Imagine this Aztec wedding scene in AD 1051: a cup of foaming chocolate beverage is exchanged at the marriage of two nobles. The bride’s name is 8 Deer, and her groom is 13 Serpents. Such is shown in one of the images of the Nuttal Codex. Of course chocolate was old hat to these wedding guests, because as early as 500 AD Mayans were “writing” about chocolate on their pottery, and it is suspected that the Olmecs before them knew of chocolate.
Now jump to Christopher Columbus returning from his journey to the new world and presenting bags of cocoa beans to the mystified King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. No one knew what to make of these beans. Literally.
It took Moctezuma, who greeted Cortés and his army in 1519 with a drink of xocoatl, or “bitter water” in the Nauatl language, to finally get the point across to Europeans of the value of Theobroma Cacao, the botanical name of chocolate, meaning “Food of the Gods.”
Moctezuma had the cocoa beans crushed on a metate with chilies, spices, flowers, vanilla beans and a little honey. This paste was then mixed with water, and poured from a great height to create the foam. Moctezuma was served this beverage up to 50 times a day in a golden chalice, according to Bernal, an imbedded war correspondent with Cortés and his army. “After Moctezuma dined, his retinue was provided with over two thousand jugs of cocoa daily, all frothed up,” Bernal wrote. Only nobility was allowed to drink this precious nectar. The beans were used as currency and were as precious as gold.
Chocolate took off like the plague in Spain as soon as Cortés presented it to King Carlos V. Cortés wrote to the king, telling him that chocolate was good for his army as it “builds up resistance and fights fatigue.”Spanish ladies of nobility, unable to get enough of it, took to having it served to them in church. Only after 100 years did Italy catch onto chocolate, and then shortly after that, France took chocolate to culinary heights. Finally, chocolate made its way to England and out of the pervue of nobility. Queen Anne’s Dr. first suggested it be made with milk, rather than water. Ultimately, in the pre revolutionary 1700’s, it was embraced in the United States.
While recognized as a dessert drug by “chocoholics” everywhere, nowhere is chocolate so embraced in main dishes as it is in Mexico.
Next week learn how to make another delicious Mexican chocolate beverage, that creamy classic, champurrado.