds with them in their travels and established plantations in new lands. By the end of the 18th century, coffee had become one of the world's most profitable export crops. After crude oil, coffee is the most sought commodity in the world.

            The other night I watched a movie that actually triggered the idea for this blog.  In one scene, poor, immigrant homesteaders were given an orange by a friendly neighbor. The orange passed from hand to hand, each person just caressing it and holding it to their nose.  Then the orange was carefully peeled, broken into sections, and two given to each person.

Oh, the joy and wonder on their faces as their tongue savored the juicy sweetness, probably for the very first time. It was slowly chewed, enjoyed with a reverence that squeezed my heart. (I love oranges best when they’ve been chilled straight from the fridge.) Yet, in the old west, fresh fruit was harder to come by, if at all, or too expensive for most pockets except the wealthy. This point was well made in another movie where even the shopkeeper couldn’t afford to eat the oranges he sold.

Here’s a short history about my favorite variety, the navel orange.These oranges are called Ambersweets. (Picture by Wikipedia)

In the 1850’s, in Brazil, a tree growing in a monastery garden was making very odd fruit. Inside each orange skin there was a large orange with no seeds. At the bottom of the orange were smaller sections that looked like a smaller squashed orange inside the same skin, which was really the bigger orange's twin. The little orange made a strange bump at the bottom of the orange skin, that looked just like a human navel or belly button. These oranges were named "Navel Oranges". They tasted very sweet, had no seeds and they peeled quite easily. This made them a very good orange to grow commercially. But they could not grow from seed. They could only grow from plant cuttings. Nowadays, thousands of these orange trees have been planted from cuttings. "Navel Oranges" are grown in California and exported to many countries of the world. Every navel orange in the world has the same genetic make up as the oranges on that tree in the monastery in Brazil.

I remember in Grade Five history class reading how the sailors, spending weeks on the ocean, suffered from scurvy for lack of fresh fruit. The water in those oak barrels must have become quite disgusting with time. Perhaps that’s why so many sailors drank rum to help offset the taste. Just like in westerns, the men ask for whiskey, never water, when they belly up to the bar.

Talking about sailors triggers thoughts of explorers of the high seas.  Thanks to them mistakenly sailing west in search of spices, silver and gold, explorers discovered America and introduced a new rage to Europe in the early 1500’s: hot chocolate.

There is some confusion by historians over who first introduced chocolate to Europe. Some credit Christopher Columbus of having intercepted a trade ship and brought cacao beans to Spain in 1502. Others say it was Hernán Cortés who met with an Aztec emperor and was served a bitter ceremonial brew made from cacao seeds.

Fermented beverages made from the cacao bean date back to 450 BC Mesoamerica (present-day Mexico).  Theobroma cacao is Latin for the cacao tree, which means food of the godsThe cacao tree produces the bean, and anything made from the bean is called chocolate. Research shows the word chocolate originates from the Aztec word xocoatl, which means a bitter drink. It was brewed from cacao beans. (I can’t help noting how the two words sound so similar: xocoatl and chocolate).

The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency.”

The ancient Olmec civilization of southern Mexico can quite possibly be credited as having invented the chocolate drink dating back to 1500 B.C. The Olmec left no written history, so it can only be assumed this bitter drink continued through the centuries because it was reserved for ceremonial rites and medicinal healing.

When archaeologists unearthed Olmec containers and had them analyzed, traces of theobromine, a stimulant compound found in chocolate and tea, were found in the pots.

            “Centuries later, the Mayans praised chocolate as the drink of the gods. Mayan chocolate was a revered brew made of roasted and ground cacao seeds mixed with chillies, water, and cornmeal. Mayans poured this mixture from one pot to another, creating a thick foamy beverage called xocolatl, meaning bitter water.”

By the 15th century, the Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency. They believed that chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl, and drank it as a refreshing beverage, an aphrodisiac, and even to prepare for war.

Therefore, when that Aztec emperor honored Cortés by serving him with this food of the gods, Cortés must have seen this revered drink as a lucrative venture and he reportedly brought it to Spain in 1528. The Spanish found the fermented brew too bitter, but by adding sugar and/or honey, it was quite pleasing to the palate—but only the wealthy could afford to purchase the beans. Even Catholic monks enjoyed the beverage and used it in their rituals.

The Spanish managed to keep chocolate a well-kept secret for nearly a century until the daughter of the Spanish king married Louis XIII of France. Princess Anne loved the drink and brought it with her to the French court. It didn’t take long for the craze for chocolate to reach England, where it was offered at special chocolate houses for the English aristocracy.

In 1828, the invention of the chocolate press revolutionized chocolate making. This innovative device could squeeze cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving a fine cocoa powder behind. The powder was then mixed with liquids and poured into a mold, where it solidified into an edible bar of chocolate.

And thus, the chocolate bar as we enjoy it today, was created.

            Over the decades, variations of chocolate were introduced by creative confectioners, particularly the Swiss. There is milk chocolate, dark chocolate, baking chocolate, semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate, white chocolate and even raw chocolate, compound chocolate and modeling chocolate.

Much of today’s chocolate is criticized for being unhealthy because of the ingredients, but dark chocolate is considered to be an antioxidant-rich, heart-healthy treat.

It is estimated that $75 billion is spent annually worldwide on chocolate and that Americans consume 12 pounds of this tasty treat yearly. I bet some chocolate lovers eat more than 12 pounds—and that’s not including hot chocolate. <grin>

With all this talk of chocolate, I now want some, too. And the Halloween bars are all gone. Oh, did I mention chocolate tastes divine in coffee?

For further reading about the addictive history of chocolate, try these links:

Excerpt: Beneath A Desperado Moon 

Josh carried the supplies into the lean-to, then leading his horse behind him through the moonlight, headed toward their cave. Molly ran to meet him, leaped into his arms and covered his face with kisses.

“Bloody hell, maybe I should leave more often.” She stuck out her tongue and he laughed. “Sorry, I don’t really mean that. I worry about you when you’re out of my sight. I want to get you away from here.”

“I know you do, Josh.” With one arm still around her, he turned toward his horse, opened a saddlebag, and dug out something wrapped in paper. “Here’s something for you, my sweet.”

“A gift?” Her heart lifted, touched more by the endearment than the secrets hiding inside the parcel. “What is it?”

He chuckled. “Open it and find out.”

 She tore at the paper. The scent hit her first, sweet to the nose. Then her mouth watered. And still she didn’t know what it was. She’d never seen anything like it before. Something dark. “What is it?”

“You really don’t know?” His voice echoed his amazement. He took the packet from her, broke off a piece and held it to her lips. “Open wide. Chocolate. Swiss chocolate.”

Smiling, she opened her mouth. The instant the chocolate touched her tongue, her starved taste buds shot to clamoring life. The crispness soon melted, filling her mouth with soft, delicious sweetness. She moaned her pleasure.

“Swallow. There’s more, Sweeting. Lot’s more.” Josh couldn’t take his eyes off the pleasure spreading her lips into a wide smile. The way her eyes sparkled. It reminded him of how she looked when making love. Her tongued slipped out and swept across her bottom lip, then the top.

He wanted to taste her, lay her down on the blankets and love her senseless. From the tightening of his pants, another part of him eagerly agreed. Yet, he put his anticipation aside, not wishing to interrupt her sensual enjoyment of the chocolate.

He broke off another small piece, wanting to prolong their mutual pleasure—she eating, and he, watching her enchantment. The pressure grew inside him, wanting her, needing her. He placed another piece against her lips. She took it from him and pressed it against his. “I want you to have some, too.”

“I’d rather have you.” Chocolate melted against his lips. He obliged, but refused any more. “This is for you. I’ve had it often growing up.”

“Yes, it must be nice being rich,” she said with a dreamy smile, savoring one more piece. Then, with a sigh, she folded up the paper and tucked it into her shirt pocket. “I’ll save some for later.”

He liked this trait in her. Not selfish, grasping, greedy. A memory from childhood slipped in—sitting underneath the huge Christmas tree in the great hall. Sharing bonbons with an enchanting girl with long, golden hair. How her blue eyes had lit with delight. And how, quickly, she’d consumed one after another, then dashed away with the rest. And later, he’d learned Phaedra had eaten too many in bed and become violently sick.

“What is it? You’ve grown so still.”

A soft touch on his arm shook him from his reverie. He looked down, confused for a moment by the upturned face, concerned cinnamon brown eyes gleaming in the moonlight. Desperate to erase that childhood memory, he cupped Molly’s face and kissed her.

Ah, yes, so much better. Chocolate sweetness seduced his senses. He drew her against him. “You’re like that chocolate. Sweet and enticing. Bewitching.”




Link for Diamond Jack’s Angel/Hot Western Nights Anthology


  1. Oh, I'm hungry after reading this post. All that knowledge and information. Very delicious information!Loved it.

    1. Sorry about that, Christine. Oranges and strawberries do that to me instantly as soon I see them,especially those fragrant red berries. I'm so glad you enjoyed my post. It was fun researching and there was so much to glean. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I'm a tea drinker rather than a coffee drinker, but this was delightful -- especially, of course, the part about chocolate!

    1. I was never a coffee drinker growing up, could not stand drinking it black, but I am hooked on Tim Horton's French Vanilla, a Canadian coffee company that Burger King brought into the U.S.A. a couple of years ago. I usually drink about half and then save the rest for brekkie the next day, so, two treats in one. I'm sure their secret ingredient is chocolate in my favorite drink. So even when I make home-made, I add in some hot chocolate powder and a splash of vanilla extract. Thanks for stopping by, Cate.

  3. Dang, don't like chocolate or coffee, but an informative post that I did enjoy. Doris

    1. For years I couldn't understand people's craving for coffee until I had French Vanilla. Five days a week I'd stop at the drive-thru and get an XL and a breakfast biscuit to enjoy as I drove the 40 minutes down the highway to work. When I joined a car pool, that stopped, except on days when I had to drive myself. Now that I'm retired I limit myself to one a week...uh, usually and because it's so filling, save half for the next day. I'm glad you enjoyed by post. Thanks for popping by.

  4. Coffee, oranges, and chocolate are all great foods. Although I am not a big fan of chocolate, I do like dark chocolate with a jellied orange center. I think dark chocolate has more taste than milk chocolate. Maybe that is just me.
    When I was growing up, Mom made everything by scratch. There were no baking bars of chocolate, just cocoa. My sister and I mixed it with sugar and put it in everything. LOL
    Oranges are one of my favorite fruits,; only strawberries top it in my most favorites. Oranges are portable because they have that protective skin. We can take them anywhere.
    I like coffee sometimes, but I also drink hot tea.
    Thank you for putting your name in the heading so I know right away who wrote the post. You wrote a marvelous article, Elizabeth. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

    1. I had to smile when I read your post. We could have been sisters as we love favorite things. Strawberries, oh my I love their scent and taste. The biggest strawberries I ever ate was from a roadside stand in Holland years ago. I'd never seen such big berries--one could fill the palm of my hand. Needless to say, we bought a basket of them and red tulips. I still see that vase of tulips in our trailer all these years later. Cold Navel oranges are my second favorite fruit and may tie with peaches. Thanks for stopping by. You are always so supportive, Sarah.

  5. Your post made me hungry for oranges. They should be coming into season soon. Such interesting information, much of which I didn't know before about my favorite treat - chocolate.

    1. Well, it seems the imps are back, saying I'm unknown in my reply to Sarah. So, it's me, Elizabeth replying to you, Ann. Ever since my server migrated the accounts to Google, I've had nothing but a hassle off and on since. I'm so glad you enjoyed my post. I learned a few things, too, while researching it. Thanks for stopping by, Ann.

  6. Delicious, Elizabeth! In Yorkshire homes it was traditional to place an orange as a treat in the toe of a Christmas stocking.
    As for choc - food of the gods!

  7. It wasn't part of my family's tradition to hang a stocking, but I do with my family and I always put a Mandarin orange in the toe of each stocking, and wrapped chocolates along with other stocking stuffers that can really add up. I also put a pair of black socks in the men's stockings so they have a new pair of socks for picture taking in front of the tree lol. I love traditions. Thanks for stopping by.