On the Chocolate Trail

A Jewish Matriarch of American Chocolate Making

Mother's Day Chocolate!

If, as one of my friends has taught me, food is love, then chocolate manifests the densest, deepest and sweetest of loves. When we slather our mothers with chocolatey tributes in a few days, we will be stepping onto a chocolate trail pioneered by Jewish mothers before us, notably Rebecca Gomez of the 18th century.

Rebecca, along with her husband, her brother-in-law, her son and her nephew had an appetite for the chocolate business in New York City. After the death of her husband, Rebecca ran the business and advertised her chocolate delectable in the local papers, “Rebecca Gomez at the Chocolate Manufactory Corner of Ann and Nassau-Street.” While there were about a dozen other women selling chocolate in the Colonies, Rebecca uniquely manufactured it as well.

Rebecca Gomez Advertises her Chocolate

Rebecca’s chocolate also had yichus in the Jewish community. Her extended Gomez clan led the Sephardi and civic community of New York. At New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel, they enjoyed the most prestigious seats. The affluent Gomez family’s donation was the highest of any single contribution. The vast majority of the twenty-five Sephardi members of the leadership committee of Shearith Israel were Gomezes. The prestigious northwest gallery of the synagogue’s women’s section, called the banco, was reserved for the Gomez women, symbolizing their wealth and stature.

In those days chocolate was imbibed as a beverage, made from what were called “cocoa nuts” or “chocolate nutts” (cocoa beans). These dressed up a breakfast or a supper and sometimes comprised the entire meal. As a pareve (without milk) product, it could accompany any meal. Preparing chocolate required a lot of hand or primitive machine labor and was extremely time consuming. They or their servants likely roasted cocoa beans on an open fire, shelled them by hand, and then melted the chocolate on stone, similar to a metate. They may have used a hand snuff mill to grind the beans. This resulted in inexpensive, granular chocolate balls that were stored until mixed with hot water for yummy chocolate drink. There were no chocolate ice creams, chocolate candy bars, chocolate truffles, chocolate cakes or chocolate chip cookies in those days. The proximity of the colonies to cacao bean sources in Curacao and Central America kept prices reasonable. This meant that Colonial America had more chocolate per capita than Europe. Our Colonial matriarch, Rebecca, contributed to the popularity and availability of chocolate indulgences in her day.

From Rebecca Gomez to our beloved mothers today, we celebrate with the blessings of chocolate.

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On the Chocolate Trail

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