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 V.18 No.1 | January 1 - 7, 2009 

Books for Cooks

Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods

Sacred and tasty

For centuries, it has captivated humans and gods. It's been associated with worship, commerce, romance and comfort. But why has it so completely seduced the world? Just what's so special about chocolate?

Meredith L. Dreiss and Sharon Edgar Greenhill travel back in time to Mesoamerica to answer these questions. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods first began as a documentary film from which much of the information in the book was compiled. The authors weave together chocolate's fascinating journey with images from all over Central America.

The book focuses on the Mayan connection to everyone's favorite confection, revealing through brilliant photographs and archaeological evidence just how prized cacao was to these ancient people. Dreiss and Greenhill piece together bits of unearthed ancient Mayan culture and bring to life the world's first chocolate obsession. From religious rituals and human sacrifices to healing and trading, chocolate seems to always play a part.

Dreiss and Greenhill piece together bits of unearthed ancient Mayan culture and bring to life the world's first chocolate obsession.

The authors also decode ancient mythology, glyphic texts and colonial accounts to tell chocolate's story. They use a stunning array of artifacts to document and chronicle the Mayan chocolate tradition. Photos of the artifacts discussed are carefully linked to passages in the book. The visual nature of an otherwise complex and massive history lends a certain tangibility, which allows even casual readers to more firmly grasp cacao's role in the ancient world.

Dreiss and Greenhill go on to link the past to present by discussing chocolate's place in the modern world. Issues such as biodiversity, deforestation and global warming are tackled. Current environmental concerns are tied to ancient Mesoamericans' striving for “cosmic balance,” a sort of ancient environmental movement. By explaining cacao's place in the ecosystem, chocolate's relevance goes beyond simply something everybody likes to something the world truly needs.

Well-written, informative and enlightening, Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods lets chocoholics and history buffs alike take a bite out of 3,500 years of chocolate-covered history.

Mayan Hot Chocolate

Try making your own chocolate drink. This recipe is a little more modern than the styles described in Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods, but it's certainly more authentic than Swiss Miss. --Maren Tarro
Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

2 cups water
1 poblano chile pepper, cut in half, seeds removed
5 cups whole milk or light cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1-2 cinnamon sticks (plus 6 for garnish, optional)
3 discs Mexican chocolate (Ibarra or Abuelita), broken into wedges
2 tablespoons sugar or honey (or to taste)
1 tablespoon extra-fine ground almonds or hazelnuts
Instructions:

1) Bring the water to a boil. Add chile pepper and cook until liquid is reduced to 1 cup.

2) Remove chili pepper; strain liquid for stray seeds and set aside.

3) In a medium-sized saucepan over a medium flame, heat the milk, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick until bubbles appear around the edge. Reduce heat to low.

4) Add the chocolate and sugar or honey. Whisk occasionally until chocolate is melted and sugar dissolves. Turn off heat.

5) Remove vanilla bean and cinnamon stick, stir in ground almonds or hazelnuts. Carefully add the chile pepper infusion, a little at a time, until your desired heat level is reached. If the hot chocolate is too thick, thin it with more milk. Serve in mugs. If desired, garnish with cinnamon sticks.
 
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