Here at Keeping Up With The Penguins, Easter means two things: an extra-long weekend, and chocolate. I’m actually not a huge chocolate person myself (as I get older, I get more and more excited about cheese, and chocolate ends up languishing in my fridge for months), but even I can muster up some excitement for a bunny on Easter Sunday. For the chocolate lovers out there, though, I know that this weekend is basically your Grand Final. Out of respect, this week I have pulled together something special, just for you: a list of the best books for chocolate lovers!
The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe
Firstly, you must check out The True History Of Chocolate, if for no other reason than the heartbreaking story behind it! Sophie D. Coe was an author and anthropologist; her lifelong passion project was to write the definitive history of chocolate. She had long been fascinated by food and culinary history, and she spent years burying herself in the research. Suddenly, she was diagnosed with cancer, and given a prognosis of not-enough-time to finish her work. Her husband, Michael, promised to finish it on her behalf.
The end result is this: a comprehensive discussion the entire history of chocolate, drawing on everything from botany, to archaeology, to culinary history. The authors correct a bunch of misconceptions, they go into great detail about the origins and significance of “the food of the gods”, and they even chuck in a few recipes. It’s rather academic, so it might come off as dry if you’re not accustomed to that style of writing, but if you’re desperate to know everything there is to know about chocolate, this is the one for you!
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Don’t worry, this list isn’t all heavy non-fiction reads! Joanne Harris’s Chocolat is the story of a single mother opening a chocolaterie, right across the street from a Church on the first day of Lent. It’s probably the best known chocolate-based novel of the present age. It sparked a flurry of interest in “culinary fiction” and a highly-commended film. Harris’s protagonist takes on a small French town’s Christian conservatives, pushing back against their traditions of denial and deprivation with chocolate (and, yes, a little bit of magic). A fun, romantic read for the season!
Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury
Even if you skipped over The True History of Chocolate with an eye-roll, surely a tell-all book by one of the Cadburys has to catch your attention! Chocolate Wars is an incredibly detailed exposé of the fierce business rivalry in the chocolate market over the last 150 years, culminating in a multi-billion dollar showdown threatening the dynasty’s Quaker roots. The business-minded reader will love how Cadbury expands into discussions about the importance of advertising and brand management, as well as the pitfalls of profit motive. For the rest of us, it’s just a delicious look behind the scenes of those ubiquitous purple bars.
Chocolate Nations by Orla Ryan
I can’t, in good conscience, put together a list like this without paying at least some attention to the hard economic realities of chocolate, and how they impact the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world. Ryan’s amazing book Chocolate Nations examines the West African cocoa trade from a variety of perspectives. She pulls apart the logistics of the “fairtrade” label, and gives a fresh perspective on the role of governments and multinationals in the whole mess. It’s not fun to think about, but the fact is that many children work in slavery and many farmers live in poverty so that we can have Easter eggs. Chocolate Nations might be a bummer, but it’s also provocative and eye-opening. Just some food for thought 😉
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
OK, back to the fun stuff! Like Water For Chocolate had massive popularity in Spanish-speaking countries when it was released in 1989, and has since been translated into a bunch of other languages so the rest of us can enjoy it too. Set in Mexico, it follows the story of a young girl named Tita. Tita pines after her lover (Pedro), but their romance is impeded by her mother’s strict enforcement of the family tradition (that the youngest daughter must never marry, and instead care for her mother until she dies). Tita’s only escape is through her cooking, and each chapter commences with a fantastic (real!) Mexican recipe. A telenovela for your eyes and your stomach! Read my full review of Like Water For Chocolate here.
Bonus: if you liked this one, you’ll probably also LOVE this new release with chocolatey magical realism elements: The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili. Both great picks for Women In Translation month, too!
Dying for Chocolate by Diane Mott Davidson
This one is probably not the most intellectual read, but it’s light and easy, and full of food porn! Dying for Chocolate is part of a series of “culinary mysteries” featuring protagonist Goldy Bear (no, I’m not kidding, that’s seriously what Davidson called her). The bright, determined Goldy has escaped an abusive ex-husband and transplanted her catering business to the Aspen Meadow Country Club. All seems to be going well, until the death of a yummy doctor strikes Goldy as a bit suspicious, and she decides to do some detective-ing. Pick this one up if you want something silly and fun to demolish over the long weekend.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
You didn’t think we could have a list of best books for chocolate lovers without including the holy text, did you? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published back in 1964, so it has well and truly passed the test of time. Chocolate lovers everywhere rejoice in the tale of poor Charlie Bucket, plucked from obscurity and carrying his golden ticket all the way to the bizarre factory of eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of swimming in his chocolate river?
If you read it one too many times as a kid and find it a bit played out, maybe give the lesser-known sequel (Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator) a try.