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Christmas Foods and Traditions: Chocolate

Tosier making the Royal Chocolate

Thomas Tosier Making the Royal Chocolate at the Hampton Court Place

The Spanish first brought the cocoa bean to Europe from Central America. Cocoa pods fell from the cocoa tree or were cut off. The cocoa pods were easy to harvest because they grew on the trunk of the tree or on large branches near the ground. The harvested pods were split open and the pulp and cocoa seeds were removed and then placed in heaps to ferment. The heaps were rotated for several days and after the fermented pulp trickled away, the cocoa seeds were collected. These seeds were dried and bagged and sent to all parts of the world by ship.

Cocoa Pods

Cocoa Pods

The Chocolate Kitchen and Chocolate Room were built at Hampton Court Palace for William and Mary around 1689, but it was mainly used by the Georgian kings. The Chocolate Kitchen was a spicery to provide the spices for cooking and to make confectionaries of sweet treats.  The Chocolate Room provided the beautiful serving equipment used to present the chocolate to the king. China, delftware, and chocolate pots with molinet whisks, would have been placed on delicate glass serving dishes to serve chocolate to the King. The molinet is a wooden, ridged whisk with a long handle that is unique to chocolate making. It is inserted into a chocolate pot and pushed through the top lid. A final whisk is given before the chocolate is served. Chocolate up until the 19th century was served mostly as a luke-warm drink for breakfast. The Chocolate Rooms were situated near the back stairs to the king’s apartments and this is where we find Thomas Tosier.

Thomas Tosier was the personal chocolate maker of George I (and George II) from 1717. This was a prestigious position among the royal staff, but it was not a new position. Even before the construction of the Chocolate Kitchen at Hampton Court Palace, there had been royal chocolate makers.

Chocolate was high-status, luxurious and only for the elite, and so it is no surprise that those who worked with chocolate were highly-respected individuals. Prior to working for the King, Tosier had already established ‘The Chocolate House’, on Chocolate Row (now West Grove) in Greenwich, London, which was very popular with fashionable London society and one of the first places in London to serve chocolate. This set them apart from the “coffee house,” which had a much more popular following, because more people could afford to drink coffee. Tosier, already was well known and working in his praised establishment so the promotion to “Chocolate Maker to the King” established him further. It also made his wife, Grace, a celebrity in her own right. (we’ll learn more about Grace Tosier tomorrow)

So what did Tosier’s employment as the King’s Chocolate Maker mean?

Well, for one thing, it didn’t mean being part of the kitchen staff. Instead the Royal Chocolate Maker was highly respected as part of the ceremonial or personal staff of the monarch. Tosier would not have done the hard work of roasting and grinding. He would have had servants for that. Tosier would have done the delicate work of flavoring the chocolate and serving it with a final flourish. He was in charge of handling expensive and exotic ingredients and he was one of the few who had privilege and permission to enter the king’s bedchamber. Tosier was responsible for making and taking a cup of chocolate to George I in his bed chamber every morning. One of the perks of his employment was his own bedroom……. a luxury and an honor for a servant at Court.

So how was the chocolate made from the beans you ask? 

First the beans were roasted in a large metal container in front of the fire and turned by the spit boy. The roasted beans are covered in a brittle ‘shell’ which were painstakingly removed by the kitchen boy, splitting the shells and revealing the internal ‘nib’.

These nibs must be ground and placed on a ‘Metate’ – a large stone. This stone is heated from below with charcoal and the nibs are crushed with a stone, or iron roller.

Metate

Metate

Both the warmth and the friction of the roller and stone turn the nibs to a liquid paste. The more this is rolled, the better tasting the chocolate. The poor kitchen boy would have spent many hours rolling the nibs!

The liquid paste is taken from the stone and set, sometimes on waxed papers in discs, or often in little tin moulds to make a ‘brick’, ‘cake’ or ‘bar’. These blocks of chocolate are known as ‘chocolate cakes’. Cake in this case means piece, as in a cake of soap. This is a lot of work to make a cake of chocolate!

The processed ‘chocolate cake’ is put into a pot or pan and heated with a liquid – water, milk or even wine. Then the chocolate maker adds sugar and spices such as vanilla or a chilli pepper before serving with a flourish to the king.

It was not just the chocolate makers who benefited from this relationship. For a monarch, like George I, it was a status symbol to be able to afford your own personal chocolate maker. Just as sugar had been a symbol of status in the court of Elizabeth I, so too was chocolate, now in the courts of the European monarchs. This was a sign of kingship and power, in a period which lavish opulence was becoming more and more part of royal showmanship. George I insisted on keeping a chocolate chef on his staff. Tosier’s employment was not only a statement to George’s new countrymen in Britain, but was also a declaration of his position as King to the wider, European aristocrats. George I wished to be seen as modern and powerful monarch, who could compete with the rest of Europe. Tosier and his chocolate work were key in making this statement.

See you tomorrow in the ‘Chocolate House’ with Grace Tosier!

 

  

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