After the long flight to Mexico City to prospect for chocolate's earliest religious heritage, my energy spiked as I deplaned and meandered into an Oaxacan-based chocolate shop named Mayordomo. Inhaling the recently ground chocolate and marveling at the piles of cocoa beans, I aimed directly for several small dishes filled with a dark, thick chocolate pudding set out on the counter, mini-spoons jutting straight up as if intended for my mouth. Perfect. My first taste of Mexico would be chocolate soufflé. I eagerly picked up the little bowl and happily, yes, greedily, stuffed a spoonful into my mouth. Within seconds I spit it out. Instead of the sweet, warm, chocolate mousse I had expected, I had bitten into a hotly spiced mole cooking sauce. I hastily replaced the little container on the display case and quickly backed out of the store. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied the attendant inserting a new mini-spoon, as she positioned the uneaten remains of my bowl for the next customer!
I realized later that mole deserves to be spread onto something. In its earliest form, it was cooked with turkey. In the New World the Convent of Santa Rosa in Pueblo de Los Angeles may have been home to the first mole, chocolate covered turkey. As the legends unravel, the nun known as Sor Andrea de la Asunción, or perhaps it may have been the prioress of that Dominican convent, concocted and served a peppery sauce over turkey. She added bitter chocolate at the last minute to honor the visiting bishop. In another version of the tale, some think that a nun, wishing to honor the archbishop for constructing a convent for her order, may have combined Old World sensibilities with New World ingredients: turkey and chocolate. Others say the chocolate fell in accidentally.
Mort Rosenblum dipped into the techniques of contemporary mole masters in Puebla and Oaxaca, Mexico. In his book, Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light he savors the three days of preparation, often in groups of family and friends, of the 27 ingredient recipes. Chocolate grinding in Oaxaca, as seen in this video, yields a chocolate for mole.
Family, chocolate and turkey -- a perfect mix for Thanksgiving. Maybe even better than souffle.
Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz lectures about chocolate and Jews around the world. Her book, On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao, was published in 2013 by Jewish Lights (bulk prices available) and is in its second printing. The book is used in adult study, classroom settings, book clubs and chocolate tastings. The development of chocolate Chanukah gelt is discussed in On the Chocolate Trail, "Chanukah and Christmas Chocolate Melt into Gelt."
Free download: Materials and discussion guides for book groups.