Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Georgian Chocolatier Grace Tosier - and some Historical Chocolate Trivia

Q –      When was the first chocolate bar created?
Was it: 1649, 1749, 1849 or 1949?
Answer at the end of this post!

In last week’s post about the awesome chocolate kitchen at Hampton Court Palace, we were introduced to Thomas Tosier – chocolatier to King George I. But the story doesn’t end there as Thomas had an enterprising wife, Grace Tosier, who was something of a phenomena in her own rite.
Grace Tosier with her trade mark wide brimmed hat and
posy of flowers at her bosom.
Grace seems a larger than life character. A portrait of her exists which shows a jolly looking woman wearing the trade mark large brimmed hat and a posy of flowers in her bosom. Whilst her husband worked for the king at Hampton Court Palace, she ran a successful chocolate house in Greenwich.
In the 18th century chocolate houses were a bye word amongst the upper classes for luxury, sophistication and good company. Grace was canny enough to recognize that when it came to cocoa and Tosier’s links to the king, their surname was a brand to be reckoned with. Indeed, when her husband died and eventually she remarried, she valued it enough to retain the name Grace Tosier.
The chocolate kitchen at Hampton Court Palace -
it was here that the actual cup of hot chocolate was created.
Grace’s story is interwoven with the history of chocolate. Historically, the invention of chocolate bars is relatively recent, and for two thousand years cocoa was consumed as a beverage. The practice first took place in Mexico, when the court of Montezuma, king of the Aztecs, consumed a post-prandial chalice of chocolate which was decanted from one vessel to another until it gained a frothy head.
To create the beverage the sun-dried, roasted in earthen pots, the shells removed and the kernels ground over a fire. The heat turned the powder to a paste, the flavouring added and the mix formed into cakes which was left on banana leaves to dry ready for storage. To make the drinking chocolate the cakes were crumbled into water, heated and whipped up.
Cocoa pods and beans.
The cocoa harvest was considered unreliable and so the plants
were grown beneath banana trees for a second revenue stream.
The Aztecs gave chocolate to warriors in blocks coloured with annatto, a red dye, which stained the lips and tongue in symbolism of human blood (the Aztecs and Mayans had a penchant for human sacrifice!)
“The lips and part of the face around them, are covered with the foam, and when it has been coloured with annatoo it looks horrific because it is just like blood.”
Gonzalez de Oviedo, writing in the 16th century.
For a long period the Spanish kept hot chocolate secret with such success that when in 1579 British buccaneers stopped a Spanish ship, they tipped the cargo of cocoa beans overboard as worthless. But by 1660 the Europeans had cottoned on to what they were missing and drinking chocolate became hugely popular.
Books of recipes appeared as early as 1609, as people experimented with ideas such as replacing cornmeal as a thickener, with ground almonds. The Aztec frothiness was mimicked by using a special swizzle stick, or molinillo, and indeed later chocolate pots can be told apart from coffee pots by the hole in the lid through which the molinillo was inserted.
Hot chocolate pots on display at the chocolate
kitchens at Hampton Court Palace
In the mid 17th century via a succession of royal marriages chocolate drinking crossed through Spain, Portugal, Italy, France on its way to England. The drink was sold in chocolate shops which were an environment for the wealthy to discuss business and some gained reputations for being breeding grounds for radical politics. In 1675 King Charles II felt so threatened by the hotbed of chocolate houses that for a short time he closed them down. One can imagine the uproar of the public being deprived of chocolate – and they soon reopened.

And finally, the answer to the teaser question:
Q –      When was the first chocolate bar created?
Was it: 1649, 1749, 1849 or 1949?
Answer at the end of this post!

A –      1849
            The first chocolate bars were not announced with a fanfare, but created as a means of using up waste products left over from the manufacture of cocoa powder for hot chocolate drinks.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

King George, the Chocolatier and Hampton Court Palace

Last week, I was privileged to preview the rediscovered ‘Chocolate Kitchen’ at Hampton Court Palace.  On a blustery, wet day my twin loves of history and chocolate fused (if there’d been a cat padding round - utter perfection!)
A blustery day at Hampton Court Palace
The story behind the rooms is that of a king who loved hot chocolate. Out of his own purse (rather than the publicly funded privy purse), King George I employed a personal chocolatier, Thomas Tosier. It was Tosier’s job to roast and grind the cocoa beans, mix them into the rich spicy blend and serve it to his king.
The room where the actual cup of cocoa would be prepared.
In recent times used as a storeroom and now restored to its Georgian function.
Way before the days of instant hot chocolate, to create the perfect cup of cocoa cost a small fortune and was a hallmark of wealth and opulence. The expenses incurred by the royal household paid for out of the Privy Purse were well documented, but because Tosier was a private employee, no such records existed. It was therefore a matter of detective work for the HistoricRoyal Palaces (HRP) restoration team to discover the location of Tosier’s kitchens.
The room where the beans were roasted
The rooms were eventually located in the Baroque part of the palace, the Fountain Court. This is a short walk away from the main Tudor kitchen, which prevented the precious cocoa beans from being tainted by the smell of meat and fish. In all, there are three chocolate rooms. The first for roasting and preparing the beans, has a rare Georgian folding table, original shelving, a smoke jack for roasting and charcoal ovens. The second room contains the equipment and spices for grinding and blending. The third kitchen was where the final cup of cocoa would be created, complete with authentic reproductions of Georgian cocoa cups.
Beans being ground over on a granite slab
over a low heat.
Tosier’s famous skill came from knowing if the finer he ground the beans, the more flavor was released. He used a saddle shaped granite slab with a low heat beneath, and a granite rolling pin, to grind the beans. Then he added spices such as grains of paradise, chilies, aniseed and all spice, to create the flavor favored by the king. Georgian hot chocolate was less sweet, and spicier than the modern palate is accustomed to. 
The Fountain Court -
away from the smell of the busy main kitchens.
Indeed, the modern visitor can use all of his/her senses and taste hot chocolate through the ages (Stuart, Georgian, Victorian and modern) by purchasing a tasting platter at the cafĂ©. [As a chocoholic myself, I was surprised at how much I preferred the Stuart cocoa – with its chilli, pepper and cardamom taste – compared to the more familiar Victorian flavor that was sickly sweet to say the least.]
The hot chocolate tasting platter.
From left to right:
Modern, Victorian, Georgian and Stuart cocoas.
Hampton Court Palace is hugely evocative of Tudor history, but with opening of the Georgian Tudor chocolate kitchen a new dimension has been added. In contrast to the pies and meat associated with the impressive Tudor kitchens (worth a visit in their own right), the visitor glimpses the sophistication and opulence of the 18th century. The opening of the ChocolateKitchen is part of a wider celebration of the Georgians taking place across the Historic Royal Palaces in 2014 – to mark the 300th anniversary of George I’s Accession to the British throne.
Many thanks to the lovely people at the Historic RoyalPalaces for giving me the opportunity to preview the kitchens.

Next week’s post is a more personal look at Thomas Tosier and his wife, Grace.
Grace Tosier - wife of Thomas
More of her next week.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Of Rats, Rat-Catchers ... and Beatrix Potter!

“The large grey rats, having superior bodily powers…”
Charles Fothergill 1813

This week’s post is on the unsavoury topic of rats – or more precisely, rat-catching. More significant than just scaring gentlewomen and spoiling food in larders, rats could do immense damage to crops in the field. And if the corn was destroy the price of grain (and thus, bread) rose, leaving the common man either hungry or broke.
A rat-catcher with his dogs.
In the past with mice and rats a part of everyday life, an animal that was good at killing such vermin was much prized. Cats are perhaps more traditionally associated with catching rodents, but this is not exclusively feline territory with terriers and some famous rat-catching dogs excelling at this skill as we find out later in this post.
In the early 19th century Charles Fothergill attempted to work out how many rats were rampant in London. He estimated that a breeding pair of rats could produce three million young during their three year lifespan and his nightmarish vision predicted:
“The whole surface of the earth in a very few years would be rendered a barren and hideous waste, covered with myriads of famished grey rats, against which man himself would contend in vain.”
Jack Black
To counter balance this scenario an efficient rat-killer could destroy around 8,000 rats a year. One such famous rat-catcher was a colourful character called Jack Black. He was well known in Victorian London from both his antics and self-made uniform of a scarlet topcoat, waistcoat and breeches, with a wide leather belt inset with iron rats.  A record of his work has come down to us as he was interviewed by the Victorian chronicler of London life, Henry Mayhew. It seems as a young boy Black enjoyed showed off his rat-handling skills in Regents Park.
“I wasn’t afraid to handle rats even then. It seem to come nat’ral to me. I very soon had some in my pocket, and some in my hands…I didn’t know the bites were so many, or I dare say I shouldn’t have been so venturesome as I was.”
Rat Baiting
However, Black’s motives for catching rats may not just have been to rid people of an infestation, because he also had a profitable side line in selling live rats to rat-baiting dens.  This was a popular pastime (I hesitate to say ‘sport’) in London taverns where dog owners set their dog in a pit and bet on how many rats they could kill. One such dog was Bulldog-Billy. His claim to fame was killing a hundred rats in five-and-a-half minutes, during a contest at Cock Pit, Duck Lane, Westminster. Billy’s owner spotted a business opportunity and charged the princely sum of £10 per mating for the dog’s stud services. Indeed, such was Billy’s fame that in 1814 Princess Charlotte, the Prince Regent’s daughter, bred her three tricolor toy spaniels with him!
A New Jersey Rat Pit
The trade of rat-catching could be potentially lucrative in more ways than one. Whilst ridding a house of rodents, Jack Black told Mayhew of a stash of silver he found in the cellar.
“I found under on floor in a gent’s house a great quantity of table napkins and silver spoons and forks, which the rats had carried away for the grease on ‘em – shoes and boots gnawed to pieces, shifts, aprons, gowns, pieces of silk, and I don’t kow what not. Servants had been discharged, accused of stealing them there things. Of course I had to give them up; but there they was.”
Black spotted the opportunity for making money from his best rat catching dogs. He had a black and tan terrier who was second to none and reportedly the father of most of the similar looking terriers in London. Black reports selling one of the dogs to the Austrian Ambassador, and he was offered a sovereign per pound of body weight for his dogs, which Black declined as too mean a price.

And finally, Black was very much poacher turned game-keeper as he was also partly responsible for establishing ‘fancy’ rats as pets. When he caught unusually coloured rats he bred them together to establish new colour varieties. He then sold these on as domesticated pets “To well-bred young ladies to keep in squirrel cages.” Beatrix Potter is reputedly one of his customers and dedicated her book Samuel Whiskers to her pet rat of the same name! 

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Dog Collars - a Short History

This week’s blog post looks at dog collars through history. Dog collars are used restraint, to control and training purposed but from ancient times owners also used the opportunity to make a statement about their wealth or power.

Medieval hunting dogs wore iron collars set with spikes which supposedly gave a measure of protection against a charging boar, and it did no harm that these aggressive looking collars reflected well on their master. Illustrations found in missals, Books of Hours and bestiaries suggest that dog collars were frequently made of precious metals and it was probably just as well that in medieval times dogs were a symbol of fidelity (you wouldn’t want your dog running off with a small fortune in gold round his neck.)
This pug wearing a bell collar dates from 1800
and reflects the European fashion for bells.
In the Far East a fashion for bells on collars dated back to the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907). In the 1720’s a Japanese Emperor owned a dog, Mao Shih Tzu, that wore a gold and silver collar bearing bells and earrings also with bells attached. The collar alerted the imperial servants to the Emperor’s movements as he moved around the palace. As trade with the far east opened up with the west, these collars with bells also became fashionable in Europe.
A detail from a tapestry showing a beautiful embroidered collar.
Paintings serve as a rich source of information and since the wealthy mainly had their portraits painted, in this way we learn a lot about their dogs. Many paintings and tapestries show dogs in jewelled collars that boasted of their masters’ wealth.  King Louis XI of France, had a collar of scarlet velvet sewn with pearls and rubies made for his favourite greyhound, Cherami. Inventories of the personal effects of another famous monarch, King Henry VIII, list many precious collars.
“Two greyhound collars of crimson velvet and cloth of glod, lacking torrettes [spikes]”
“Two other collars with the king’s armes and at the end portcullis and rose.”
“A collar embroidered with pomegranates and roses with turrets of silver and gilt” [Catherine of Aragon’s symbol was a pomegranate]
“A collar of garnished …with one shell of silver and guilt, with torrettes and pendauntes of silver and guilt.”

The colour of a collar could be an important mark of ownership, in much the same way that football strips are today. King Charles VIII’s household owned 24 pets and each wore a black velvet collar with four ermine paws dangling from them – the white part symbolised the Brittany coat of arms. The French king Charles IX owned 36 miniature greyhounds and they wore red and green velvet collars, whilst the dogs belonging to his sister-in-law, Mary Queen of Scots, wore blue velvet collars.Marie Antoinette’s dogs wore diamond encrusted collars but such extravagance vanished with the French Revolution and the pugs owned by Empress Josephine wore relatively simple collars decorated with Chinese bells.
Four generations of the Dutch house of Orange-
showing their orange sashes.
Pug dogs introduced to Holland as a result of Dutch trade in the Far East, during the 16th century wore orange ribbons around their necks as a sign of the ascendancy of the House of Orange. Whilst in the early 1720’s a Russian ambassador gave the Chinese envoy a pair of greyhounds, each wearing a yellow silk cord drawn through a small piece of wood, as a sign of it belonging to the Romanov court.
Another fashion gained popularity in the late 17th century was for collars with inscriptions. In the English court the earliest engraving were fairly dull such as this one on a gilt copper collar line with red leather and blue velvet.
“This dog belongs to his Royal Highness George Augustus, Prince of Wales, 1715.”
A collar given by Alexander Pope to Frederick, Prince of Wales, for his Great Dane, was famously inscribed:
“I am His Highness’ dog at Kew
Pray, Tell me sir, whose dog are you.”
And a silver dog collar reportedly worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Italian Greyhound, was engraved with the Jacobite royal arms. 
An embroidered patch showing 'Jupiter' one of Mary Queen of Scots
favourite dogs.

And finally, from the leopard at the court of the Bavarian Duke, Albert, to Edward III’s kennel boys – it wasn’t just the dogs who wore dog collars…

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Release day news...The Ringmaster's Daughter

Now available!
1770’s London
The ringmaster’s daughter, Henrietta Hart, was born and raised around the stables of Foxhall  Gardens. Now her father is gravely ill, and their livelihood in danger. The Harts' only hope is to convince Foxhall’s new manager, Mr Wolfson, to let Hetty wield the ringmaster’s whip. Hetty finds herself drawn to the arrogant Wolfson but, despite their mutual attraction, he gives her an ultimatum: entertain as never before – or leave Foxhall.
When the winsome Hetty defies society and performs in breeches, Wolfson’s stony heart is in danger. Loath as he is to admit it, Hetty has a way with horses…and men. Her audacity and determination awaken emotions long since suppressed. 
           But Hetty’s success in the ring threatens her future when she attracts the eye of the lascivious Lord Fordyce. The duke is determined, by fair means or foul, to possess Hetty as his mistress – and, as Wolfson’s feelings for Henrietta grow, disaster looms.

LAUNCH PARTY!! at 'virtual' Kensington Palace
You are cordially invited to join the celebration at the launch party for The Ringmaster's Daughter.
There are a ton of ebook to be given away from 8 authors of historical romance and historical fiction.
To join the party click here:
Saturday 1st February 1 - 6pm EST (6 - 11pm UK time) 
Hope to see you there!
Just got to a juicy bit...