Every afternoon around 1:30, I bite into a piece of organic 70% cacao dark chocolate. As it slowly melts in my mouth (oh, so velvety rich and flavorful!), my mood lifts and a certain dreamy euphoria sets in. Hello, dopamine, serotonin and antioxidants!
Not only does chocolate make me feel good, it’s good for my health, overall well being and productivity. As per my ongoing “scientific” research, most of the writers I’ve polled agree that chocolate inspires their best work — all the more reason to heartily swig steamy cups of cocoa, wrap your lips around fudgy brownies, gleefully devour truffles and bonbons, and giddily carouse with cacao at every opportunity.
Glad we agree on that! 🙂
But such divine delights should never be taken for granted. In fact, the next time you reach for your favorite chocolate bar, you will probably appreciate it even more if you consider how the cocoa was sourced and harvested, with a nod to the hardworking farmers in faraway places who play such an important role in producing the scrumptious wonder that is chocolate.
In Elizabeth Zunon’s new picture book, Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, From Farm to Family (Bloomsbury, 2019), a young girl who considers chocolate her “most favorite thing ever” helps her father bake her birthday cake while her mom is out on an errand.
As they measure, add and mix ingredients, Daddy shares fond memories of growing up on his father’s cacao farm on the Ivory Coast of West Africa, a place “where the air breathes hot and damp, thick with stories and music and the languages of people from tiny villages and big cities.”
Grandpa Cacao’s farm was the pride of his life.
Daddy recounts how Grandpa Cacao picked the ripe fruit from the trees and skinned the pods, while others in the village scooped out the sticky white beans (Daddy was allowed to help when he turned seven).
The villagers then placed the beans in large pits in the ground to ferment for a few days, later spreading them out onto a cement floor to dry them under the sun, being careful to protect them from rain and morning dew. Once the beans were thoroughly dried, making a “crak-crak-cracking” sound, Daddy helped Grandpa Cacao bag the beans to sell to the buyers, who carted them away in their trucks before sending them off to the chocolate makers.
With the money they earned, Daddy’s family purchased “food, school supplies, uniforms, books, and fabric” at the Friday market. Surprisingly enough, “Grandpa Cacao didn’t eat anything chocolate himself because it was a fancy and expensive treat.”
As the girl and her father progress with their cake baking, she wonders what treat her mother will bring home: a new party dress? Maybe it’s the puppy she’d been wishing for! The batter smells so good and chocolaty that neither of them can resist a little taste before popping the cake in the oven.
Just after the oven timer goes off, the doorbell rings. Cake’s done! The girl runs to the door and Mommy walks in with the best birthday surprise ever. Can you guess what it is? 🙂
Though she has illustrated about a dozen other award winning picture books, Grandpa Cacao is Zunon’s debut as both author and illustrator. Having grown up in the Ivory Coast, Liz was inspired by her father’s stories about her grandfather’s cacao plantation.
Over a decade in the making, this semi-autobiographical story is especially near and dear to Zunon’s heart, since she’s a lifelong chocolate lover and the book afforded her the opportunity to research cacao harvesting and chocolate production, while honoring the grandfather she never met.
She beautifully blended past and present through her art, painting Grandpa Cacao’s verdant tropical setting as well as father and daughter’s contemporary setting in lustrous oils and collage. She then screen-printed Grandpa Cacao himself and the other village workers as flat, opaque figures against this background. This unique approach perfectly parallels the narrative, with two stories being told simultaneously.
Zunon’s palette is a rich mix of warm, earthy colors, evocative of the temperate climate: oranges, browns, rusts, and greens transport the reader to forest and village, while the collaged elements add interesting textures and patterns to the contemporary spreads.
It is as lovely to see father and daughter working together in the kitchen, as it is inspiring to see villagers in their coordinated efforts to prepare the cacao for market. Young readers will be fascinated to learn about this process, which requires a lot of hard work, dedication, experience and knowledge. And how many kids know that the most important ingredient in chocolate grows on a tree?
Engaging and informative, Grandpa Cacao is a delicious feast of family history and tradition that will appeal to chocolate enthusiasts of all ages. Back matter includes an Author’s Note, a little bit about the science and history of chocolate, a description of what happens to the sacks of beans once they reach the chocolate factories, and a recipe for Chocolate Celebration Cake. There’s also a note about the cacao industry, child/slave labor, and the importance of fair trade practices.
We would all do well to remember Daddy’s words from the beginning of the story:
Chocolate is a gift to you from Grandpa Cacao . . . We can only enjoy chocolate treats thanks to farmers like him.
🎂 TIME TO CELEBRATE! 🎉
You didn’t think we could read this toothsome tale and not try the cake recipe, did you?
Mr Cornelius and the Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers were only too happy to get busy and make quick work of it.
We like that the recipe makes one 9″ round layer — good for couples or small families. If you want a bigger/two layer cake, simply double the recipe. Choice of topping is up to you — frost it, drizzle it with icing, top with whipped cream and fruit, or have fun with a paper doily and confectioner’s sugar.
The cake is light, nice and buttery, not overly sweet, and most important, chocolaty. 🙂 Like the family in the book (even little brother Denny, who’s “the pickiest of picky eaters”), you will love it.
I know I don’t have to twist your arm to make this cake soon!
Elizabeth Zunon's Chocolate Celebration Cake
- 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate
- 1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
Let the butter and eggs come to room temperature before you begin.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Sift the flour and baking powder together in a large bowl. Add the salt.
In a separate bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave using 20-second increments.
Add the brown sugar and granulated sugar to the chocolate mixture and beat well.
Whisk in the eggs and milk until the batter is liquidy and shiny like chocolate syrup.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
Pour into a 9-inch round greased baking pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. Remove from oven, and let cool before adding chocolate frosting, fruit slices, or any other cake toppings you like.
*For a special snowflake decoration, place a paper snowflake on the baked cake and sprinkle the top with confectioners’ sugar. Carefully remove the snowflake by picking it straight up off the cake.
Optional: If you’re feeling adventurous, add some cinnamon or chili powder like the ancient Aztecs did to their drinking chocolate.
~ from Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, From Farm to Family by Elizabeth Zunon, as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
GRANDPA CACAO: A Tale of Chocolate from Farm to Family
written and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, May 2019
Picture Book for ages 3-6, 40 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note, Info about the Science and History of Chocolate, the Art, “From Bean to Treat,” and Chocolate Celebration Cake Recipe.
** Starred Review from School Library Journal**
♥️ MORE GOODNESS ♥️
- Guest Post by Liz at Nerdy Book Club
- Elizabeth Zunon’s Official Website
- Sanctuary for Independent Media Radio Interview
- Blog Interview with Deborah Kalb
- Backstory about Grandpa Cacao at Liz’s blog
- Check out Liz’s Etsy Shop (Something IvoryCoasty) for her handmade jewelry and these lovely cacao gift bags (available in 6 colors) :
This review is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!
*Interior spreads text and illustrations copyright © 2019 Elizabeth Zunon, published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books. All rights reserved.
**Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.