Toward the end of the 19th century, Richard Cadbury, under the pseudonym of "Historicus," wrote a book titled Cocoa: All About It. Richard was the second son of John Cadbury, founder of the English cocoa and chocolate company Cadbury. At the very beginning of the book, there is an illustration that shows a crowned character (interpreted as personifying America) offering an elegant box labeled "Inda Chocolata" to Neptune, god of water and of the sea. The caption reads:
"Reproduction of a Frontispiece of a very old Latin Book on Chocolate published in 1639. The subject is allegorical, representing a Casket of Chocolate being handed to Neptune to make known to the Countries of the World."
The first time I looked at the illustration, before I'd read the caption, I thought that the object of the transaction was a box of chocolates. Of course, it could not be; around 1640, chocolate was consumed only as a drink. Still, I like the image: Chocolate is a treasured product from the New World and the god of the sea is tasked to carry it to "the Countries of the World" so we can all share in the knowledge.
The connection of boxes and chocolates can be found in the life of none other than Richard Cadbury. In fact, according to the Cadbury company website, he was, "a talented amateur artist and he put his creative talents to excellent use at the company. Cadbury began producing fancy gift boxes of assorted chocolates after buying a revolutionary cocoa press in 1866, and this development together with the rise in commercial lithographic printing meant new design possibilities. The first chocolate box designed by Richard Cadbury was decorated with a painting of his young daughter Jessica holding a kitten -- he often used his own children as models, or painted flowers and scenes from holidays. These new decorated boxes were very popular, helping both the Cadbury business and the confectionery trade in general."
Richard Cadbury's work lives on especially in the chocolates elegantly packaged for Valentine's Day. While my personal chocolate consumption is steady year round (I have a moderate required dietary allowance for bittersweet chocolate) and is not affected by the season, I do enjoy admiring chocolate creations that appear this time of the year. So, with Valentine's Day approaching, I stopped by a few places close to home where chocolate takes center stage to see what was in store for Valentine's Day. (Addresses and other relevant information are included at the end of the article.)
At Drakes Glen Creations' "Candy Kitchen" in Arcata, I experienced something quite special: being in a space where the smell of chocolate is a permanent presence. Slightly inebriated by the aroma of chocolate, I looked at trays carrying chocolate hearts embossed with dolphins (in 72-percent cacao, milk or white chocolate), solid 3-D chocolate roses waiting to be wrapped and adorned with a green leaf (in various types of chocolate and also marbled, all without thorns), along with square chocolates, each decorated with a tiny red heart. Drakes Glen Creations' chocolates and hand-rolled truffles for Valentine's Day are available from various retailers in the county and online from the company web site.
At the Venlo store in Old Town Eureka, I feasted my eyes on the many different heart-shaped boxes on display: solid colors ranging from white to purple, beribboned or not, striped, with polka dots and, of course, with hearts, all filled with selections of chocolates and truffles. After navigating the sea of boxes, my eyes finally docked on a molded chocolate heart shell embossed with flowers, left slightly ajar to show the interior space: An elegant edible container inside which one can imagine putting all sorts of surprises, including, of course, chocolates. Besides the edible box, I also saw edible cards: Printing with edible ink on an edible substrate allows the creation of images that are then used to create chocolate Valentine's Day cards. Don't picture card stock-thin chocolate: These are substantial pieces of dark or milk chocolate.
Venlo and various retailers in the county carry Sjaak's organic truffles and chocolates, available also online. Milk or dark (vegan) chocolate hearts filled with chocolates (milk and dark, respectively), and heart-shaped dark chocolate lavender truffles wrapped in lavender foil and housed in a lavender box particularly caught my eye. As you may know from experience, a person's preference for a specific kind of chocolate tends to be steady once established.
According to the book Chocolate Astrology by Joy Nagy, our "chocolate personality" is connected to our birth sign, according to the following pairings: fire signs and bittersweet chocolate, earth signs and dark (semisweet) chocolate, water signs and milk chocolate, air signs and white chocolate. (The little book is nicely illustrated and includes two recipes for each zodiacal sign. Should I mention that the chocolate personality attributed to me in the book fits me perfectly?)
The most recent addition to the chocolate landscape of our area is Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor's Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate. From their production space in Arcata, they bring us a bar developed especially to celebrate Valentine's Day: Made with organic chocolate (72-percent cacao), the bar has slices of Panda Raspberry Licorice laid on the back. Wrapped in elegant floral paper, it makes a simple, surprising gift. The chocolate is crafted, bean to bar, using single origin organic cacao beans from Madagascar. The bars are available at various locations and updates regarding their distribution are broadcast on the company's Facebook page.
When America gave Neptune chocolate to share with "the Countries of the World," he established a fine tradition. If you love chocolate, Valentine's Day is a time to continue that tradition and share chocolate with your significant other. And if you don't love chocolate, tasting some with a beloved person may very well be the first step to full recovery.
425 Snug Alley
Old Town Eureka
Go to the corner of 2nd and F streets and look west toward the bay. The shop entrance is directly behind the flowing water of the gazebo.
Drakes Glen Creations
Eureka: Eureka Natural Foods, Co-op, CR Bookstore, Humboldt Herbals
Arcata: Co-op, Moonrise Herbs, Wildberries
Fortuna: Humboldt Healthy Foods
Willow Creek: Espresso & More
Phillipsville: Deerhorn Market
Sjaak's Organic Chocolates
Eureka: Eureka Natural Foods, Co-op
Arcata: Co-op, Wildberries
Other locations include local florist and other retailers
Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate
Arcata: Dottie May's Closet, Jitter Bean Coffee Co., Wildberries
Eureka: Eureka Natural Foods, Shipwreck (Old Town)
Fortuna: Humboldt Healthy Foods
McKinleyville: Central Market
Cutten and Sunny Brae: Murphy's Market
Willow Creek: River Song Natural Foods
Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate sampling at Jitter Bean Coffee Co. during Arts! Arcata on Feb. 11