And no strawberries dipped in chocolate, no truffles, no chocolate-covered cherries, no turtles, not even a plain chocolate bar. No chocolate for Prinny!
Poor Prinny! Had he been bad? Well, yes, he often was, but that is not why he was denied the enjoyment of these luscious treats. No one else who lived during the Regency would have ever sampled such delights either, because they did not exist. The only way a denizen of the Regency era would have enjoyed chocolate was by drinking it, usually with their breakfast. "Eating" chocolate, as we in the 21st century know it, was not developed until the Victorian era.
Chocolate, a drink popular with the Olmecs, the Maya and the Aztecs, came to England by way of Spain. The first chocolate house opened in London in the mid-seventeenth century. The grinding of cocoa seeds was a labor-intensive process that was mechanized during the Industrial Revolution so that chocolate could be made widely available, at a reasonable price. But even this product was still gritty, and could only be made edible when it was dissolved in hot water or milk.
The first step toward today’s eating chocolate came in 1828 when the Dutch chemist, Coenraad Van Houten, invented the cocoa press. The press made cocoa powder by squeezing out the cocoa butter. This cocoa powder was less expensive to produce and of a consistent quality. But the real breakthrough came in 1879, when Rodolphe Lindt invented the Conching machine. This machine made it possible to eliminate the grittiness of the ground cocoa bean and to fully blend the powder with the cocoa butter to produce the smooth, mild, rich confection that we all know and love.
There are any number of books and web sites devoted to the history of chocolate. And yet, so many Regency romance authors write of their characters enjoying chocolates at an afternoon tea, as part of the refreshments at a ball or as a gift from a besotted suitor. But these sweet delicacies were not available until well into the reign of Prinny’s niece, Victoria. Such historical inaccuracies spoil my enjoyment of an otherwise well-written novel. To those authors I make this request: Enjoy as many chocolates as you like, but please, don’t share them with your Regency characters.