Swiss chocolate is often revered as the most exceptional type – but why? To understand this, you first need to take a look at two things: the origins of chocolate making and the role of Swiss ingenuity in its creation.
Let’s Travel Way Back in Time to Discover the Origins of Chocolate
Going back to as early as 1900 BCE, Mesoamerican cultures (the early occupiers of regions in South America) like the Zapotec, Maya, Teotihuacan, Olmec, Mixtec, and Mexica (or Aztec) were making chocolate. People of these cultures learned to prepare the beans of their native cacao tree – first by drying them and then by grinding them to a very small size. This allowed the resulting paste-like product to be mixed into a type of beverage by adding water, cornmeal, and chili peppers. This beverage, called “xocoatl,” was quite bitter and spicy, unlike the sweet chocolate we consume today, but was recognized as a mood lifter so the bitterness was tolerated and consumption grew.
Similar to today’s love affair with chocolate, the Mesoamericans regarded chocolate very highly. Their beverage “xocoatl” was referred to as “the royal drink.” Supposedly it was even consumed by Emperor Montezuma at least fifty times per day. In some of these cultures, chocolate was considered to be a food from the gods – Quetzalcoatl according to Aztec tradition or Kukulkan per the Mayans. Xocoatl or paste “coins” (made from pressing the ground beans together into small medallions) were often served at royal feasts and other important rituals. They were also awarded to soldiers for great accomplishments in battle. And cacao beans were also seen as a greatly valued commodity – often exchanged as a form of currency, in some instances replacing the use of gold.
Chocolate remained a well-kept secret of sorts until the early 1500s. Up to that time, it was only known in the Mesoamerican territories where it was produced. But in 1519, Hernán Cortés, a Spanish explorer, is said to have first encountered it while traveling in the area and then brought it back to Spain. Upon its introduction to the new land, chocolate was first seen as a bitter beverage, considered only good as a medicinal product. But, it didn’t take long before sweeteners like sugar and honey, or flavorings like vanilla were added to make it more appealing.
These sweet and flavorful additions helped to decrease the bitterness and led to chocolate becoming much more appealing. The new flavor profile of the chocolate also saw it being consumed on a larger scale, with aristocrats leading the demand. A major hurdle with meeting the demand was the cumbersome and labor intensive process to make chocolate. Beans had to be sourced from only certain tropical regions of the world and they had to be shipped long distances at very large costs, driving up prices for the consumers. But despite these obstacles, chocolate was still in high demand throughout the next three centuries.
While exploring better and more efficient means of producing chocolate, European chocolatiers began looking for new ways to further enhance their products – focusing on the flavor and consistency.
Enter the Swiss – “The Masters of Ingenuity”
The creative mastery of Swiss inventors is not lost on the public. You have Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web in 1989, Georges de Mestral to thank for the creation of Velcro in the 1950s, and in 1795, Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the tourbillon – an incredibly complicated mechanism that defeats gravity and makes watches keep time extremely precisely. All are outstanding accomplishments – but for those who love chocolate, there are two Swiss inventors who are even more important – Daniel Peter and Rodolphe Lindt. Without these gentlemen, chocolate would not be the decadent delight we all adore today. Why?
Remember the Catchphrase “Got Milk?”
Apparently, up until the late 1800s, chocolate did not include milk. That is, until Daniel Peter, a former candlemaker who was married to a Swiss chocolatier, started to develop his own type of chocolate in the factory where he once made candles. At the time, cacao was still being used primarily as an ingredient for beverages. He started looking into new ways to use the cacao for other means of consumption, first attempting to blend in milk to make a creamier product. As it turned out, this combination resulted in failure because the high water content in the milk made the product quickly turn rancid. Over the next several years, he made various attempts to remedy the problem and in 1875 he finally found his answer. Dehydrated milk. Daniel Peter’s new, unique combination of cacao and dehydrated milk gave birth what is now known as “milk chocolate.”
Further Refinement of Swiss Chocolate Provides Even More Sensory Appeal
As if the newly created and very delightful taste of Swiss milk chocolate wasn’t enough, four years after Daniel Peter brought milk chocolate to the world, there was another major development. In 1879, chocolate maker Rodolphe Lindt created a method of further processing the cacao beans and other added ingredients. This process, called “conching” in the chocolate making trade, grinds the mixture into ultra-fine particles – and it is this process that gives Swiss chocolate its extremely smooth, melt-in-your-mouth creaminess. Conching also homogenizes the product which better blends the flavors – plus it helps reduce any acidity coming from the cacao beans. When not processed in such a manner, there can be a hint of a lingering bitter and sometimes vinegar-like flavor in the finished chocolate.
Today’s Favorite? No Surprise – It’s Swiss Milk Chocolate
According to American Cocoa Research Institute (ACRI), over 70% of Americans prefer milk chocolate to dark chocolate – and many of those consumers seek out Swiss or other European-made chocolate products for a couple of good reasons:
The End Justifies the Means
At Difiori, all of our couverture chocolate is crafted in Switzerland by our master chocolatiers with only the highest quality Fair-Trade beans available using the same techniques developed over a century ago. We want your experience to be like no other. When you take your first bite, our Swiss chocolates will melt and envelope your taste buds in sumptuous luxury as their Swiss chocolatiers intended.
Live on Difiori Chocolates
As a byproduct of the popularity of science fiction movies, books, and games, an entire subculture has entrenched itself in our current culture. This avid following of all things science fiction is more commonly called “SF Fandom” and has some interesting roots.
In the Beginning
In the late 1800s, science fiction stories were first published in book form. Jules Verne is credited as the first to write what is considered “pure science fiction” where stories solely centered on technological, futuristic, fantastic, and alien or otherworldly content.
Sci-fi Fan Interest Grows
Science fiction started making more headway into the public eye in the early 1900s as magazines would sometimes run single stories or serialized versions of a story mixed into their normal content to capitalize on the growing interest in the topic. Magazines like Argosy, a children’s weekly publication, would publish stories with science fiction themes, but, as a whole, there were no genre-specific publications like we have available today.
Despite an influx of new science fiction stories being published in those early years by Argosy and other similar magazines, science fiction fans of all ages were looking for lots more material.
To meet the demand, the mid-1920s saw the explosion of what was called “pulp” magazines. These publications were typically issued monthly and featured short stories produced and illustrated mostly by fans but sometimes featured works by already established science fiction authors.
A well-known example is the 1926 pulp magazine Amazing Stories which featured only works of a true science fiction nature. Not commonly known is that Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Allen Poe all provided significant contributions with stories published in early copies of Amazing Stories while many authors found their first publishing success in the myriad of other pulp magazines.
Even More Fan Access
While this may seem strange now, science fiction fans reading Amazing Stories were encouraged to contact each other via a letter column included in the publication. Amazing Stories’ letter column provided the the names and addresses of its fans in print. Publishing such information meant fans could contact each other (and sometimes professional authors or artists) via mail to discuss characters, stories, and plots or to arrange for the swapping of magazine issues. This connection of like-minded science fiction buffs became the first organized type of fan club for the genre’s enthusiasts. Essentially, this was an early equivalent of social media helping to boost and share information on a beloved topic
A further outgrowth of the fan clubs was the creation of fanzines. Fanzines were typically amateur magazines often produced to provide further exploration of the genre via elaboration on story lines or to provide outlets for artistic contributions like character or scene illustrations. Additionally, fanzines afforded a platform for novice writers who hoped to join the ranks of professional science fiction authors.
An example of one of the earliest fanzines was The Comet, created in 1930 by Raymond Arthur Palmer who was a member of the Science Correspondence Club of Chicago.
After the introduction of The Comet, many other fanzines came as went as the creators often found keeping up with the publishing of them was too demanding of their time and sometimes too costly.
However, while short-lived, fanzines did make a significant mark on the genre with some of the most successful writers being Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Mithra series), and J.R.R. Tolkein (Lord of the Rings trilogy).
Today, science fiction fandom has taken on a life of its own. Some popular outlets include Sci-Fi conventions, themed events such as weddings or graduation parties, role playing games, and many others where attendees can hear or converse in fanspeak, a jargon used by die hard fans to communicate with each other about all things science fiction.
Original article on ThatVintageSite.com
If you’re lucky, or maybe not, you’ve encountered somebody at a New Year’s Eve party dressed like “Baby New Year.”
Typically, you find it’s an adult male who’s donned an over-sized diaper and wearing a sash emblazoned with the year to come. This can make for lots of good fun for those who have already had a few libations (Moscow mule anybody?!). But did you ever think about why a baby is associated with the coming of a new year?
As it turns out, the association of a baby and a new calendar year goes way, way back. It can be traced to around 600 B.C. when the Greeks chose to use a baby to symbolize rebirth.
Through the years, images of Baby New Year have been used across posters, cards, invitations, books, calendars, advertising, and the like.
But one publication chose to feature Baby New Year in a very unique way.
The Saturday Evening Post, most commonly associated with covers featuring beautiful PG-rated illustrations by Norman Rockwell, placed very beautiful and yet somewhat thought-provoking images on its first cover of the year from 1907 until 1943. These covers featured the art of J.C. Leyendecker, predecessor and mentor to Rockwell, who was considered to be one of the preeminent American illustrators of the early 20th century.
The first four covers by Leyendecker were general in theme but in 1910, this changed. From then on, each cover featured Baby New Year in a way that was reflective of the mood of the United States at the time. For example, the 1912 Saturday Evening Post cover features Baby New Year holding a sign that states “Votes for Women” as a way of depicting the nation’s interest in the women’s suffrage movement.
In 1934, Baby New Year is seen looking like a business man, wearing a bowler while closely watching a stock ticker tape - hopefully to see a positive upswing as a result from the recently approved National Recovery Act which was designed to regulate industry for fair wages and control prices in an effort to stimulate economic recovery.
Most provocative though are the four covers released in the 1940s. Though the United States was at peace when the decade began, there was concern over tensions abroad and a growing concern about the possibility of U.S involvement.
Donned in military gear and surrounded by symbols of “the enemies,” Baby New Year was portrayed in a way that was not as gentle as it once was depicted. Forthright references to the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy were included and Baby New Year was used to convey deep, dark, and fearful messages.
While the artistry Leyendecker's covers is beautiful, it's amazing that Baby New Year, a character that was once simply a sweet iconic figure with a cherubic face, symbolic of hope and rebirth, would change over the years to become a messenger of something as tough and distasteful as a world war.
Original article on ThatVintageSite.com
If you were a kid in the 60s or 70s, there’s a really good chance that your mom was leaving the house at least once a week to go to a ceramics class. Ceramics was really popular back then and there were little shops set up where women went to get away from the house and kids, get creative, and bring home something decorative for the house. Maybe there was even a little wine involved.
These shops offered up plain white porcelain molded figures to pick from and then mom would spend her evenings painting it however she wanted. Based on some of the color combos and painting tactics I’ve seen on these pieces in thrift stores, I think there’s even more fuel for the argument that wine may have been involved! Once the painting was done, the item was fired and it was on its way home to a new place of honor on the dining room table, mantle, or wherever else she felt it would look good.
We had quite the assortment of hand-painted ceramic goods in our home. There was the huge cornucopia (or horn-o-plenty, the alternative name that always seemed to put my brother into fits of giggles when it was said aloud) that was on display at our Thanksgiving table every year.
A tower of fruit and some other weird stuff in a footed urn turn up in our living room.
There was a really glossy red and black speckled owl whose head could be removed (sorry - I can't seem to find a picture quite like ours). My dad stored his pennies in that thing and would pay me one penny for every two bags of garbage I took out to the trash can. I guess child labor laws were looser then. We also had the big cabbage soup tureen with a dish like a giant leaf under it.
There were tons of these things. Even a porcelain Christmas tree that had plastic lights that actually lit up when it was plugged in. I loved that thing but at some point, my mom chucked it in the trash. She went through this crazy phase in the early 80s where she wanted nothing. She used to actually say "I want to live like Ghandi. I want to have nothing and be able to dust without lifting anything up." Strange comment but good advice, I always thought.
Retro Christmas and Ceramic Trees
About ten years ago when I started picking up retro Christmas decorations, I’d see those trees all the time in thrift stores. I resisted getting any for many years though I’m not sure why. Eventually, I ended up forking over maybe all of three dollars and got quite a nice ceramic tree. Mine was green with the colored lights and had some white paint on the tips of the boughs that was meant to represent snow. Kind of the ceramic version of a flocked Christmas tree.
Popularity in ceramic figures hasn’t been there for the most part from what I can tell. However, in case you’ve missed the posts all over the place in the past few days, these things are suddenly highly sought after now. Brand new ones are being made by several manufacturers and sold in stores and online for roughly $50 or less. But the vintage ones, the ones truly dating back to being “homemade” in that they are hand-painted and often “signed” on the bottom by somebody’s mom – WOW!
I’ve seen prices in the hundreds for just one. It’s funny how for so many years my friends have turned up their noses at my love of mid-century kitsch stuff and now the world is taking notice - driving up the prices for everybody else. For those of us who got this type of design long before it was cool, well, we’re grinning from ear to ear right about now.
If the ceramic Christmas trees see a lot of success in demand, then maybe, just maybe the cornucopia will be going for big bucks by next year’s Thanksgiving. Better run out and get one now!
Posted on ThatVintageSite.com
I had the goods. Lots and lots of them. I started collecting retro Christmas decorations years before the recent trend towards mid-century decor was a trend. I'm weird like that. I get on a kick about a good ten years before everybody else. So, starting sometime back in the last decade, I started hounding thrift stores, yard sales, and EBay, looking for weird and cute vintage goods to put out at Christmas time. This is one of the first things that got my attention - a really kitschy plastic and flock fireplace of sorts with the word Noel emblazoned above Santa's head, The materials, textures, and odd-sizing of the Santa, deer, lightpost, and the rest just made me delighted for some weird reason!
Fortunately for me the prices were beyond reasonable since nobody else really had an interest in this stuff. It seemed like lots of stuff dating from the 40s through the 70s was showing up en masse. Likely a bunch of people a generation or two older than me were dying off and their kids who were cleaning out their homes just saw these items as pure crap - excuse my French.
I was able to add to my collection quickly during the first couple of years. Things like glass ornaments, figurines, toys, and even old Christmas cards were up for grabs and came home with me.
In particular though, I sought old light strands and the old bulbs that went with those. To me, nothing is more soothing than the warm, fuzzy glow those lights cast off. Especially when you crawled under the tree and looked straight up into it - one of my favorite things to do each year.
Finding those lights was tough. They weren't being reproduced yet and getting originals that still worked or weren't jammed into a light socket was a challenge. But I pursued. Sometimes I'd find just a couple scattered in with a bunch of other things. Sometimes I'd find several boxes. But most times, they were attached to strings that wouldn't light up when plugged in. Even so, I'd buy the whole thing for a buck or two on the off chance that the bulbs still worked.
One of the interesting things I noticed was that there were differences in the colors of the bulbs based on the years they were made. Older bulbs are easy to identify - they have a rounder or squared tip and the colors are more gentle in nature. These are also better coated so they produce a different kind of glow than newer ones.
In this photo you can see differences in the blue bulbs. Those that are lighter have the more rounded end as well as being lighter in color to begin with. Those are the older bulbs. Also, the yellow ones are old, so much so that original vintage Christmas bulbs of this color are really hard to come by. Even white ones are different. Again, the coating is partly to play as it creates a much warmer light than today's mini-bulbs.
In the end, I acquired plenty of working bulbs and used the original strings until brand new versions started showing up in stores. I figured these were safer.
I also set out to find things like wire brush wreaths, old tree-toppers angels, plastic flower or bells woven into garland, and handmade decorations. I really loved those since I recall making some of the same things when I was a kid and I know and appreciate the effort put into their creation.
By the year 2014 I had amassed a huge collection. Box after box of items were jammed into a section of my basement. That year I put these items on display around the house, but the best part was in the old Billy bookcases from Ikea that I had.
These were 6.5 feet tall and had glass doors running the entire height. In essence, each shelf became its own shadowbox. I strung lights through each shelf then added items from the collection. It was amazing! I had friend and neighbors come over just to check out the display.
Here are some shots of each shelf - not well photographed, but you can get the idea of how they looked well enough.
Jump ahead to the very next year - one that I had very much looked forward to with new ways to showcase my vintage Christmas collection. In October, I split with my spouse (that was actually a good thing) and in doing so, it meant I was going to need to move out of my home - one that had 20+ years of accumulated stuff, including my extensive Christmas retro goods.
Timing being as it was, I realized that I could sell it, but I had to move quickly since as they say "the season is upon us." Ideally, I wish I had time to list the items on Ebay so I could get a better price on them (values had skyrocketed on many things by then) but that wasn't realistic. So, out went the ads on Facebook and in came the replies - like buzzards on fresh roadkill.
I managed to liquidate nearly the entire collection in just three days. It was crazy, and gut wrenching to see the items I'd worked too hard to gather getting dispersed like that. But, as much as I wish I still had these things, I know somebody else is enjoying them, and that in some small way I've helped to keep the spirit of kooky old Christmas decorations alive.
I'm April Bailey, a freelance writer and editor for hire who has been writing about various topics for many years. Most of my early print work was destroyed in a major house fire. Luckily, I was able to pull some copies from an old PC and have posted them here. Other items on this blog reflect my current articles and blog posts written for online publications and copied here so I never lose my work again!