[Ed.: In case you thought of Saskatchewan in December as nothing but snowy whiteness, J is back with a guest blog to disabuse you of that notion! ]

Today was not the best day for me to compose a witty, memorable essay on National Cocoa Day. Instead of whipping up something chocolate-y and delicious with cute photos as evidence, I was listening to a plumber swear in my basement as I phoned excavating companies to find out how much it would cost to dig up my back yard with a backhoe loader. Maybe I should have titled today’s blog “I Was Cleaning Something in my Basement that Looked Like Chocolate But It Was Definitely Not Chocolate Day”. Seriously people, nothing makes you want to cook less than playing with your acreage’s septic system, but I felt I had to replace the “odor du jour” with something more aromatic so after washing my hands (that were double gloved) 5 times, I baked some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. They made me feel better. And when your septic system goes down the shitter, so to speak, you have something to bribe the trades people with as well. I guess I did use something from the cocoa plant after all!

Christmas at Soestdijk Palace. The Dutch queen Juliana and princess Beatrix are serving cocoa and buns to the staff. The Netherlands, Baarn, December 22, 1960.

Okay, on with my very short blog about National Cocoa Day. Cocoa is a very large topic. I have a feeling that “National Cocoa Day” is more about the drink (I wanted to try this recipe) than the commodity. You probably don’t want to hear about the drink, but there are somethings you might find interesting about cocoa powder. For example, cocoa is one by product of harvesting the cocoa bean. Here is a little diagram to illustrate how it is produced:

Cocoa powder as we know it, comes in two varieties: natural and Dutch-processed. Knowing Martha Stewart  and her penchant for all things domestic, her website describes very well that:

Cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans that were pressed to remove most of the cocoa butter. Surprisingly, the lighter-colored natural variety is more chocolaty than the darker Dutch-process, which is milder in flavor. Each type reacts to leaveners differently, so the two are not interchangeable; Everyday Food recipes use Dutch-process cocoa.

“Dutched” cocoa differs from natural in that an alkaline solution is added to the beans during roasting, mellowing their acidity. Reddish brown and milder tasting than natural cocoa powder, Dutch process cocoa powder is ideal in baked goods where its subtle flavor complements the other ingredients. It should be combined with an acid such as baking powder.

Natural cocoa powder is acidic, so must be combined with an alkaline ingredient such as baking soda to create bubbles of carbon dioxide, which cause leavening. With an intense, bitter, deep chocolate flavor, it tastes great in brownies and cookies.

Chocolate snobs consider the Criollo variety of cocoa plant to be of the best quality, but is it not very disease resistant and is mostly grown in South America. Over 70% of the world’s production of the cocoa bean comes from Africa, but Africa only consumes maybe 3%! The Swiss eat the rest.

Now onto the serious part of the blog: Has anyone ever seen fair trade cocoa powder? Out here on the prairies, it might not be as readily available as in Victoria, but I should be able to find it somewhere. This is a gentle reminder to all people smitten by chocolate – so many countries in Africa that produce cocoa use child labour and slavery to harvest these crops. Buy fair trade! It will do your heart good – from the flavenoids and the treatment of your fellow human beings.

All this reading of unfair labour practices and child slavery has made my acreage “inconvenience” seem pretty small in the grand scheme of things. Besides, I have heard that ingesting chocolate has a calming effect. I guess I will make that cup of cocoa and enjoy it while my back yard gets ripped up on Monday.

via Saskatchewan,