Like most chocolate addicts, when the movie Chocolat came out, I wanted to know just what was in that magical chocolate drink Vianne made that turned Armande into a real live girl again. I wished I had a recipe like that, to use on the Curmudgeons and the Irascibles in my life. Cranky old farts really just need some cheering up with chocolate.
Well, now I'm a cranky old fart, and dammit, I need some cheering up. So, I went in search of the recipe to see if there even was such a thing, since the Mayans themselves have disappeared.
As it turns out, there is no definitive recipe. Nothing written in hieroglyphs on any wall or pot. Unfortunately. But my search did turn up some interesting stuff.
The Mayan people were drinking chocolate as a beverage of some kind as far back as 2600 years ago, according to residue found in a ceramic "tea pot" at the Mayan site of Rio Azul in northeastern Guatemala. Shown left is one of three spouted vessels from Colha in Northern Belize that was found to contain a cacao residue. The spouted vessel dates to between 600 B.C. and A.D. 250.
But some historians believe the origins of chocolate go back even further:
Michael Coe, co-author of The True History of Chocolate, believes based on a slew of evidence, some linguistic, that the roots of chocolate go much further back to the great Olmec civilization, which preceded the Maya.
"The Maya derived a lot of their high culture from the Olmec," said Coe, also professor emeritus of anthropology at Yale. "Even the word 'cacao' is not a native Maya word—it's Olmec." The Olmec lived in the southern Gulf of Mexico between 1500 and 500 B.C., and their influence extended to Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Costa Rica, and El Salvador
Mayan life may have been echoing the Olmec culture, but it seems they took chocolate to a whole new level in their own. Chocolate was part of every meal, although not in the sweet form we think of today. And chocolate "beans" were used as money. According to this site, a handful of cacao beans could buy you a slave!
In searching for the historical recipe, it's helpful to look at present day recipes. Barbara Fash, professor in Harvard's department of Anthropology says that
today, descendants of the early Maya still offer cacao to the gods, leaving their gifts in caves. Mostly however, chocolate has become a common item, but retains much of its earlier flavor. Fash describes tiste -- a chocolate drink she has had in Copán, Honduras, where Harvard's cacao pot was crafted many centuries before. This is a powdered mixture of toasted cacao, toasted maize, sugar, cinnamon and achiote which provides a red color. This mixture is ground into a powder and then added to milk or water. Mole, a Mexican chocolate sauce served over chicken, also contains chile and cinnamon, the ancient mainstays.
These recipes may carry some remnant of the past, hand-me-down elements that provide the foundation for many of the recipes I found. Some of these sound pretty true to the mark, but I'm going to try them all to see which I like best.
- Tallyrand's Culinary Fare describes how to make your own chocolate, roasting, grinding and all, plus includes 2 recipes they call Mayan "xocoatl" and Aztec "Cacahuatl".
- What's Cooking America has a recipe that sounds very authentic.
- Native Foods' Mayan Hot Chocolate is a simpler recipe, worth a try
- Andreas.com has a Mayan Hot Cocoa recipe inspired by the movie Chocolat, and resulting from much experimentation. A definite possibility.
I'll let you know what I think of these various recipes after I've given them all a try, so check back later for updates. I'm off to the grocery store now for ingredients (and a double latte!!).