For Louth Literary Coven’s November gathering, we chose an illuminating combination of literature and craft chocolate that delved deep into the secrets of a Lincolnshire family and the ancestry of fine cacao.
The obvious choice for craft chocolate paired with memories of Chapel St Leonards on the Lincolnshire coast was Duffy’s Chocolate, based just a little further north in Cleethorpes. Tempting as it was to do a full line up of Duffy’s Chocolate, the book’s pursuit of truth took us right across the globe, so I felt the chocolate choice should follow suit.
On Chapel Sands opens with the traumatic abduction of a small child on a Lincolnshire beach, an event that is forgotten surprisingly quickly as you are drawn into the pictures, recollections and mysteries of Beth’s childhood. As the book progresses, the discoveries that seemingly shed light on the behaviour of Beth’s parents only pose more questions about their actions and relationships.
As we all live very close to Chapel St Leonards, with most of us having grown up in Lincolnshire, we were fascinated by the references to local history and familiar places. We also loved the use of artists and their work to help decode and interpret the everyday lives of the Lincolnshire villagers.
My chocolate choices were inspired by the book’s theme of nature versus nurture. This gave us the opportunity to look at how a bar’s character is influenced by both the inherited, genetic profile of the cacao, and the post-harvest and making processes.
The terms Criollo, Forastero or Trinitario seen on craft chocolate bars relate, in very general terms, to the variety of cacao beans used to make them and give clues to their ancestry and potential taste profile. I chose the following bars initially for their variety, but their origin and maker also have significance as you will see:
(N.B. Spoilers present in the discussion of chocolate pairings)
Soma Chocolatemaker, Guasare, Venezuela 70% (Hilda)
The first craft chocolate pairing combined a bar made with the ‘mother’ of cacao (Criollo beans from Guasare) and Beth’s birth mother Hilda.
The strong, enticing aroma, beautifully smooth texture and the initial bold cocoa and coffee notes evolved into a much gentler and more sophisticated experience. We deliberated over the identity of the jam and fruit notes. The talk of jam reminded us of the heart-warming tart-making scene in Hilda’s family bakery during the first part of Beth’s story; her only memory of those early years was the smell of warm strawberry jam.
The chocolate was complex and beautifully balanced, but these characteristics challenged our knowledge of Hilda and the decisions she had taken; we realised we didn’t have sufficient evidence to judge her as a person or as a mother.
Pralus, Bresil Forastero 75% (George)
Our next match was a Forestero bar, the second parent variety with Beth’s father George. The strong but flat chocolate profile was a stark contrast to the nuanced flavours and complexity of the Criollo beans of the previous bar. A contrast that made the coming together of George and Hilda equally poignant. Such a strange combination! This bar greeted us with a robust aroma of roasted nuts and molasses. A smooth, slow and balanced melt revealed deep roasted flavours, the hints of acidity being overpowered by the treacly and dark sugar notes.
We pondered over what we knew about George: was he strong and bitter or just frustrated and simply resigned to his fate? If he had been born in a different time with the option of divorce and a chance to cultivate his more creative abilities would George have been a different person or would his apparent lack of emotion and suppressive nature still dominate his character?
Duffy’s Dominican Republic Taino 65% (Veda)
We turned then to the Trinitario varieties, the descendants or hybrids created by the coupling of the Criollo and Forastero. This hybridisation of cacao has continued ever since that first union, making the genetic pool rich and complex. Veda, Beth’s adoptive mother, brings a new personality into the mix and Beth’s parentage is not, as we discover, straightforward. I therefore chose Trinitarios for both Veda and Beth, selecting bars from the same maker and region to create the environmental link between them.
Our ‘Veda’ is a Dominican Republic bar presenting us with a smoky aroma, with hints of sweet fruit. This felt really sweet after the previous bar: honey sweet, muscovado sweet, pineapple sweet. Too sweet for Veda. It had character but less pronounced than both the Criollo and Forastero bars and without a hint of bitterness. This comparatively more reserved profile was a more successful match for Veda.
Duffy’s Dominica 70% (Beth)
The final craft chocolate pairing brought together our protagonist Beth with Duffy’s new Dominica bar made with beans of uncertain parentage which I presumed to be Trinitario.
We debated whether we could detect any traces of the Criollo and Forastero ancestry, or if it had more in common with the Trinitario from the not too far away island of Hispaniola. The aroma was certainly more in line with Duffy’s Dominican Republic bar: mild but distinctive with red fruit notes, and the sweetness was there too.
Our silent appreciation, along with the complex taste experience suggested Criollo origins. Not a whisper of the bold, overbearing Forastero bar though. We think this would have pleased Beth considering her feelings towards her father.
Overall, we felt the style and flavour delivery of the Dominica bar had more in common with the Dominican Republic bar. Just as Veda’s presence had helped shape Beth’s personality, the maker Duffy has teased out and developed the distinct, intrinsic flavours of the Dominican Republic and Dominican beans giving them shared personality traits over and above the genetic profile of the cacao.
We had tasted some fascinating craft chocolate from Soma, Pralus and Duffy’s Chocolate, showcasing some superb breeding and craftsmanship. They encouraged us to examine and share our thoughts on the conduct and character of Beth’s family members and the mysteries that remain unsolved. Another deliciously informative evening at Louth Literary Coven!
This blog post is a summary of my post on the Mainly Books and Chocolate blog. The complete post gives all our thoughts on the book’s themes and messages, as well as our full chocolate tasting descriptions and votes for our favourite bars. You can link to the full blog post here.
Cumming, Laura (2019). On chapel sands: My mother and other missing persons. London: Chatto & Windus.
The book and themes:
On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming review – twists right to the end
Duffy’s Chocolate. Available at http://www.duffyschocolate.co.uk/shop/chocolate-bars/duffys-dominican-republic-taino-65-60g (Accessed 8/11/19)
Soma Chocolate, Available at https://www.somachocolate.com/collections/microbatch-2019/products/guasare-venezuela-70?variant=13528243896372 (Accessed 8/11/19)
Presilla, M.E (2009), The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes [A Cookbook]
Frizo, C (2018) ‘Is Criollo Really King? The Myth of Cacao’s three varieties’, Perfect Daily Grind, 27 August. Available at https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2018/08/is-criollo-chocolate-really-king-the-myth-of-the-3-cacao-varieties/ (Accessed 12/12/2019)
‘Chocolate Strains’, C-Spot.com. Available at https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/ (Accessed 12/12/2019)
Cocoa Runners, ‘Cocoa Varieties‘, Available at https://cocoarunners.com/chocopedia-by-cocoa-runners/the-science-history-of-chocolate/the-history-of-craft-chocolate/ (Accessed 11/12/19)
Division of Agriculture, Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica, ‘Cocoa and Coffee Project’ Available at https://divisionofagriculture.gov.dm/programmes/cocoa-and-coffee-project (Accessed 30/12/19)