Bitter, Sweet and Semi-Sweet
The Shocking Tale of Chocolates and Love
Valentine’s Day 1969, I was 11. The Vatican dropped Lupercalia from the festival calendar. We were writing cards. I carefully lettered across its face, “Dear Irene… Would you be my valentine?” Irene wasn’t “my type,” but Mouseketeer Cubby was beyond my reach. A casual affair with my best friend Mike was still four years away and he was carefully lettering a card to his future wife.
Perusing several conflicting encyclopedias, I determined that Valentine’s Day as we know it has nothing to do with either of the St. Valentines. Unless it does. It is fairly certain that the St. Valentines did not know each other, unless of course, they were the same person, which they might have been. They certainly didn’t know Pope Valentine, the three Emperors Valentinus, the duke or duchess of Valentinois, or Rudolph Valentino, none of whom showed up in Rome until quite sometime after the Valentines were dearly departed. It is, however, entirely possible that Valentine’s Day has something to do with Lupercalia.
You see, after the martyrdom of the Valentines in the 3rd Century, like other saints, they got their own feast day. On February 14th. On the following day, February 15th, was Lupercalia. In this highly amusing festival in honor of Faunus, the Roman god of flocks and fertility and the inventor of the oboe, young men sacrificed a couple of goats and a dog, and then chased young women around, hitting them with goatskin whips. This was intended to make childbirth less unpleasant for the women. By comparison, no doubt.
In a dazzling display of logic and complete disregard for calendars, feast days and the sanctity of wife beating, folks in the mid-14th century turned Valentine’s Day into a celebration of love and courtship. Makes perfect sense. This brings us to my life, Valentine’s Day 1969, and goatskin whips. Which, using virtually the same logical pathways, leads me to chocolate.
I’m not talking about the wimpy, waxy, washed-out chocolate of your average candy bar from the corner grocery. How about something silky, smooth and sexy that is completely addictive and an aphrodisiac to boot?
From Theobroma Cacao, the cocoa plant, to that rich, gooey, melted mess in front of you – how does it get there? Pods. Each pod is filled with seeds. The seeds are removed and left on banana leaves to ferment in the sun. Then the seeds are roasted and hulled.
The seeds are crushed, turning into a paste called chocolate liquor. This is pressed to separate the cocoa butter from the cocoa solids. The cocoa butter is either blended right back into the solids to make unsweetened chocolate or sent to Coppertone. (So, drizzling chocolate on your body is not as kinky as you thought.) Sugar, in varying amounts, is added to make dark extra bitter, bitter, and semi-sweet chocolates. For milk chocolate, milk solids are added. You don’t even want to know from white chocolate…
The more cocoa butter, the richer the chocolate. Any good brand should say what percentage it contains. Trust me, you want at least 50%, no matter what your diet plan. Valrhona and Calebaut are considered just about the best makes out there. They’re worth the extra bucks.
More than you ever wanted to know about chocolate? Okay, I’ll make it up to you. How about a treat for someone special? Or perhaps they’d like a goatskin whip?
8 ounces of heavy cream
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 ounce butter, room temperature
1 ounce cognac
Chop the chocolate finely on a dry cutting board and put in the mixing bowl of an electric mixer. Bring the cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate. Let it stand for two minutes and stir until smooth. Beat in the softened butter and let the mixture cool. On medium speed, beat in the cognac. If you have a pastry bag, pipe out balls of the mixture about ¾” in diameter on wax paper. If you don’t have a pastry bag, use a tablespoon. Place in the refrigerator to set. When firm, roll the balls lightly between your hands to smooth and soften the surface and then roll in cocoa powder.
Will you be my valentine?
Genre is a gay “lifestyle” and travel magazine. It was launched in 1992 by three entrepreneurs, two of whom shortly thereafter left to found QSF magazine. I went with them…