George Washington might make that case if he was still around. When he dug into his favorite breakfast of cornmeal hoe cakes with honey and butter, he often washed them down with warm chocolate cream, according to Dining with the Washingtons, a cookbook published in 2011 by the staff at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. The book offers updated versions of typical recipes from the period and a glimpse into the first president’s favorite foods.
Rodney Snyder, a chocolate historian at Mars Inc. who spoke at a chocolate-making demonstration at the National Archives this month, has also found ample evidence of hot chocolate’s place in early American history.
Archaeological evidence suggests that people in present-day Mexico were cultivating and drinking chocolate some 4,000 years ago. (Apples, meanwhile, originated in Asia.)
For most of its history, chocolate was a drink. Candies and solid bars didn’t catch on until the late 1800s, Snyder says.
The 18th century, Washingtonian version of (hot) chocolate cream consisted of grated chocolate solids and sugar mixed into a cup of warm water, milk, or even brandy for a real kick. It was often seasoned with new-world flavors like chili powder, vanilla and allspice, creating a complex concoction — richer and less sweet than its modern-day counterpart. (See a modern take on the recipe here.)
According to Mary Thompson, a research historian at Mount Vernon, chocolate was one of many unfamiliar ingredients the colonial settlers encountered when they arrived in the Americas. At first, they were most likely to embrace foods that reminded them of Europe. But chocolate was an exception: It was novel and immediately appealing, says Thompson.
In 18th century Europe, chocolate was a status symbol — a treat for the rich and the royals. But Snyder says in North America it was enjoyed by president and commoner alike. That difference stems from the cacao’s point of origin, in the Americas, and the relative cheapness of Caribbean sugar.
In colonial America, chocolate wasn’t relegated to the breakfast nook, either. It was instead valued as a high-energy food that didn’t spoil, a precursor to today’s athletes drinking chocolate milk to recover after a workout.
“Chocolate is very transportable, so it was very good for the army,” Snyder says. So when Washington filled his canteen with cherry bounce (his favorite mixture of juice, spices and brandy) and headed out for the frontier, he may have packed some chocolate then, as well.
If hot chocolate for breakfast isn’t your cup of tea, try the cake recipe featured in the cookbook, which Washington and pals are said to have dunked into their hot chocolate on occasion, too.
George Washington’s Love Will Never Fade
“…I go fully trusting in that Providence, which has been more bountiful to me than I deserve, & in full confidence of a happy meeting with you sometime in the Fall—I have not time to add more, as I am surrounded with Company to take leave of me—I retain an unalterable affection for you, which neither time or distance can change…”
— George Washington to Martha Washington
The 17th Century Valentines Card and Beyond
It’s said that one American woman, Esther Howland, was so intrigued when she received her first English valentine greeting in 1847, that she became infatuated with the idea of manufacturing them in the U.S. She was an early entrepreneur, and instinctively believed that there could be an American market for these formal, English-style greetings. After procuring materials like high-quality paper and lace from her father, a stationer, she created what many credit as the earliest American Valentine’s Day greeting cards.
Today, Howland is still honored with the nickname “Mother of the American Valentine,” with many citing her work as the start of a multi-million-dollar industry. But it didn’t happen overnight — let’s take a look at how her work paved the way.
A Brief Timeline of Valentine’s Day Marketing
Charles II of Sweden begins communicating with flowers, by assigning a different message to each type. This tradition allegedly assigned love and romance to the red rose, setting the stage for this flower to be exchanged during the later, commercialized era of Valentine’s Day. However, it remains unclear if a specific brand is responsible for first marketing flowers as part of Valentine’s Day gift-giving.
In Massachusetts, Howland produces a dozen sample Valentine’s Day cards and sends them off with her brother to distribute during a sales trip for their father’s company — S.A. Howland & Sons — hoping to earn $200. Instead, he returns with 25X that amount, indicating a much higher-than-expected demand.
The first print advertisement for Howland’s cards appears in the Worcester Spy.
Howland incorporates her booming card business as the New England Valentine Company, operating out of her home via an assembly line that was largely comprised of her friends.
1880 – 1881
Howland sells the New England Valentine Company to the George C. Whitney Company.
The Hershey Chocolate Company is founded, bringing what was previously “a European luxury product” to the U.S.
Conversation candies become heart-shaped.
The Hershey Chocolate Company introduces Kisses candy.
That same year, Hallmark is founded. Meanwhile, 1910 also saw the creation of Florists’ Telegraph Delivery — today known as FTD — which pioneered the remote ordering and delivery of flowers, providing a way to send them to far-away loved ones.
Hallmark produces its first Valentine’s Day card.
Hershey’s begins packaging Kisses candies in pink and red foil specifically for Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate romance and love and kissy-face fealty. But the origins of this festival of candy and cupids are actually dark, bloody — and a bit muddled.
Though no one has pinpointed the exact origin of the holiday, one good place to start is ancient Rome, where men hit on women by, well, hitting them.
Those Wild And Crazy Romans
The Roman romantics “were drunk. They were naked,” says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says.
They believed this would make them fertile.
The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be, um, coupled up for the duration of the festival — or longer, if the match was right.
The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — It is reported that one such Valentine a priest was charged and convicted of marring young couples in love without the permission of the church. He was sent to prison, but in a twist of fate the priest was a healer and when Emperor Claudius II own daughter became ill, the Priest Valentine was sent for and he indeed healed her. He also fell in love with her that inspired him to send her a love note signed from your Valentine.
On Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. The Catholic church never one to miss a marketing opportunity ordered martyrdom for St. Valentine with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.
Later, Pope Gelasius I in the 5th century combined St. Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan rituals. But the festival was more of a theatrical interpretation of what it had once been. Lenski adds, <strong>”It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn’t stop it from being a day of fertility and love.”</strong>
Around the same time, the Normans celebrated Galatin’s Day. Galatin meant “lover of women.” That was likely confused with St. Valentine’s Day at some point, in part because they sound alike.
As the years went on, the holiday grew sweeter. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized it in their work, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. Handmade paper cards became the tokens-du-jour in the Middle Ages.
Eventually, the tradition made its way to the New World. The industrial revolution ushered in factory-made cards in the 19th century. And in 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo., began mass producing valentines. February has not been the same since.
Today, the holiday is big business: According to market research firm IBIS World, Valentine’s Day sales reached $17.6 billion last year; this year’s sales are expected to total $18.6 billion.
But that commercialization has spoiled the day for many. Helen Fisher, a sociologist at Rutgers University, says we have only ourselves to blame.
“This isn’t a command performance,” she says. “If people didn’t want to buy Hallmark cards, they would not be bought, and Hallmark would go out of business.”
And so the celebration of Valentine’s Day goes on, in varied ways. Many will break the bank buying jewelry and flowers for their beloveds. Others will celebrate in a SAD (that’s Single Awareness Day) way, dining alone and binging on self-gifted chocolates. A few may even be spending this day the same way the early Romans did.
Happy Valentines Day