Chocolate, Uncle George, and a tasty bunny
Uncle George tells the tall tale of
the origin of the chocolate
It was a tragic feature of my Uncle George's generation that he could not become a casual Catholic like his nephews.
In Uncle George's day you had to go to church every Sunday or be guilty of a mortal sin. If he died with a mortal sin on his soul, he couldn't be buried in the family plot. Those were the rules.
George was stuck with the Catholic Church - and unfortunately for Father Mulcahy, the parish priest, the church was stuck with Uncle George.
George had an eleventh commandment that he observed with relish.
"Thou shalt not resist the opportunity to prick the soft underbelly of religious contradiction."
The Catholic Church's doctrines were rife with contradictions. The church resolved these logical trainwrecks by calling them "mysteries."
Papal infallibility, Limbo, and no meat on Fridays – all mysteries.
Uncle George loved the mysteries. He saw them as the philosophical diving board he needed to make waves in Father Mulcahy's pond. George twisted Catholic canon and history beyond recognition and then justified his creations as mystery.
Uncle George's favorite mystery makers were the Three Wise Men. They wandered freely through his religious cosmology.
My dad said George loved the Wise Men because he had an affinity for guys who dressed funny, wandered off to follow stars and showed up late for birthdays with inappropriate gifts.
One Easter I asked Uncle George what the Easter Bunny and chocolate chickens had to do with Easter. George poured himself a rum and seven, packed and lit his pipe and whipped me up a mystery that rolled like this:
"It was the Three Wise Men. They were almost late for Easter too.
They just caught the end of the Last Supper and missed the group picture."
"For gifts they brought a bunny, a little chicken and a big box of chocolate.
The Wise Men were pretty upset by the crucifixion, but they had known Jesus since he was just a kid and they weren't buying that he was gone for good. They had seen him pull off some pretty neat tricks."
"They were holding their own little wake in the graveyard – drinking some wine they had scrounged from the supper and hanging out. They left their gifts by the big stone and it was hot and the chocolate melted."
"When Jesus came busting out, he rolled that big stone over that melted chocolate, and it splashed all over the little chicken and the bunny."
"Jesus and the Wise Men saw the chocolate on the little guys and started laughing and thought it would make a great holiday gimmick and that's how we got the Easter Bunny and the little chocolate chicken."
"Now buzz off. Don't forget to tell Father Mulcahy what I told you."
I subsequently learned that chocolate was unknown outside of the Americas until the sixteenth century and may not have been available at the first Easter.
The Spanish stole cacao from the Aztecs and then enslaved them to produce it on plantations. Today three quarters of the world's supply of cacao beans comes from Equatorial Africa and there are still charges of child slavery associated with the harvest.
The cacao pods grow like ugly melons hanging from the tree's trunk. The pods contain bitter beans and pulp. The pods are busted open and laid on racks to allow the pulp to ferment. The beans absorb the fermented liquor and develop their unique chocolate flavor. (Uncle George would approve of the fermenting part.)
The beans are shipped to roasting plants where they are shelled, dried, roasted and separated into solids and liquor. There are only about 20 roasting plants in the US. My family's favorite chocolate roaster and producer is Theo Chocolate in Seattle.
How the Easter Bunny chocolate got to the Holy Land from South America is still a mystery – and I bet Uncle George and the Three Wise Men are still getting a chuckle out of it.