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CW Journal : Winter 2012 : Sidebar: Top Chocolate Destination

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Top Chocolate Destination

What does Colonial Williamsburg have in common with Paris, Geneva, and Bruges? According to USA Today, all are among the top ten chocolate destinations in the world. And Williamsburg was first on the list.

Serious research on chocolate making began at Colonial Williamsburg in 2001. Although it was determined that eighteenth-century chocolate making was an urban trade strongly associated with four northern cities—Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Newport—there is evidence for chocolate’s being made in Williamsburg, and not only in the wealthiest households.

Inventories showed that carpenter James Wray owned fifty pounds of “chocolate nuts.” Tavernkeeper James Shields owned a chocolate stone, the necessary tool for grinding one’s own cacao seeds. The inventory taken at the 1740 death of Governor Alexander Spotswood included a chocolate grindstone, Governor Botetourt’s inventory showed more than twenty pounds of chocolate stored in his Williamsburg bedchamber, and Governor Thomas Jefferson purchased chocolate nuts the same month Virginia’s government moved from Williamsburg to Richmond.

Some of Virginia’s large planters had chocolate-making equipment in their households: Robert “King” Carter and Phillip Ludwell Lee had chocolate stones for their slaves to use for grinding cacao seeds. William Byrd of Westover often drank chocolate for breakfast. And many Williamsburg storekeepers sold semiprepared one-pound chocolate cakes that they imported from the north.

A program called “Secrets of the Chocolate Maker” came out of the research. On the first Tuesday of every month, except in the summer, at the Governor’s Palace kitchen visitors watch a demonstration of eighteenth-century chocolate making that uses authentic original techniques and recipes. Or you can watch a demonstration at Chocolate is not, and was not, made during the hot months, says Jim Gay, Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Foodways journeyman cook and an authority on the history and manufacture of chocolate. “That’s,” he says, “for the same reason you do not walk around with a candy bar in your pocket in July.” The success of the program has led to stories in magazines and newspapers and on the Food Network, and to programs at universities and museums, most recently the Smithsonian Museum for American History.

Mars, the candy company, became interested in the program and, working with Colonial Williamsburg, developed a historically accurate line of chocolate called American Heritage Chocolate. Based on eighteenth-century recipes and made with natural ingredients, these bars, sticks, and drinks are low in sugar, more like bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, and blended with spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Mars sells this chocolate exclusively at museums and historic sites across the country, giving visitors a taste from the past.

To round out the first Tuesday chocolate program, the Galt Apothecary Shop focuses on chocolate as medicine. When the newly reconstructed Charlton Coffeehouse opened on the Duke of Gloucester, the menu included samples of period chocolate, coffee, and tea.

— Mary Miley Theobald

« Back to main article “A Cup of Hot Chocolate, S’good for What Ails Ya”