“You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.”
Like most relationships, my relationship with chocolate is complex. It is a legacy of fifty years of cumulative memories, some sad, others wonderful, that intertwine into the tapestry that is the narrative of my life. For me, musing on chocolate is akin to pulling a thread from this complex tapestry, which on it’s own is without context and is analogous to an archaeological artifact without provenance. A mere curio – no matter how evocative.
My first memory of chocolate playing a serious role in my life was from when I was around three or four years old. My Grandfather would come to visit us every day after work to “pick up his mail.” On hearing him park his car, and it was always a dark Cadillac, my sister and I would go running into his arms. He would pick us up, one at a time, and give us a loud wet kiss on our ear and whisper “howzeedodedo.”
Following this ritual, my sister and I would be jumping up and down, because we knew what would follow. He would look at us with his tender loving eyes, and then take off his bespoke fedora that always had a small colorful feather inserted into a tiny opening on the right side of the ribbon which encircled the brim. He would then slowly pull open the two flaps of his suit jacket to a chorus of high octane little girl squeals. And there, as if by magic, would be two chocolate bars. One on each side. They were always different. My sister and I would then have to make the serious decision of which one we would each take. After some serious-minded negotiations we would enter into his jacket, and take a bar. There, enveloped in his jacket, our Grandfather would give us a big hug. Until I was around ten, my Grandfather never missed a day, except when he was on vacation (although he would leave a bar for each day while he was gone).
The chocolate of my childhood was very sweet. Canadian chocolate bars of the 1960s were dominated by the British brands Cadbury and Rowntree’s. Back then a chocolate bar cost five cents. I remember this because when I was in Grade one I was given an allowance of ten cents. Twice a week I would go all by myself to the corner drug store and buy a chocolate bar.
There was no end to the countless chocolaty enticements that appealed to my childhood desires on early morning television.
I would watch and memorize the catchy soundtracks while having a healthy breakfast that would consist of a glass of Nestle Quick and sugary cereal.
In the 1960s there were so many kids. It was as if our parents, the post war generation, brought up on the narrative of war, loss and new beginnings, needed to repopulate the war’s lost generation. We were a gaggle of giggles that played outside, in our Buster Brown shoes, in multi-aged packs, staying out of parental sight. If your parental units caught your eye you would end up doing chores or going to bed on time.
Chocolate bars became a form of currency: “If you play with me I will give you half my chocolate bar.”
In my neighbourhood, there was one “luxury” European chocolate store: Splendid Chocolates. Splendid Chocolates were only for very special occasions. My Grandmother would buy a large bag of dark chocolate-covered coffee beans for family gatherings. To this day that bitter combination brings back sweet memories of a time before the family was fractured by divorces, personality disorders and deaths. Like all families, even on TV.
On hot summer days we would sometimes go to Little Italy, to the seriously exotic Sicilian La Paloma gelateria. The glass cases overflowed with flavours, some known and others mysterious. While of course over time I had to try them all, I had a particular fondness for Gianduja, a creamy combination of milk chocolate and hazelnut. Gianduja was invented in the Piedmont region of Italy near Turin during the Napoleonic wars. The region was under a British blockade, and Michele Prochet, a chocolatier, extended his precious chocolate supply by adding the local Langhe-sourced powdered hazelnuts, and a gastronomic star was born. Then, later this evolved into bacio (to smother somebody with kisses in Italian).
In the 1970s a new candy store opened in the neighbourhood called The Wiz. The Wiz imported the full spectrum of American chocolate bars that were being deprived of Canadian consumers. A dentist’s delight.
The seventies saw an improvement in chocolate availability in the hood with the opening of the Patachou Patisserie minutes away from the local high school. There I learned to eat real French pastries dripping with high quality chocolate, my favourite pain au chocolate. My life was never to be the same.
The 70s was a period of endless parties, dating and heart-wrenching break ups. Each accompanied with music and chocolate for every occasion: celebratory songs and chocolate, am I going to get lucky songs and chocolate, heart breaking and heart mending songs and chocolate…
In 1977, like so many estrogen sputtering teenagers, I didn’t really eat much and existed on coffee, powdered chicken broth, yogurt and wine for a year. Not even a carre de chocolat. I wore all black and listened to dead French singers and hung with the artsy crowd.
In the early 80’s I moved to Germany for three years. There I discovered a world of chocolate I didn’t know existed. It stared with Ritter Sport bars, then as I began to travel more broadly, primarily in Germany, France and Switzerland, I really became a connoisseur of chocolate. I finally graduated from milk chocolate and chocolates (I had a particular fondness for Leonidas and Teuscher) to the bitter sweet, then extremely bitter sweet – serious adult fare.
Twenty pounds later, and well earned pounds they were, it was time to go home and head off to university, get a job, raise a family. Each life event added chocolate memories. Memories of my kids coming home after skating and warming themselves over steaming cups of hot chocolate, and as they got older, with shots of liquor (my favourite being Frangelico). Memories of making chocolate truffles which ended in an epic chocolate fight (does wonder for your hair), Paris chocolate tours…
“We become accustomed to luxury – or at least to our own idea of luxury – much more quickly than it’s absence… Where elegance is concerned, the greater the luxury, the more discreet it is – until finally, after advancing through more and more exclusive and restrictive stages, you reach the point of ultimate luxury which is imperceptible to everyone but you.”
- Genevieve Antoine Dariaux