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Beyond The Hershey Bar
Or, A Brief History of Chocolate

Offered by Toni Blake

While many people associate Valentine's Day with things like hearts and flowers, or perhaps the occasional diamond, I myself equate the holiday with chocolate. Then again, I equate most holidays with chocolate. Most days with chocolate. Most waking moments with chocolate. Clearly, I am a woman with a chocolate fetish, and I am not ashamed.

Recently, a friend told me she was actually allergic to chocolate and had to avoid it. My reaction was, "Oh, dear God, no!" For me, a day without chocolate is like a day without sunshine, the Partridge Family without David Cassidy, a romance novel without a hero. And so, it is in honor up upcoming Valentine's Day, and also my personal addiction to chocolate, that I choose to lead you, dear reader, on this brief foray through chocolate's glorious past.

A product of the New World, the Mayas and Aztecs so prized chocolate that they used cocoa beans as money. During his conquest of Mexico around 1520, Cortez found the Aztecs using cocoa beans to prepare their royal drink, chocolatl, which means "warm liquid."   It was said that Montezuma drank fifty or more portions of it a day and served it to his guests in golden goblets. The Spaniards, however, found the taste too bitter, and sweetened it by adding cane sugar. They then took some cocoa beans back to Spain, where "perplexingly enough" it didn't really catch on. That said, it took awhile for chocolate to enter the American diet. Around 1765, chocolate appeared in colonial America, still being served as a drink and considered to be quite exotic.

Chocolate came from the cacao tree, which Americans chose to transform into cocoa (which, incidentally, was originally pronounced with three syllables: "co-co-a." The chocolate bar was invented in England in the 1840's, and milk chocolate became popular in Switzerland in the 1870's, but it was not until 1903, when Milton Hershey gave the world the first Hershey bar that chocolate became an American standard. (Mr. Hershey charged a mere nickel for his chocolate bar, a price that would stay the same for the next 67 years. Problem was, the bar kept getting smaller, until 1970 when the bar and the price finally both grew to catch up with inflation.

Just Who Was This Guy, Hershey?  Milton Hershey was an unlikely success. His formal studies ended with the fourth grade, and he spent decades struggling as a small-time candy maker before suddenly striking it rich in middle age with caramels, a new sensation that swept the country in the late 1800's. In 1900, Mr. Hershey sold his caramel business for a million dollars... not bad for a guy with a fourth grade education, especially at a time when $10 was a healthy weekly wage. But even better things were to come for Hershey when he turned his attentions to the novel process of making milk chocolate. Within three short years, the Hershey bar was a booming success, so much so that Hershey had enough money to build his own model community near his birthplace in Pennsylvania. For reasons not quite known, he decided to name his town Hersheykoko, and for additional reasons not quite known, the postal authorities refused to accept this name and it was shortened to the more mundane, but certainly suitable, Hershey.

Besides the world's largest chocolate factory, the town boasted parks, a museum and zoo, a boating lake, a professional hockey team, and the usual banks, stores, and offices, all owned by Mr. Hershey. In fact, he saw the town as his own private kingdom. He was known to prowl the streets looking for dawdling workers to reprimand or dismiss, and also took it upon himself to personally censor the movies at the local theater. But on the more philanthropic side, Mr. Hershey also built one of the world's largest orphanages for boys (orphaned girls, I suppose, were on their own), and endowed it with most of his fortune.

The first true candy bar that is, one containing other ingredients besides just chocolate, was the Squirrel Brand peanut bar. It sold well after its introduction in 1905, but was quickly overtaken by the ever-popular Goo Goo Cluster in 1912. It was in the 1920's, however, that candy bar fever truly struck the United States. The busy decade produced the Oh Henry!, the Baby Ruth, the Milky Way, the Butterfingers, the Mr. Goodbar, and the Snickers.

And Just Who Was Baby Ruth?  The Baby Ruth bar was originally called the Kandy Kake when it was introduced in 1920, but the Curtiss Candy Company soon chose to change the name. The company claimed the name had no connection with the baseball star Babe Ruth, who happened to be the hottest thing in America in 1920, and that it instead honored President Grover Cleveland's daughter, Ruth. Apparently the child, called Baby Ruth, had captured America's heart, but that had been more than twenty years earlier. By 1920, she'd been dead for sixteen years, so the idea of naming a candy bar for her at the time seemed odd. Still, perhaps it is no odder than the story behind the Oh, Henry! bar, apparently named for a young man whose flirtatious ways at the George Williamson candy factory in Chicago frequently provoked all the girls to cry, "Oh, Henry!"

Also loosed on the world, but destined for failure were candy bars called Fat Emmas, the Milk Nut Loaf, the Vegetable Sandwich (chocolate-covered vegetables (I kid you not), and the bizarrely named Chicken Dinner. It was actually a chocolate peanut roll, but was supposed to give you the same satisfaction of eating a steaming chicken dinner. Strange as it sounds, Chicken Dinner lasted into the 1960's. A curious footnote: not one of these products was known as candy bars, the term is not recorded in print until 1943. Chocolate entered our diet in other ways in the 1920's with the advent of the Good Humor Bar, the Eskimo Pie, Milk Duds, and Hostess Cakes. Thus, the introduction of chocolate in cake form could such delicacies as brownies be far behind?

Good News About Chocolate... When I was growing up and acne made my face resemble a battlefield, everyone said it was because I ate too much chocolate. Still, I didn't stop, chocolate was just too important to my personal diet. As an adult, I'm very glad I didn't give it up, as it has recently been proven (praise God!)that chocolate does not in any way cause acne. Other good news about chocolate: dentists say it is not a particularly cavity-causing treat, and doctors tell us that the caffeine found in chocolate is so low that it's pretty much a non-issue. Not only that, but chocolate even provides a number of necessary nutrients.

But Back to Valentine's Day Chocolate, "as in the boxed kind Forrest Gump fondly referred to" came into being around the same time as most chocolate candy bars, in the 1920's. As examples, the famous See's candy store in California was established in 1921 and Esther Price started making candy in Dayton, Ohio in 1926. Sadly, however, it seems that the tradition of giving chocolates on Valentine's Day has fallen somewhat out of favor (I blame those skinny girls in Hollywood who are making the rest of us look so very healthy). So, I, for one, intend to celebrate St. Valentine and Milton Hershey and Esther Price this year by going out and buying myself my very own box of chocolates. My very favorite thing about chocolate is that scientists say eating it produces a chemical rush similar to that of being in love. And hey, if that's not a good enough reason for you, remember "it's nutritional, too.

Toni Blake is the USA Today bestselling author of over twenty novels. Visit her on the web at ToniBlake.com.






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