If you're a baby boomer like me, and perhaps even if you aren't you might have a memory of a small orange box in the kitchen cupboards containing a box of Bakers Chocolate. A small square of chocolate wrapped in white waxed paper. If you took a bite you knew instantly that this was no candy bar. It was bitter and tasted nothing like the sweet chocolate you were thinking of. Likely you thought, as I did that it was chocolate for "bakers" hence the name. I carried this little tidbit in the back of my mind never thinking much more of it until I read Chocolate - The Sweet History. As it turns out it is in fact simply the name of Dr. James Baker who went into the chocolate business many years ago. I mentioned this little tidbit of information to my wife while walking the grocery aisles. I pointed out the box of Bakers Chocolate and told her the story. She had the same experience. So I was able to put what I learned in the book to instant use. The unmistakable sign of a good piece of work!
Another interesting fact I learned that I was wrong about was Peter's Chocolate. I simply assumed with a name like Peter's, it was an American product. Whoops! Wrong again. Daniel Peters was in fact Swiss. I discovered that this book was fun to read and I really learned quite a bit. Trivia is something I enjoy and this book is loaded with fascinating pieces of trivia about the history of chocolate companies.
On the subject of chocolate I consider myself to have a decent knowledge level of its history and origin. But, after reading this book I learned that there was a lot about the history of chocolate that I didn't know.
The book starts out with the author's brief history as a child discovering chocolate (very similar I imagine to the rest of us). After a short section on how the idea for the book came about she (the author) begins to look at the how chocolate was discovered, its origin, how it is cultivated and its uses. If you are interested in learning about the historical aspects of where chocolate came from this is a pretty good start. The book continues to move along through the centuries touching on some important moments in chocolate's history and takes us up to modern times. A wonderful colorful graphic timeline give the reader the highlights of chocolate's history. A small chapter is devoted to chocolate companies that came and went. It's surprising to find that some companies you think are still around actually aren't. They, like their own creations have been swallowed up by larger ones.
The actual process of making the chocolate from the bean to the bar is briefly touched on giving you just a basic overview of the process. The book is not scientific by any means so if you are looking for the in-depth writing of how chocolate is processed then this chapter won't help you (believe me it can get downright technical). However, if you don't really care about the nuts and bolts of fermentation, roasting etc, then you'll be quite satisfied.
The rest of the book is devoted to the stories of the major players in the history of chocolate and how they came to be, where they went and where they are now. It is very interesting to see what how these companies came to be and how large some of them actually are!
A few recipes from some of the companies shown are included at the back. It seemed almost as an afterthought. Perhaps it was simply some of the recipes the author discovered along the way and wanted to share. Go to the back of the book, try some recipes and eat them as you go through the book. It is an interesting and attractive book that will give you a nice all around knowledge of chocolate. If you ever find yourself on "Jeopardy" you may be glad you bought this book. This book will make a fine Coffee Table book, as it has ads and artwork from many years ago that are very colorful, historic and fun to look at.
Bottom line, it's not a cookbook, it's not a textbook, but it is a good book and one that could be added to every chocolate library and or coffee table. After all who doesn't like Chocolate?