|The Secret of Everyday Things|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|Fascinating conversations with Uncle Paul reveal the mysteries behind the dyeing and weaving of cloth, the lighting and heating of homes, the processing involved in bringing oil, coffee, tea, spices, and other foodstuffs to the table, and the power of water in all its manifestations. Excellent as follow-on to The Story Book of Science. Ages 11-14 |
N the hottest countries of the two Americas, notably in
Mexico, the Antilles, and Guiana, there is cultivated a
tree of about the size of our cherry-tree, called the
cacao or chocolate tree."
FRUITING BRANCH OF CACAO
"What a queer name that is—cacao!" Claire
exclaimed; "not a bit like any of our fruit-trees."
"This queer name has come down to us from the primitive
inhabitants of Mexico, a people who tattooed their red
skin with horrible designs and wore their hair standing
up in a menacing tuft adorned with hawks' feathers.
Their language was composed of harsh guttural sounds
which to our delicate ears would seem more like the
croaking of frogs than the speech of human beings. You
have a sample in the name of the tree I have just
mentioned. The Mexicans, when the Spanish visited them
for the first time under the lead of Fernando Cortez,
soon after the discovery of America by Columbus, were
at-  tention to the cultivation of the cacao tree, from
which they obtained their chief article of food,
"The same chocolate that is used for making those
delicious tables we all like so much?" asked Jules.
"The same, at least as far as the essential ingredients
are concerned. We owe the invention of chocolate to
the ancient savages of Mexico, ferocious Indians who
honored their idols by offering them human victims
whose throats they cut with the sharp edge of a flint.
The tree that furnishes the chief constituent of our
chocolate confectionery is the cacao, the name of which
sounds so harsh to your ears.
"This tree grows, as I said, to about the size of our
cherry-tree. Its leaves are large, smooth, and bright
green. Small pink flowers grouped in little clusters
along the branches are succeeded by fruit having the
shape and size of our cucumbers, with ten raised
longitudinal ribs as in melons. These cacao-pods, as
they are called, turn to a dark red when ripe. Their
contents are composed of soft white flesh, pleasantly
acid, in which are embedded from thirty to forty seeds
as large as olives and covered with a tough skin.
Freed from all these wrappings, the seeds take the name
of cacao-nibs and constitute the essential ingredient
"Much as in the case of coffee, cacao (also called
cocoa) is first roasted, a process that turns the white
kernels to a dark brown. That is the origin of the
brown color of chocolate. After roasting, the hard
 skin that covers the kernels is broken up and thrown
away; then the kernels themselves, first thoroughly
cleaned, are crushed on a very hard polished stone with
the aid of another stone or an iron roller. These
kernels are rich in fat somewhat resembling our
ordinary butter, and hence called cacao-butter."
"There is butter in those seeds, real butter such as we
get from milk?" asked Claire.
"Yes, my dear, real butter or something very similar.
Of what do the cow and the sheep make the butter that
we get from their milk? Evidently of the grass that
they eat. What wonder is it, then, that vegetation
should be able to produce butter if it can supply
animals with the materials for butter? I hope to come
back to this subject some day, and you will see that in
reality plants prepare the food that animals give us.
"But let us return to cacao-butter. To keep this fatty
substance fluid and thus facilitate the working of the
paste, it is customary to place live coals under the
stone on which the seeds are being crushed. With a
little heat the vegetable butter melts and forms, with
the slid matter of the seeds, a soft brown paste that
can be easily kneaded. With this paste is mixed, as
carefully as possible, an equal weight of sugar, then
some flavoring extract, usually vanilla, to give aroma
to the product; and the work is done. There is nothing
further needed except to mold the still soft chocolate
"Such is the composition of chocolate of superior
quality. But for the cheaper grades demanded by
 the trade it is customary to mix in certain ingredients
of less cost than cocoa, as for example the starchy
constituent of potatoes, corn, beans, and peas. It is
even said—but my faith in the honor of the
manufacturers makes me hesitate to believe
it—that there are so-called chocolates in which
not a particle of cocoa is present. Sugar, potato
flour, fat, and powdered brick are said to be the
"And that horrid trash is sold?" asked Marie
"Yes, it is sold; its low price attracts purchasers."
"If they offered it to me for nothing I wouldn't take
it," Claire asserted. "What a queer thing to
eat—a cake of brick!"
"It is never true economy to buy very cheap things.
The manufacturer and the merchant must make their
profit. And yet the buyer is always trying to beat
down the price. So what does the manufacturer do? He
substitutes something worthless for a part or all of
what has real value, and then sells his goods at
whatever price you please. He gives you something for
your money, it is true; but oftener than not you are
outrageously cheated. You have, let us say, only a
penny to spend on a cake of chocolate; you will get the
chocolate, but it will contain very little cocoa, or
none at all, a great deal of potato-flour, and perhaps
some powdered brick. You think you have driven a sharp
bargain; in reality you have been sadly duped. For
your penny you could have bought several potatoes,
which would have been a far better investment, and the
be-  sides, if you really care for that sort of thing.
Always be suspicious of marked-down goods, my children;
the low price is low only in appearance and much
exceeds the real value of the goods."
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