The Jewish Story of Chocolate
From gelt to babka, chocolate is an ingrained part of Jewish food culture, but the story goes far beyond what most of us know. In On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao, Rabbi Deborah Prinz recounts following her “choco-dar” through Europe, Israel, North and Central America.
“The story found me,” said Prinz. “There is so much temptation in our community to look at the sadness, unfortunate events, traumas.” Then she came across this story she couldn’t resist telling. “This was something fun and sweet. As a rabbi, educator, teacher, I love to show people wonderful aspects of our culture and tradition.”
Prinz thinks the most surprising information she uncovered was the idea that Jewish exiles from the Spanish Inquisition may have been among the first to bring chocolate to Bayonne, France. According to her research, they were involved in the import and export of cacao, and a French Jew was responsible for establishing the first cacao processing plant in mid-17th French territory.
Jews played a large role in New World chocolate habits as well, from Jewish importer Luis Moses Gomez in early 18th-century New York using his chocolate profits to help build Congregation Shearith Israel to creations from the chocolate egg cream to Tootsie Rolls.
The book is chock-full of interesting facts and sprinkled with chocolate recipes. The final pages of Prinz’s book list chocolate museums and tours as well as a chapter on shopping for chocolate, with guidelines on buying ethically.
Looking forward to Hanukka, Prinz delves into the unclear origins of chocolate gelt. Many 18th and 19th century Jews were prominent in the chocolate-making business in the United States and Europe. In the US, Loft and Bartons began making special Hanukka chocolate as early as the 1920s. A tradition some Jews may have observed in Europe was St. Nicholas chocolate coins, which Christian children received in early December.
As Prinz observed, “Jewish and Christian customs melt together on this fork in the chocolate trail.”
Makes about 35 cookies.
1 cup peanut butter (crunchy or smooth, don’t use old-fashioned or freshly ground)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
Approximately 35 chocolate gelt coins (preferably organic, fair trade)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease two baking sheets. Beat the peanut butter, sugar and egg together. Shape the dough in rounds with flat tops the size of the gelt. Bake for about 12 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven, cool slightly on the pan, then gently press one piece of gelt into the center of each cookie. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.