Be Mine: Chocolate and Valentines

Be Mine: Chocolate and Valentines
The Roots of Valentine’s Day Traditions
Old Sturbridge Village: Feb. 9th & 10th

Historians at Old Sturbridge Village will celebrate the history of Valentines in America and demonstrate old-fashioned chocolate-making with “Be Mine: Chocolate and Valentines,” a weekend program set for Saturday and Sunday Feb. 9-10, 2013. – UPDATE: Due to the impending storm, the Village will be closed, Friday, February 8 and Saturday, February 9.

[02/08/13 UPDATE: OSV will be closed Sat., Feb. 9th and opened Sun. Feb. 10th]

The tradition of having chocolate on Valentine’s Day is a longstanding one – it has been around since the early days of New England, even!  Today’s Valentine’s traditions tend not to involve a lot of homemade chocolate or laborious preparations, however – usually we buy our chocolates at the grocery store or, in the most thoughtful of cases, from a local candy shop.  However, early Americans spent a lot of time preparing their delicious chocolate foods – a tradition that families can learn about this weekend at Old Sturbridge Village!

The village’s annual Be Mine: Chocolate and Valentines offers families a chance to learn about the history of chocolate – how it was prepared, where it came from, and how it was eaten.  Cacao beans were processed and ground by early New Englanders in order to create things like a spicy hot chocolate-style drink or a chocolate cake – with a surprising secret ingredient!  There will be both displays and demonstrations from which families can learn about 19th century chocolate-making techniques.  Do you know where the first Americans were supplied their chocolate from?  Before visiting, watch a video on the history of chocolate to learn some useful background information on the process of acquiring and preparing cocoa beans!

Along with chocolate, Valentine’s Day brings the sharing of valentine cards!  Since the roots of this tradition are local, the village will have special educational programs and hands-on activities on this topic, too!  Families can learn about the Worcester resident whose humble handmade card business blossomed into a large card-making company and, eventually, the huge tradition of Valentine’s Day cards that we have today.  Then, make your own valentines to share – inspired by images of antique cards shared by villages in the 1800’s.

Families can use a visit to the village to make this Valentine’s Day an educational one, rather than a commercialized one!  Students can exerience the roots of some of the traditions that they participate in, and will learn to better understand early American culture.  The village is open from 9:30am-4pm on both Saturday, February 9th and Sunday, February 10th.  More information and a complete schedule of events is available on the village’s website.

Did You Know?


  • Spanish conquistadors brought chocolate from Central America back to Spain in the 16th century.  From there, it traveled through Europe, to England, and back to America.
  • Early versions of “chocolate cake” do not actually contain any chocolate. The name means that the cake was intended to be enjoyed with a cup of chocolate, just as “coffee cake” today is meant to be served with coffee.
  • Boston pharmacists advertised chocolate as a medicinal remedy as early as 1712, and by the late 1700s, there were hundreds of chocolate vendors in the city.
  • Chocolate was drunk as a medicine during the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and by California Gold Rush miners, but later in the 19th century, with the addition of milk and more sugar, chocolate was preferred more as a confection than as a health tonic.
  • New manufacturing processes developed during the Industrial Revolution transformed chocolate from an expensive drink into an inexpensive food.  By the late 1800s, chocolate was widely advertised to women and children through colorful posters and trade cards, and its iconic status as the world’s preferred candy was secured.


  • The best known legend about St. Valentine has that he was a Roman martyr killed for his faith on February 14, 269 A.D. He may have been a priest who married couples in spite of the Emperor’s ban.
  • Valentine’s Day, like Christmas and many other Christian holidays, was originally an attempt to Christianize popular pagan festivals.  In pagan Rome, February 14 was dedicated to the goddess Juno (Hera in Greek mythology), wife of Jupiter (Zeus) and patroness of women and marriage.
  • Few New Englanders marked Valentine’s Day before its rise in the increasingly sentimental and economically prosperous 1840s.
  • As with other holidays, those who made money from Valentine’s Day encouraged its observance. In the 1840s when printing technology improved, sending handwritten notes and printed cards became even more popular. Enterprising shopkeepers encouraged the exchange of gloves, books, candy, and other gifts among a growing middle class.
  • Esther Howland, of Worcester, Mass. began designing fancy Valentine cards in 1848, and hired girls to help cut and paste together these small works of art. By 1850 she was advertising her cards in the newspaper, and by 1860 she was selling between $50,000 and $100,000 worth of Valentines annually.

(Source: Old Sturbridge Village)

Discover the Science of a Microwave with Chocolate

by Robert Krampf

Combine science and chocolate to learn about how microwave ovens work.

This week’s experiment turned into a two parter.  It started out as one experiment, but it just kept getting longer and longer.  Over the years I have learned that people are much less likely to read a long experiment (much less try it), so I chopped it in half.

Part of the reason it got so long was that it is such a neat experiment.  How often do you get a chance to examine electromagnetic radiation and even measure its wavelength (next week) while melting and eating chocolate?

To try this, you will need:

  • a microwave oven
  • waxed paper
  • several chocolate bars
  • a large plastic, glass, or paper plate.  Do not use metal!

Start by looking at the inside of the oven.  If it has a turntable to rotate the food (most do), remove it.  We want the chocolate to stay in one place, not move around.

Cover the plate with waxed paper, and then place the chocolate bars (unwrapped) on the plate to form a solid layer.  You want the layer of chocolate to be as flat and even as possible.

Place the plate of chocolate in the oven and set the timer for 30 seconds.  Depending on your oven, you may have to cook it a bit longer, but I learned from experience (see this week’s video) that cooking too long gives you a LOT of smoke and a mess.

After 30 seconds of cooking, check the results.  You should find that there are spots where the chocolate is melted, and maybe burned, and other places where it is not melted at all.   Why?

Your microwave oven works by producing microwave radiation.  No, its not radioactive!  This is electromagnetic radiation, which also includes visible light, radio waves, ultraviolet light, radar, etc.  Microwaves can cause water molecules to vibrate, producing heat to cook your food.  OK, so why does your oven have hot spots, instead of cooking evenly?

Instead of just blasting microwaves around, your oven produces something called a standing wave.  The easiest way to imagine a standing wave is to look at one.  Get several feet of rope, and tie one end to a doorknob.  Hold the other end move back to take up most of the slack.  You don’t want the rope tight.  Start shaking the rope up and down, and notice the way the rope wiggles.  By adjusting how fast you shake the rope, you can find the point where it produces a stable pattern.  Some parts of the rope will always be moving up and down, while other points will not move much at all.  Its easier to see in the video than it is to describe, but you should recognize the pattern when you see it.  That is a standing wave.  The points where the wave is moving up and down a lot would be the part of the wave that produces a lot of heating in the oven, producing the burned spots.  The part of the wave that does not move much would not produce much heat, giving you the cooler spots in the oven.  That is why you need a turntable to move the food through the hot spots, to heat it evenly.

Reprinted with permission. © 2008. Robert Krampf’s Science Education

Non-Commercial Way to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Be Mine: Chocolate & Valentines
Non-Commercial Way to Celebrate Valentine’s Day
February 11th & 12th at Old Sturbridge Village

Discover the history of chocolate and Valentine cards at OSV this weekend. A visit to the village during the special Valentine weekend is a way to celebrate Valentine’s Day non-commercially, and is also a great way to teach kids about life in early America!

Even when you’re immersed in the 19th century at Old Sturbridge Village, Valentine’s Day is still about sharing cards and eating chocolate.  OSV’s “Be Mine: Chocolate and Valentines” takes place from 9:30am to 4pm this coming weekend, February 11th and 12th.  Visitors to the village will learn about the history of chocolate in the United States, as well as how Valentine cards became an important part of celebrating Valentine’s Day.  Historians at the village will show visitors the process of grinding roasted cacao beans to use in making chocolate cake and a spicy hot chocolate drink (not like the hot chocolate we have today!).  Kids can create their own Valentines, an activity that they may be eager to take part in after learning where the tradition comes from (Hint: it involves a stationery maker, his young daughter, and an English tradition!)!  A visit to the village during the special Valentine weekend is a way to celebrate Valentine’s Day non-commercially, and is also a great way to teach kids about life in early America!  Learning about early customs and traditions can spark a discussion on the evolution of culture, and can supplement learning about customs and traditions for many different holidays in a variety of cultures.  For more information, visit or call OSV at 800-733-1830.

Chocolate in the Hilltowns

Night of Love and Chocolate!


I just got friended by my dad on Facebook. Me, I got nothing to hide that I would show on Facebook anyway, but then I thought about the nieces who may. I know that one of my nieces told me not to judge her when I friended her, and so I don’t; the stuff she’s doing is way less dangerous than what I was doing at her age!

So then I started thinking that all grandparents should sign up for Facebook and friend all of their grandchildren. I’m thinking that if every kid had their grandpa as a filter for everything they thought about posting, they would probably keep themselves out of trouble later on when they apply for jobs and wish they hadn’t put those stupid naked pictures of themselves at the last office party on their page. So that’s my thought; I’m still trying to find goodness in Facebook.


Welcome to the Land of Tiny Streets! The more it snows the less space there is for the snow to go and the streets get narrower and narrower up here! My own street in Ashfield, I believe, only passable by one and a half cars at a time. Fortunately we don’t have many cars on this street so we haven’t had a stand-off yet. But even Main Street is down to the two lanes, only, no room for swerving. The other snow-wonder is how icicles know what to do—which way to do. You’ll have all these icicles going straight down and then, all of a sudden you get three snaggle-tooth ones that jut out from the building. Why did they do that? Are they just making a statement? I have one outside my door that suddenly has a curvaceous twist to it. It didn’t have that day before yesterday; what is it up to?


Update on Mr. Christmas Tree who I threw out last week: So, he was lying there in the snow at the back door, trying to get back in, looking sad and desperate, when all of a sudden a roof-alanche slid off and buried him! He just has a few plaintive little branches grasping at the air, frozen in time. Poor guy, this whole thing is my fault: I brought him inside, I made him the toast of the living room, I took him out of his natural habitat and warmed him up with lights, made him feel safe and warm and then I PUSHED him out into the snow! Just PUSHED him! I feel bad.


Okay! It’s almost Valentine’s Day! And we’re celebrating it this Friday night (2/11/11) with Elmer’s Night of Love and Chocolate (there are so few events that we actually do more than one year that you know if we’re bring it back it’s because it was so good the first time!)!

And this just in: Chef Jim Dion is coming back to make the dinner portion of our evening! Mary will be out of town this weekend, and so our old buddy Jim is coming back to make the dinner hors d’hoeuvres! (I have no idea how to spell that word and neither does Spellcheck. If you do, let me know before it drives you crazy.)

Elmer’s Second Annual Night of Love and Chocolate this Friday, Feb 11th beginning at 5pm at the Inn: hors d’houvres and tapas-sized dinners; whatever you want, as much as you want – made by Chef Jim Dion!  Then, Chocolate: Chocolate Mousse Roullade Cake; Flourless Chocolate Layer Cake; Raspberry Ganache Tort; Espresso Ganache Tort; Vanilla Ginger Ganache Tort; Strawberry fondue; Pretzels & cookies fondues; Dark Chocolate Truffles; Habanero Truffles; and Hot Pepper Toffee Popcorn. ($$) – You don’t have to be in love to enjoy this-you can just love chocolate and good company. Call 628-4003 for reservations.


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”

Chocolate Scorecard: 7 Ways to Get Child Labor Out of Your Holiday Candy

Is There Child Slave Labor In Your Child’s Halloween Candy?

Get child labor out of your chocolates for Halloween and the holidays. Click on the card to down load this chocolate scorecard from Green America.

Good news for parents this Halloween: It’s easier than ever to avoid buying chocolate from Hershey, the largest U.S. chocolate company. Hershey fails to ensure that child labor is not part of its chocolate. Two major reports this September called out Hershey’s failure and the prevalence of egregious child labor, forced labor and trafficking abuses in the cocoa sector in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana where Hershey sources much of its cocoa.

Just in time for Halloween, Thanksgiving and the December holidays, the independent, non-profit Green America has outlined seven ways to find and give Fair Trade chocolate people can feel good about, and take constructive actions to get Hershey to go Fair Trade.

  1. Use the new “Get Child Labor Out of Your Chocolates Scorecard” to shop online. Among the “A” ranked alternatives to Hershey chocolate are Alter Eco, Coco-Zen, Divine, Equal Exchange, Shama, Sjaak’s, Sweet Earth Organic and Theo Chocolate, all of which are Fair Trade. All of Hershey’s competitors have some form of labor certification for their chocolate, leaving Hershey as the only company on the list without one. Confused by what all of those certification symbols mean? The Scorecard includes a short overview of the most widely used labels and explains what they mean.
  2. Shop for Fair Trade chocolate locally. You can find dozens of locations around the U.S. online here. Other places to check in Western MA are River Valley Co-op (Northampton), Cornucopia (Northampton), Whole Foods (Hadley & Williamstown), Green Fields Market (Greenfield), and Berkshire Co-op Market (Great Barrington).
  3. Fair Trade Your Halloween. You can hand out bite-sized Fair Trade chocolates and let parents of Trick-or-Treaters know why Fair Trade matters. In addition, thousands of families across the US are taking part in local “reverse trick-or-treating” to educate other families about the abuse of children in the cocoa production.
  4. Help raise awareness by holding a screening in your home of “The Dark Side of Chocolate.” Filmmakers Miki Mistrati and U. Robin Romano traveled to cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire and what they found was dark. Few improvements have been made on the ground and egregious labor rights abuses continue, years after major chocolate companies committed to ending this exploitation. Get more information about how to get involved here
  5. Take Green America’s new action targeting Hershey. Don’t just avoid Hershey chocolates; let this company know what you think. Go here to send your message to a Hershey’s executive now.
  6. Take action on Facebook. You can start by “liking” Hilltown Families or Green America’s latest posts about Hershey, so your friends can see them. You can also go to Hershey‘s Facebook page and leave your own comments for them and their customers to see. Every few days, Hershey posts a new question designed to keep up the chatter on their page, constantly exposing their brand to more eyeballs. That’s where you can add your comments about expecting Hershey to be more responsible.
  7. Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. You’ll find all the background information that you need for your letter to the editor by downloading the “Time to Raise the Bar” report.

Green America Corporate Social Responsibility Director, Todd Larsen, said:

We understand that parents who may become aware of the concerns regarding Hershey chocolate and abusive child labor may feel powerless to do anything about it. That’s why we want them to know that there are constructive actions they can take to make a difference. While Hershey pays its CEO $8 million annually, the company is doing little to end the practice of forced child labor in cocoa-growing regions, where many children are not paid for their labor and are abused. This corporate giant is hoping that parents will throw up their hands and just go along as they always have in the past. Our message is simple: You can be sure that you are not putting child slave labor in your child’s Halloween bag or those of other children.

  • K-6 Teachers: Click Here for Fair Trade Cocoa Curriculum

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New England History and Chocolate are Celebrated at the Historic Deerfield Museum in February

Bring the Family to the Historic Deerfield Museum
7th Annual American Heritage Chocolate Celebration
February 13th, 2010

Looking to satisfy both the history buff and the sweet tooth in you? There is no better way than to enjoy a fun-filled day with sweet chocolate aromas, captivating lectures, and most important-chocolate treats! The seventh annual American Heritage Chocolate Celebration at Historic Deerfield on February 13, 2010, is an exploration of everything chocolate including a sumptuous array of gourmet chocolate desserts, foods, and beverages.

The 2010 Chocolate Celebration will include a range of informed presentations on the history of the favorite food including a special presentation by Curator of Historic Interiors, Amanda Lange. Lange’s talk titled Sweet Concoctions: A History of Chocolate in Early America will feature her research used in the recent chocolate anthology Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage released earlier this year by by Wiley Press.

In addition, Bob Heiss, food professional and owner/proprietor of Cooks Shop Here in Northampton, MA, will give a special talk and tasting titled Exploring and Tasting a Favorite Treat. And Eric Whitacre, Executive Director of the Confectioners Mill Preservation Society, will speak about his efforts to create a museum devoted to the history of chocolate mills in early America.

To really have the full chocolate sensory experience, visitors can visit with Susan McLellan Plaisted, Proprietress of Heart to Hearth Cookery, as she roasts cacao beans over the open hearth and grinds them on a stone metate.

Historic Deerfield guides will also present highlights tours of the Museum’s Attic focusing on collections associated with the preparation and serving of stimulating beverages, such as tea, coffee and chocolate. See master silversmith Steve Smithers as he works to recreate a silver chocolate pot from the Historic Deerfield collection. Taste American Heritage Chocolate, and create your own Valentine using decorative papers.


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Chocolate Doodle Doo! & the Case of the Missing Menus in the Hilltowns

Notes from Nan: Admonition of the Week
in Which You Learn a Whole Lot About the Restaurant Business
BY HF Contributing Writer, Nan Parati

So, there it was: Sunday morning at 8:00 on the second morning of the Crafts Festival that we were producing. Sundays are always busy and this one portended to be busier than usual. It had snowed, and an unknown person from New Jersey had parked overnight in the Elmer’s side lot so that Mike couldn’t plow it. (Admonition inside the admonition of the week: No overnight parking at Elmer’s on plow nights.) And we had drawn lots of people through heavy advertising to come to Elmer’s and we couldn’t plow.

Then the phone rang and it was our dishwasher (on the morning of the potentially very busy Sunday) saying that she had just sliced her finger pretty badly and probably would not be able to wash dishes that morning, so we had to find another sixteen year-old happy to give up their Sunday to wash dishes the whole dang day since we were going to serve lunch until 4:00, as well. Then the hostess person who is never, never, never late, was and the message the Verizon lady was giving me was that her number had been disconnected with no further information.

So to recap: No plowing, no dishwasher, no hostess and lots of people. Are you with me? So THEN (now this is where you potentially come in) the people started coming in for their breakfast, we picked up the menus to seat them with and no fewer than ten menus (out of 25) had had the main pages stolen out of them so that all we had were the “Tea and Coffee” page on the back.

That was when I started swearing like a parrot. I was cool until the menus were gone because in the middle of all there was to do I had to go and print and assemble a pile of new menus. Richard from Cummington (who happened to be in the general direction I was swearing in) tried to cheer me up by saying I should be flattered that people wanted to take the menus. If we did not have a whole stack of “to go” menus for the asking, I might go for that. But I did not. So I think you know what the admonition of this week is, and so, if you have a purloined menu at your house, hang your head and feel bad.

But here’s something nice:

Sunday morning before all that happened, I got up at 5:30 to get ready for all I had to do. The individual panes of my windows were highlighted with that classic U-shaped frost that is in all storybook pictures and just beyond them was a brand new blanket of snow lit up yellow with the light from Anna’s window where I could see her baking bread to take to Elmer’s. The fir trees were laden with snow and it was blue all around where there wasn’t otherwise light and I thought to myself, “This looks just like an illustration!” which it did! The light from Anna’s was warm like the bread would be and I felt very happy and at home. So that was nice. And then I went to work where (see Admonition above.)

FANCY CHOCOLATE EVENT IN ASHFIELD: Friday, December 11th, 2009

Okay! So I thought of a name for the chocolate event! It’s called:

Chocolate Doodle Doo!
With Chocolate Chef Alan Crofut!

Heirloom Chocolate Cake
Photo credit: gelskitchen

We’re going to start with a quiet dinner at Elmer’s:

  • Pan-seared Salmon
  • With Sidehill Farm Riatta (a dill-cucumber yogurt sauce)
  • Herb-roasted potatoes
  • With Garlic Swiss Chard

Or Vegetarians:

  • Sidehill Farm Paneer with riatta
  • Herb-roasted potatoes
  • With Garlic Swiss Chard

at Elmer’s. And then you go across the street (with your little golden ticket) and where you will get to eat more chocolate than you’ve ever seen in your whole life:

  • Chocolate Mousse
    Creamy smooth, rich, flavorful & satisfying.
    Served over chocolate sponge cake with whipped cream and garnish.
  • Cayenne Mousse
    Mousse with Cayenne Pepper, compliments red wines nicely.
    Served in bowl, colored chocolate “taco chips” are used for dipping.
  • Chocolate Cheesecake
    Thick, heavy, rich, guaranteed to scare any diet away in one bite
  • Chocolate Ganache Cake
    Flourless cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. Like eating a truffle.
  • Chocolate Ganache Torts
    Layers of dark chocolate can’t hide the layer of flavor in the middle – Cappuccino, Raspberry, Vanilla Ginger
  • There will be plates of chocolates as well. Mints, Caramel, Raspberry, Espresso, Toffee

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