I’ve got an ever growing chocolate book collection, the problem however is that with most of them they’re not geared up for people with hectic lives such as mine. If I’m not doing the day job I’m reviewing chocolate – with little room for anything else. But whilst I had a 2.5hr train journey to spend a couple of days with Thorntons I found this book by Paul Chrystal an engrossing distraction to the wind and rain outside. This is a fascinating account of the birth of the British chocolate industry – only the occasional glance up in contemplation as the beautiful Peak District whizzed past my eyes did I take my eyes from chocolate-themed pages.
Every book about this topic starts with an account of the origins of the fruit itself – and this book is no exception. Many of the other books I’ve started, especially the cumbersome Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage by Grivetti and Shapiro go into great detail about the natural history of theobroma cacao. This book, however, passes through the topic as quickly as the 14:07 to Norwich I was sat upon. For someone whom has read this subject a number of times, it felt as if Paul just couldn’t wait to finish this formality and get on to the really interesting stuff. And who can blame him?
As I get older I’ve become increasingly interested in history, if you combine that with the genesis of the formerly British brands of Fry’s, Cadbury’s, Rowntree’s, Terry’s then there was never going to be a reason for me not to enjoy the book. Paul also covered other British chocolatiers such as Caley’s, Tunnuck’s, Thorntons, Packer & Co., Mackintosh, Needler’s, Meltis, Green & Blacks, Divine in less detail, but still gave an interesting account of their origins. These two main sections did serve as a reminder of how so many iconic British brands have been consumed by larger, more aggressive foreign entities such as Hershey and we’ve lost forever part of our national identiy. Also covered is how the chocolate industry changed after the Second World War, the role marketing has played in ensuring that chocolate remained the treat of choice for so many people – all of which leads up to a look at the present of our industry, but could possibly have mentioned the names of Duffy and Willie Harcourt-Cooze to complete the ‘story’.
Books should always provide insight into a topic that has rarely been covered or explained elsewhere. Much of this content is obviously discussed in numerous other books, but I doubt in such an engaging manner. This book, all 93 pages of it, is jam-packed with fantastic imagery. There are reproduction prints of the Aztecs, tile panels of the 1720’s Catalonian upper-classes enjoying hot chocolate, British chocolate houses, late-nineteenth century chocolate making machinery, posters by Fry’s in 1878 promoting their cocoa, photos of the facilities Cadbury’s provided for their staff, an advertisement for Rowntree’s Motoring Chocolate, and so much more.
A Wonderful Present
I loved the little titbits of information that so often get glossed over and when there is so little British chocolate making left, despite its recent renaissance, this book would make a wonderful stocking filler for somebody that remembers these brands in British hands is nostalgic about those days when there was an incredible choice to buy British.
Paul has published various other books that you may want to take a look at too if you’re interested in either chocolate or the history of Yorkshire. Next year he’ll have books about the illustrated histories of the Rowntree, Terry, Cadbury and Fry families.
Overall a very interesting book to get lost in for a few hours and pick up leave as you wish. For someone that hardly has time to breath, it’s a wonderful book.