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February 13, 2003

How Sweet It Is! Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Foodways Team Brings Back Popular "Chocolate!" Program

Would you give your sweetheart chocolates seasoned with whale extract for Valentine’s Day? In the 18th century, Virginians savored chocolate made with ambergris, a perfume agent derived from whale intestines.

Flavoring is only one of the differences between chocolate made today and in the 1700s. Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Foodways team discusses these differences during the program, “Chocolate!” throughout 2003. “The Foodways staff wanted to show guests how chocolate was produced in the 18th century,” said Frank Clark, supervisor of Historic Foodways, a program that examines every aspect of colonial meal planning ranging from procurement and preparation of foodstuffs to dining and preservation.

Residents in 18th-century Williamsburg loved chocolate, which was similar to today’s baking chocolate. Unfortunately, few could afford it in great quantity due to the costs associated with spices, sugar and chocolate production. Underscoring both his power and his wealth, Royal Governor Lord Botetourt listed 24 pounds of chocolate in his inventory. Wealthy residents purchased chocolate at the Greenhow Store to satisfy their sweet tooth.

Foodways apprentice Jim Gay demonstrates the chocolate-making process, which begins by dry roasting cocoa beans. The beans then are shelled, crushed in a large mixing bowl and transferred to a heated grinding stone. Using an iron rolling pin, Gay grinds the cocoa beans into a liquid, then adds sugar and spices. Clark said colonists favored ingredients such as vanilla, cayenne pepper, cloves, cinnamon and ambergris to flavor chocolate.

When it solidifies, it is grated into powder. “The smell of the chocolate is incredible,” Clark said. “Once the chocolate heats up, the kitchen and the grounds smell like chocolate. It always draws people and they tend to stay a long time.”

In the 18th century, chocolate primarily was used in beverages. Chocolate was grated into hot water, milk or wine and agitated with a chocolate mill, a tool similar to a swizzle stick, until frothy. It also flavored ice creams, pies, puddings and candies. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution when solid chocolate bars and extravagant confections that are popular today were created.

“Chocolate!” debuted in 2002, following a year’s research by the Historic Foodways staff. “It was probably as popular as the beer making program,” Clark said, referring to one of Colonial Williamsburg’s popular Foodways programs.

“Chocolate!” can be seen at the Governor’s Palace Kitchen Feb. 18 and March 11. The program will continue to be offered monthly during the spring and fall months.

An admission ticket is required to attend this program.

Known worldwide as the nation’s largest living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg’s mission is “that the future may learn from the past.” Colonial Williamsburg is located 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information, call toll-free (800) HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s web site at

Media Contact:
Penna Rogers
(757) 220-7121