Written by Sam’l Arnold and excerpted from Eating Up the Santa Fe Trail.
Tablets or slabs of chocolate have been cherished by New Mexican chocolate fanciers for nearly four centuries. In probate inventories, slabs of chocolate were listed among the estate assets of New Mexicans as early as the 17th century. Shortly after the Spanish invasion of Mexico in the early 16th century, Fray Bernardino de Sahagun listed orange, black and white chocolate, sometimes mixed with sweetening or purple flowers, in his book General History of the Things of New Spain. He indicated that chocolate was a beverage primarily of the nobleman or rich merchant. It was believed to have a hallucinogenic effect, rather like magic mushrooms, and was also considered an aphrodisiac.
In the Yucatan, they still make chocolate from the original Mayan recipe. They simply boil one tablet of Mexican chocolate (chocolate, sugar and cinnamon) in one cup of water for about five minutes to extract the flavor from the beans. Then, the mixture is beaten until frothy and served. It’s quite different from the milk mixture, and has a water-based taste, rather like drinking instant coffee with chocolate flavoring.
In southern Mexico, women still buy cacao beans, sugar and almonds. At the store, the cacao and almonds are poured into a grinding machine, which extrudes a satin-smooth, sticky chocolate. As it emerges, this chocolate is sprinkled with sugar to keep it from sticking to the container below. It is ground a second time with a large quantity of sugar, then taken home, molded into small tablets and dried for later.
European colonists in the United States began drinking chocolate as early as the 17th century, and by the mid-1800s it was advertised in newspapers around the country. Susan Magoffin, the wife of a fur trader who traveled the Santa Fe Trail in 1840, described her meals in El Paso as follows: “We have chocolate every morning on rising, breakfast about 10 o’clock, dinner at two, chocolate again at dark and supper at 9 o’clock.” It’s no wonder chocolate continues to be a universally popular treat to this day!