― Katharine Hepburn
― Katharine Hepburn
“The greatest tragedies were written by the Greeks and Shakespeare…neither knew chocolate.”
― Sandra Boynton
One of the joys of living south of the river (and I don’t mean that sarcastically, it’s seriously awesome down here) is the south bank of the Thames. It’s got theatres (hi, Globe!), markets, wharfs, museums, more history than you can shake a stick at, and a steady stream of interesting events. The Southbank Centre itself is a major London hub and is constantly putting on nifty events. One such was the Chocolate Festival in mid-December.
It was a great outdoor market sort of affair, with stalls upon stalls of independent growers, importers, craftsmen, and bakers (this was where we lost out cronut innocence) lined up offering their goods to public nibbling. What, I ask you is not to like?! Everything from cocao nibs to chocolate beer was represented and absolutely all of it looked just as gorgeous as it tasted.
I’m going to mostly shut up from this point and let you soak in the goodness.
“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
― Charles M. Schulz
Chocolate has played a significant role in our social lives lately, so brace yourselves for a week of it here on Small Dog Cocoa Beans Lovers and Consumers, Inc. First stop on our tour of goodness, the Chocolate Museum in Brixton.
Frankly on its face it a bit…dinky. It’s not the museum’s fault. It’s a tiny, tiny two room independent establishment with about three display cases and a few wall displays of historic artifacts relating to the history of chocolate in Britain.
Which is a fascinating subject! Chocolate and coffee houses were places of major political and social unrest and discourse, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s rise as a sweet beverage (instead of its original state as a bitter, odd tasting thing drunk by the people of the New World) coincided directly with the rise of sugar…and therefore the slave trade – which Britain played a major role in both spreading and ending. Cadbury’s supported troops in the First World War with supplies (including chocolate of course), and in World War II converted part of their factory to to making airplane parts. Also during WWII chocolate was deemed an “essential food item” (truth!) and its manufacture and distrubution was carefully monitored, which it became a major black market item until rationing for it ended. While not on the level of Belgian, German, and Swiss chocolatiers, British candymakers are responsible for a lot of the popular appeal and commercial availability of chocolate. John Cadbury is the man responsible for inventing the method responsible for the creation of solid chocolate bars – for which humanity should be duly grateful.
In other words, yeah! Topic deserving of a museum! A museum with more than a couple of rooms.
But despite the seemingly limited setting, the Chocolate Museum has quite a few things going for it. First of all it puts on a number of chocolate making workshops and themed events throughout the year. Secondly it stocks some genuinely stellar chocolate items from artisan and free-trade growers and makers.
It was at one such event that Jeff and I made the museum’s acquaintance. Their Christmas Fair to be precise. Along with their wares, on display for nibbling, other artisans were invited to pair their offerings with the chocolates. Wine, beer, coffee, tea, cheese, breads, cured meats, and honey were prominent, but Jeff and I got distracted by a woman selling funky Italian, naturally made sodas.
We came away with lots of chocolate bars (ginger and lime for him, cardamon and nutmeg for me), and a hunk of farmhouse cheddar that was scrumptious. I’ll definitely be heading back to the Chocolate Museum, even though I’ve seen it in its entirety, for two reasons. First of all because I’ve not found cardamon flavored chocolate anywhere else that didn’t cost me an arm and a leg. Secondly because I believe strongly in supporting small museums dedicated to telling narrowly focused historical narratives.