Not too long ago, I walked into this tiny chocolate shop in Kailua, Hawai’i:
I was anxious to try the award-winning artisanal bean-to-bar chocolate I’d heard so much about. (Did you know Hawai’i is the only state in the country where cacao can be grown?) I was greeted by this cute, friendly chocolate maker named Dave Elliott:
As he told me about the two lines of chocolate they make on site — one with cacao grown in Hamakua on the Big Island, the other with cacao sourced from Central America and the Caribbean, I spotted an interesting children’s picture book on the top shelf:
As soon as I returned home to Virginia (after taste testing several luscious bars — Coconut Milk and Caramelized Ginger, 70% Hamakua Dark, Triple Cacao, Passion Fruit, 70% Dominican Republic Dark), I contacted Mara and she graciously agreed to talk chocolate with us at Alphabet Soup.
In Grandma’s Chocolate/El Chocolate de Abuelita (Piñata Books, 2010), Sabrina’s grandmother visits from Mexico bearing wonderful gifts — colorful ribbons, a whistle, a drum, a traditional Mayan/Aztec blouse (huipil), and a box of chocolate.
They have fun playing music, dressing Sabrina up as a Mayan princess, and talking about how their Mesoamerican ancestors, the Olmecs and Mayas, were the first to make chocolate.
Cacao was highly prized and its seeds were used as currency, the emperor of the Aztecs liked to eat chocolate poured over bowls of snow, and Mayan princesses also liked to drink hot chocolate — so Grandma makes some with the chocolate tablets she brought, and they toast their ancestors with Maya’s mom.
This heartwarming bilingual intergenerational story celebrating this especially tasty aspect of pre-Columbian history and culture has earned much critical acclaim: International Latino Book Award Winner, Paterson Prize Books for Young People Honor, San Diego Book Award, Tejas Star Book Award List.
Mara based the story on her own childhood memories of drinking her grandmother’s hot chocolate in Mexico. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month than to hear more about Grandma’s Chocolate and to feast on Mara’s homemade Mexican Chocolate Brownies. Muy delicioso!
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♥ A CHOCOLATE CHAT WITH MARA PRICE ♥
How did your booksigning at Madre Chocolate in Hawai’i come about? With your shared interest in celebrating the Mesoamerican origins of chocolate, what struck you most about how they source their cacao and make artisanal bars?
Surfing the internet, I came across Madre Chocolate’s website and I started reading and liked their key idea of buying organic chocolate beans from small farms in Hawai’i and Mexico. I love the fact that it was important for them to pay a fair price for the cacao growers. Their website provides information about the origins of cacao; I loved that. I liked the fact that they use only high quality ingredients. It’s fun to see when people love what they are doing and their commitment to the process is very passionate.
I wrote to Dave Elliott and Nat Bletter, the Madre Chocolate owners, and with common interest in the origins and tastes of chocolate, we started corresponding. They kindly invited me to make a presentation and sign books at their shop in Hawai’i. It was wonderful to meet David’s wife and their beautiful daughter. David was a great host and he prepared especially delicious chocolate for all the attendees. At the end of my presentation we toasted to the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs. It was special to drink cacao, the food of the gods in beautiful Hawai’i.
Please describe your earliest chocolate memory. Is it fair to say you’ve been a lifelong chocolate lover?
It’s hard to place only one occasion as an earliest chocolate memory since it was part of our daily ritual to drink a cup of hot chocolate before school. Also, when we had company, my grandma would prepare chocolate. We had different drinks with chocolate, like atole and champurrado. Indeed, I am a life long chocolate lover …Yum! I think that I will take a break to make a cup of chocolate; it will inspire me to continue our chat.
Please describe your grandmother for us. Did she teach you how to cook?
My grandmother was loving, punctual, an avid reader, and she loved to recite and write poetry. She played the guitar and loved to sing all kinds of songs. She had a great sense of humor, taught me to read and write, recite, read the clock, multiply and write poetry. And in the kitchen I was her helper. So, I think I learned with her by doing. I loved my grandmother’s cooking but I think she considered herself a poet and artist more than a chef.
Could you tell us a little about your research for this book?
I read history books, archeology books and books about chocolate. I wanted to double-check my sources to make sure that I was on the right track. I wrote to Elin Danien, a Mayanist from Penn State University. She was excited with my project and she replied the same day. It was special to receive her personal response. She said I was on the right path and suggested even more books to add to my reading list.
Of the new things you learned about the history and cultural significance of chocolate, what made you most excited or surprised you?
I was surprised to read over and over that the ancient people of Mexico only knew chocolate as a drink. That just didn’t sound right. What about mole? Wasn’t mole ancient, too? Mole is made with at least 32 ingredients and one of them is chocolate.
I recently read an article published by Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) that in recent excavations they found a plate containing residues of a mixture of chile and cacao (chocolate). This is exciting. It made me smile because today’s chocolatiers are experimenting with that combination of flavors, too. My translation:
For the first time, residues of cacao were found in an archeological site in Yucatan, Mexico; the chemical residues of the [cacao] seeds were found on two fragments of Mayan pottery that were 2500 years old. They were found in Paso de Macho, located in the north of the state. One of the fragments is from a plate, which indicates to scientists that the pre-Hispanic Maya may have consumed food with a sauce containing cacao, with a consistency similar to mole [a sauce used in Mexican traditional cooking] since ancient times.
What did you like best about working on this project?
Being able to tell the story of a loving grandmother and her smart Latina granddaughter that plays with her, pretending to be a Mayan princess. A smart princess with black hair and dark eyes that goes to school and is curious, peppering her grandmother with questions about cacao.
What has been the most memorable part of having your first children’s book published? Is the experience what you expected?
Seeing little faces listening with attention while you tell them a story is indeed a gratifying experience. It exceeds any expectations I might have had.
How have young readers reacted to your book?
Young readers connect with Grandma’s Chocolate on a personal level because they can relate to having a grandma or a family member that comes from another place to visit and brings special things for them. They connect with the fact that grandparents tell us wonderful stories and make memories together. And of course they like chocolate.
What was your childhood like? Were you an avid reader, and did you like to write when you were little?
I had a lot of hobbies. Memorizing poetry was a fun way to spend time with my grandmother. I participated in school recitation events. Sometimes there were competitions; other times it was end of the year programs. We liked rhyming and making our own poems. This was the first form of creative writing for me.
But I did a lot more. One of my favorite things was playing with my dog and riding my bike. After school I would do my homework and play dolls with my grandmother. I read the funnies. I am into crafts. I learned to sew on a pedal sewing machine. I used to buy little 20 centavos envelopes that contained small paper dolls. Cutting them and dressing them was so much fun. Coloring books and coloring my own drawings was fun too. Jumping rope, throwing darts…wow, lots of things to do when you only have an hour of cartoons on TV, as was the case back then. Also I remember walking being the main means of going places like the market. The bus only passed every hour, so usually it was easier to walk.
Could you offer any tips for those interested in writing historical fiction?
Loving what you are doing will give you the drive to do it with passion. Let this inspiration guide you, and make your book the best of its kind.
Keep notes of your research. Consult with experts in the field, go to museums, treat yourself and buy books. Keep yourself focused on your research.Celebrate your findings with your friends and family.
You did a great job with promoting Grandma’s Chocolate. Anything you’ll do differently next time?
Thank you. I am glad you think I did a good job promoting my book. I learned that a website is a must. Also, doing a week-long blog tour and a book video were helpful in getting the word out. I’ll keep attending book fairs and teacher conferences. School visits, too.
What would I do differently next time? Good question! At this point I don’t know. But I will be glad to share it with you when the time comes. In the meantime, blogs like yours really help a lot in getting the word out. Thank you!
What is your favorite way to eat chocolate?
I like to drink chocolate, I like chocolate bars. I love mole, which contains chocolate; it’s my favorite food. I like chocolate.
What’s next for you?
I love what I do. I continue to do more of the same – writing and illustrating.
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♥ MEXICAN CHOCOLATE BROWNIES ♥
2 tablets Mexican chocolate* chopped or broken into pieces
1/2 cup butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules or powder
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
Combine 2 tablets Mexican chocolate broken into pieces together with butter in the top pan of a double boiler and place over simmering water. Stir until melted and smooth.
Microwave method for melting the Mexican chocolate and butter:
In a Pyrex or microwave dish combine butter and Mexican chocolate. Place in microwave on medium heat for one minute. Stir and microwave for another minute on medium heat until melted completely. Set aside to cool.
In a small bowl blend the dry ingredients together (flour, baking powder, salt) and set aside.
In a mixing bowl combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and instant coffee. Beat until it doubles in volume. Mix in the chocolate mixture. Add the dry ingredients and blend. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Pour into a 9 x 13 baking pan and bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
*Tablets for making Mexican drinking chocolate can be found in most supermarkets under the brand names of Ibarra, Abuelita, or Moctezuma.
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GRANDMA’S CHOCOLATE/EL CHOCOLATE DE ABUELITA
written by Mara Price
illustrated by Lisa Fields
published by Piñata Books/Arte Público Press, 2010
Picture Book for ages 5+, 32 pp.
Cool themes: food history, chocolate, family, grandparents, Latino history and culture, Mesoamerica, Mayans, Aztecs, Olmecs
Enjoy the lovely book trailer:
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♥ Visit Mara Price’s Official Website to learn more about her work as an author and illustrator, and for some chocolate-related activities.
♥ Visit the Madre Chocolate Website:
[Madre] chocolate is made with cacao purchased directly from organic farm cooperatives in Central America and Hawaii and crafted from bean to bar in small batches. Our processing preserves a high level of healthy antioxidants and provides a rich delightful flavor.
At Madre Chocolate we use a selection of traditional fruits and spices of the Aztec, Maya, Olmec, and Barra tribes of Central America that invented chocolate, to both celebrate their cultural heritage and bring you delicious original flavors that few have had the privilege of tasting…until now.
Madre Chocolate is available in select shops all over the U.S. and overseas. You can also order online — they ship internationally too.
Hear more from Madre co-founders Nat Bletter and David Elliott in this video:
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I went looking for good chocolate and ended up finding a good book too. What a happy day to discover both Madre and Mara — more evidence to support my theory that books and chocolate naturally go together, and that chocolate inspires the best writing!
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This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Come join the fun and learn about some new cookbooks and recipes!
*Spreads from Grandma’s Chocolate/El Chocolate de Abuelita posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2010 Mara Price, illustrations © 2010 Lisa Fields, published by Piñata Books. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.