History

Everything in Annapolis has a history, and chocolate is no exception. On Sunday, December 8th, Annapolis is celebrating the history and pleasure of chocolate at the annual Chocolate Binge Festival on West Street. Stroll over to the historic Hammond-Harwood House on the morning of the festival to learn from the experts about the history of chocolate.

Annapolis Chocolate Binge Festival
Image courtesy of Annapolis Chocolate Binge Festival

Unwrapping Chocolate’s Secrets at the Hammond-Harwood House

This 11:00am-12:30pm Hammond-Harwood House event is called “From Novice to Knowledgeable: Unwrapping Chocolate’s Secrets.” This is a great opportunity to pick up some insider knowledge about chocolate and how it has been enjoyed and made over the centuries. Think of this as “pre-gaming” before you head back to the sugar happy crowds at the Chocolate Binge Festival.

At the Hammond-Harwood House, participants will learn all kinds of fascinating facts about the early days of chocolate in an informative, tasty, and interactive program. The talk is presented by A Taste of History with Joyce White, a food historian and consultant who lectures about food history and culture.

Annapolis Chocolate Binge Festival
Image courtesy of Hammond-Harwood House

The program will explore the types of cacao beans that are used to make chocolate and help you to understand and taste their differences. You will learn about the history of chocolate processing, from the earliest days when chocolate was consumed primarily as a drink to the industrial revolution when technological advances ushered in the chocolate candy bar. You can try your hand at grinding cacao nibs into chocolate using a Mexican grinding mill as was done by chocolatiers in the 1700s. Along the way, you can sample an assortment of chocolates. 

Chocolate Has a Long History

Chocolate was around in colonial times in America and became even more popular in the years following the Industrial Revolution when sugar was added and manufacturing techniques were perfected. The ancient pre-Columbian Mesoamericans (in what is now Mexico and Central America) were the first known consumers of the cacao bean from which chocolate is derived. There is evidence that Mesoamerican people created a fermented alcoholic beverage from the cacao bean as early as 1400 BC.

In colonial America in the 1700s, chocolate makers were rare, but Annapolis was home to one of them. His name was Isaac Navarro, and his 1748 notice in the Maryland Gazette advertised that the products sold in his Duke of Gloucester Street store were “as good Chocolate as was ever made in England.”

Food Historian Joyce White tells us that the founding fathers had a love for chocolate, although at that time chocolate candy manufacturing was not widespread. She notes that,

“Writing from Paris to John Adams on November 27, 1785, Thomas Jefferson praised the merits of chocolate and gave the prediction that its ‘health and nourishment will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America.’ Fellow founding father, George Washington, purchased chocolate processed into bars as well as cacao…”

The food history expert explains that, “Mesoamerican Mayans and Aztecs consumed chocolate as a frothy drink. Similarly, chocolate in 18th century North America was most often consumed as a hot drink made from cakes of chocolate. At that time period, chocolate cakes were solid blocks of sweetened chocolate that were often spiced with pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, star anise, lemon peel, orange peel, and/or vanilla. These cakes were meant to be scraped into shavings and then mixed with hot water to make the hot drink, or used in other types of recipes.”

Annapolis Chocolate Binge Festival
Image courtesy of Annapolis Chocolate Binge Festival

Visiting the Hammond-Harwood House

The historian’s lecture about chocolate will take place in the Hammond-Harwood House at 19 Maryland Avenue. The beautiful Anglo-Palladian house was designed by English architect William Buckland and built beginning in 1774 for 25-year-old tobacco planter Matthias Hammond to showcase his life as an Annapolis patriot. A premier example of stylish residences in the British colonial period, the house stands today as a museum and historic building operated by an independent nonprofit organization. 

Annapolis Chocolate Binge Festival
Image courtesy of Annapolis Chocolate Binge Festival

More Chocolate!

Afterward, head over to the Chocolate Binge Festival for more chocolate. From 12:00 noon to 5:00pm on December 8, the first few blocks of inner West Street will be closed off for the event. 

The festival vendors throughout the outdoor venue will offer handmade candies, caramels, fudge, cookies, truffles, chocolate fountains, and more. Family-friendly activities will line the street, including a huge gingerbread house moon bounce, bubble machines, live performers, and karaoke. A large fire pit in the middle of West Street will provide the chance to roast marshmallows and make s’mores with members of the Annapolis Fire Department. And with luck and good weather, the Annapolis City Police Department will be there to pour the popular “Cocoa with the PoPo,” hot chocolate to warm up the crowd.

Annapolis Chocolate Binge Festival
Image courtesy of Annapolis Chocolate Binge Festival

As always, Santa will be at the festival for the kids to talk to about their Christmas wishes. Santa will be collecting new toys, coats, and hats for local kids who need them.

The Chocolate Binge Festival is the December version of the popular monthly First Sunday Arts Festival hosted by the Annapolis Arts District. Find out more at http://www.annapolisartsdistrict.org/ and https://www.firstsundayarts.com/

Other Chocolaty Events

As a sideline to the festival, you can stop by some of the West Street restaurants to sample chocolate beverages and food items. Check out offerings at Luna Blu, El Toro Bravo, and Chesapeake Brewing, among others. And there’s a free after-party with live music at Tsunami, also on West Street, 5:30pm to 7:30pm.

Ann Powell

Ann Powell loves living and boating on the Chesapeake Bay. A former attorney and graduate of the University Of Maryland School Of Law, she enjoys sharing with readers her travel, boating, and gardening experiences. Ann’s writing and photography have appeared in a variety of print magazines and online resources. Her photography can be viewed on Istockphoto.com in her Coastalpics portfolio.