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Spicing up a history lesson


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A new MARS chocolate product available through the Bartholomew County Historical Society is not your father’s candy.

It could, however, be reminiscent of a recipe tasted by a much earlier branch of the family tree.

Bartholomew County History Center is among just a few Midwest locations to offer MARS American Heritage Chocolate, created from a recipe used in the 1750s.

An initial shipment of $500 worth of assorted varieties is on its way to the Bartholomew County Historical Society office and should be available for purchase yet this month. It will be sold at the History Center in Columbus and the Yellow Trail Museum in Hope.

Julie Hughes, historical society executive director, said people expecting something that tastes like the typical chocolate bar found in stores today are in for a surprise.

“It’s an authentic recipe, so it’s got a very different taste,” Hughes said. “It’s got almost a spicy taste, and you feel sort of warm and cozy when you eat it.”

American Heritage Chocolate was created by the Historical Division of MARS from all-natural ingredients and no preservatives. The chocolate is flavored with spices and ingredients available during Colonial times, including cinnamon, nutmeg, chili pepper, orange and vanilla.

American Heritage Chocolate is sold only by living history sites, museums and specialty gift shops that support education.

The historical society found out about the chocolate through a museum electronic mailing list advertisement, Hughes said.

“They were looking for places that support the mission of educating people about the history of chocolate to support the program,” Hughes said. “They offered it to us at an extremely discounted rate, and we are able to resell it; and they provide historic recipes to make some traditional chocolate foodstuffs for education classes.”

An organization has to be a nonprofit with a retail outlet that offers historic food education programs to qualify to sell the chocolate. Last year, the historical society offered a series of heritage arts programs on pioneer cooking, including one that featured chocolate.

The chocolate is available in bite-sized tidbits, sticks, 6-ounce blocks and drink mix canisters.

Prices haven’t been set by the historical society, but MARS lists the retail price as $1.50 for sticks, $7.50 for a bag of bite-sized tidbits, $12 for two blocks or $22 for the drink mix.

Samples will be used in upcoming education classes, Hughes said.

Rodney Snyder, chocolate history research director for MARS Chocolate North America, said the company went to great lengths to make sure the chocolate is as authentic as possible. Recipes in the 1700s were really just a list of ingredients, so there was a lot of work to do.

“It took more than a year with a lot of trial and error because what a spice was called then might not be the same as today — and some of the early versions were really horrible,” Snyder said.

The chocolate was created as an educational tool but also as a revenue source for the historic sites, Snyder said. And the historic chocolate is probably the only MARS product not designed to make the company money, he said.

Including a chocolate drink mix was important for MARS from a historical perspective because, in Colonial times, that’s the way people used the chocolate. Eating chocolate was not popular until the late 1800s, Snyder said.

“We like to share stories of Abraham Lincoln serving chocolate three different ways at his second inaugural ball or of George Washington and Ben Franklin enjoying chocolate,” Snyder said. “People really light up when they can make those connections.”

Hughes said the the drink mix is an ideal addition for many cold-weather recipes.

The museum’s vintage spirits program in November that teaches the history of Bartholomew County through alcohol will include a chocolate drink this year.

“I can’t wait to taste the hot chocolate in the fall because that will be a great, rich taste,” Hughes said. “Americans have been eating chocolate for a very long time, so this allows us to delve into some sweet history.”

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