Beliefs surrounding love and courting customs in Indian Country vary widely. Yet even in modern times, social dances are a popular way for people to connect.
Love can walk into your life on any given day, but most people can’t help but hope for Cupid’s arrow to strike on Valentine’s Day.
I personally like to enjoy Valentine’s Day eating good food with someone I love. This can involve something as simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (it’s happened to me), or an elegant fine dining experience.
Today I plan to celebrate the holiday at home with an array of appetizers—perhaps clams on the half shell, bacon wrapped water chestnuts, a slew of cheeses to choose from, lobster in some form and warm bread. Every Valentine’s Day meal should be topped off with something chocolate.
I generally favor milk chocolate, however, it is dark chocolate that contains phenylethylamine—the very same hormone triggered by the brain when we fall in love. Dark chocolate boosts our endorphines, neurotransmitters that make us happy. Chocolate also contains theobromine, a myocardial stimulant that dilates some arteries and relaxes muscles—physical effects that produce good feelings.
Studies have also shown that people who consume small amounts of dark chocolate consistently have a 40 percent lower risk of heart-related issues and strokes, potentially due to the polyphenol antioxidants.
An Aztec discovered chocolate, naming it xocolatl, or bitter water. The Mayans are credited with reducing its bitter taste. The Maya began cultivating cacao trees in about 200 B.C., and in around 1 A.D. they invented a four-step chemical process to remove a lot of the bitterness from the cacao beans by opening the pods and scooping out the seeds, which are encased in a sweet, white pulp. Then they fermented the seeds for several days until the sugar was converted to lactic and acetic acid. This removed the bitterness and released the compounds that produced the flavor when the beans were roasted. Once beans were roasted, the Maya removed the thin shells and ground the beans into a paste. What did they do with this paste? They made hot chocolate. Both the Maya and Aztec used chocolate in religious ceremonies (some Maya were even buried with clay chocolate vessels), so it is appropriate that the Latin name of the cacao plant, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods.”
Chocolate Steamed Pudding
1-1/2 ounces unsweetened dark chocolate
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar, or equivalent
1/3 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Using a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter over hot almost boiling water. Next stir in the 1/2 cup of sugar or equivalent and 1 egg; beat this until smooth and add the milk and vanilla. Mix or sift flour, salt, and baking powder and stir into the chocolate mixture. Pour this mixture into ramekins or custard cups and place in large shallow pan of boiling water. Cover, but check often and add more water as needed. Steam for 40-45 minutes. Let water cool, then remove carefully and chill, or serve warm with whipped cream.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.