Chocolate is one of my very most favourite and stalwart foodstuffs. I can’t be exactly sure, but I don’t think I have lived a single day of my adult life without eating chocolate. That is chocolate as in the substance, not the flavouring, though I’ve been known to appreciate that too 🙂 It is so central to me, I can’t believe I haven’t posted on it before. And it is so dear to me, I think it warrants more than one post. So here is Part I:
When I was born, the first thing my mother did was eat a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, thereby entering chocolate into the equation of my very first feed. Whether this is relevant or not is anybody’s guess, but so goes the folklore of my story.
When I began refusing food, there was one thing I would eat. Heinz Chocolate Pudding. In difficult times, I have tried eating this as an adult, and let me tell you, it is rank. But it was the only baby food I could be persuaded to eat at the time. As a result of this, I think I might have been fed rather a lot of the stuff over my first three or four years.
But the thing is, as portion sizes increased with my age, I came up against what I call the Excessive Texture Problem. I cannot eat large amounts of one soft texture without other stuff to go with it. I cannot swallow it after a certain point, it makes me gag. And so, kindly well-meaning people would present me with an adult chocolate mouse, thinking they were doing me a great kindness, but actually filling me with dread.
Because it’s one thing to refuse foods that people know you don’t eat, but how to turn down something that they’ve made for you especially, and that they’ve been told is the one thing you will eat? Even a four-year-old knows that’ll look inconsistent, illogical and petulant. At that point, I stopped eating it entirely, ditto for chocolate Angel Delight. It is only in the last few years that I have been able to broach an adult chocolate mousse, and only then by pretending it is cake.
Around the age of three, I one day walked into the kitchen where my mother was eating something I’d never seen before. I asked her what it was, and she said it was Chocolate Spread on Ryvita, and did I want some? Well, that was totally yummy. In those days (1977), Cadbury made the most wonderful chocolate spread. It came in a round white margarine-type pot, with orange swirls on it, and the stuff itself was shiny, black and treacly. In sandwiches, on thin white sproingy bread, it was fucking delicious. I’m sorry for the f-word, but that’s the only way to describe my nostalgia for it, and my sense of loss that they do not make the stuff anymore.
The world can seem like a treacherous place if you have an SED. Around the age of 7, I was playing at a friend’s house, and her mum asked me if I like chocolate spread. Assuming she was referring to the Cadbury’s stuff, I said yes. I can only say I was horrified when we sat down to the results of my affirmative response. It was sheets and sheets of brown bread, spread with some sort of pale simulacrum of what I would have called chocolate spread. Yes, it was that devil’s food, Nutella. I had to eat it, but it made me want to vom. It was a miserable struggle to get through an acceptable amount of it.
What the fuck is wrong with plain old chocolate spread? To the point where you can’t buy it anymore? Cadbury stopped making chocolate spread at all for most of the eighties (I know, because I made enquiries), and then they introduced a pale, Nutella-esque version, for which I am supposed to be grateful, I guess, but it simply is not the same stuff at all. I try to pretend to myself that it is, but the only thing it’s good for really is on pancakes.
Around the same time, I one day was looked after for some hours by a lady across the road whose children were older than me. When I came in from playing in their wicked garden, the mother told me that her eldest daughter (aged 13, but seeming to me like a very sophisticated giant) had made some brownies, and did I want one. Well, in the same way that you can tell by looking, that Nutella’s gonna make you want to hurl, you know straight away that anything called “brownies” can not be good. When I saw them, however, they looked like they could be a sort of cake, and when she mentioned the word chocolate, I figured I’d give one a go. Again: it was fucking delicious, and remains one of my very most favourite things to this day – if done correctly of course: some people and places put nuts in them and all sorts. And some places call it a brownie, when actually it’s a cake, and a rubbish one at that.
As a result of my liking for many things chocolate, an outside observer might be forgiven for assuming that I will like all things chocolate. Not so. Some chocolate cake is good, and some bad. Every bit as bad as a non-food. Which is unusual for me. Mostly, I am prepared to overlook quality as long as the food in question is in my “edible” category. I will not complain on the whole if things are cooked or made badly. I will just be grateful that they are not in one of my Forbidden Food categories. But not chocolate things. If you go to France, you will know that some crepes au chocolate are fantastic, but some are totally revolting, and make you wish you’d never been born.
It’s tough out there, you know? You can’t just order something chocolate and know it will be nice. There’s always that chance that it will not only be not nice, but will be actively revolting instead.
Similarly, I will never eat a cheesecake, even if it does have chocolate in the name. Chocolate mousse, I’ll avoid if at all possible. And a black-forest gateau doesn’t usually work for me either. For chocolate cake, I’d say you want a middle price-bracket. Anything too up-market, or from a fancy patisserie will tend to be trying too hard, and will consequently be yuck.
For me, the domain of chocolate is like a microcosm of the broader food world. Seemingly without rhyme or reason, certain subsets of it are acceptable to me, while others are totally verboten. I can’t explain it to someone, or tell them the rules. I don’t know how I know by looking or thinking what is going to be disgusting to me, but I certainly do know it, that much is certain. On top of this complexity is a certain degree of fluidity in my tastes over time. Chocolate things can go in and out of favour at the drop of a hat. Like I say, it’s tricky.
This post is inspired by Dan over at ChocEat. If you haven’t checked his blog already, you should do.