For those of you who don’t remember learning much about the American Civil War (or for those of you who never learned much of it), you can read about it in historical nonfiction, such as I have been doing. I found a plethora of exciting reads at my local library, of which I’ve cultivated my interest especially from
- Highways and Byways of the South, by Clifton Johnson. Published in 1904 and available here.
- So you’re going south!: To the south Atlantic states, and if I were going with you, these are some of the places I’d suggest, by Clara Elizabeth Laughlin. Published in 1940 and previewed here.
- The desolate South, 1865-1866: a picture of the battlefields and of the devastated Confederacy, by John Townsend Trowbridge. Published originally in 1866 under a title just shy of 100 words.
Or, also like me, you could visit one or more of the countless historic locations mentioned in these hallowed tomes. For my most recent trip, this venerated location was none other than Gettysburg.
Stopping at Gettysburg was a spur-of-the-moment detour between Gifford Pinchot State Park (in Pennsylvania) and Seneca Rocks (in West Virginia). And what a fantastic detour it turned out to be. Labeled as a “National Military Park,” Gettysburg offers visitors a self-guided auto tour through the town and surrounding countryside, all of which played host to the very bloody Battle of Gettysburg. Taking place over three days in 1863, Union and Confederate forces each lost over 23,000 troops. Definitely bloody.
This battle is also remembered as the “high-water mark of the rebellion” or Confederacy, because of its strategic location in the North. Had the Union not prevailed after three days’ time, the United States could look very different today. Perhaps the territorial integrity of the US would not have been preserved (land sakes alive!). Perhaps I would not be ashamed to bring my offensive Rebel flag beach towel out into public with me. Perhaps I would instead be reading books entitled So… you’re going North, eh?
Gettysburg was a terrific place to visit, filled with touching monuments and mementos of a lost time that I today can only marvel at in the literature. It was a cheap visit (all it cost us was one pressed penny – of General Lee – and the fuel to motor the car around the park), the scenery was enthralling, and it motivated me to learn more about US history.
Of the books I’m reading, John Townsend Trowbridge in particular has motivated me to praise the Union’s valiant efforts. Side note: did you know that Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia were all Union states, despite allowing slavery? So, in honor of the Union, I am praising the efforts of Askinosie Chocolate, a Missouri-based company.
I haven’t talked much about Askinosie here, but I will tell you this: my all-time favorite chocolate taste test (maybe) was Askinosie’s dark chocolate Soconusco bar, which originated in Mexico. That is not what you will see here, though; this time around, I’m reviewing the San Jose Del Tambo bar, out of Ecuador. First up, a few thoughts about Askinosie Chocolate. I will organize them in list form, because I decided eleven words ago that this will be a post of lists.
- In a world of trendy chocolatiers and chocolate makers, Askinosie has both an original chocolate bar look, and unique chocolate bar packaging skills. They are artfully done, and to me, they stick out quite nicely. Their appearance outside makes me want to purchase them, only in part due to what I know lies inside the crinkly wrapper.
- Askinosie Chocolate has recently won quite a few awards, including Best Dark Bar (in the bean-to-bar category) at the 2011 London Academy of Chocolate Awards. Which bar won gold, you may ask? That’s right, San Jose Del Tambo! Will I find it worthy of such prestige? Read on!
- I believe Askinosie is in part so successful because its founder, Shawn Askinosie, has already made a name for himself (and for two Dateline specials) as a criminal defense lawyer. Dun dun [Law & Order sound effect]. I’m sure obtaining capital wasn’t the most difficult aspect of starting this business.
- The website is pretty cool. It includes a search box labeled “Choc-o-Lot,” where after entering a number found on your bar’s packaging gives you specific information about the invaluable specimen you are holding in your hands – or between your teeth.
- Despite being a pretty cool website, it has been spiced up with lots of Christian-based gems. I have to be honest, this turns me off of the product quite a bit. I don’t look for prayer and good Christian morality when shopping for chocolate. Wait, are you suggesting I should only eat devilish chocolate bars such as Lille Belle Farms’ Do Not Eat This Chocolate chocolate? Perhaps you are.
- The only science class Shawn Askinosie took in college was a forestry course. Okay, he’s back on my good side!
This Askinosie bar, San Jose Del Tambo, originates in Ecuador. It has a 70% cocoa content, which is made up of 68% cocoa liquor and 2% cocoa butter, if you consult my Choc-o-Lot. The bean is of the Arriba Nacional variety: Nacional beans grown in a region of Ecuador now known as “Arriba.” I’m not a cacao genetics expert; hence, I can’t make claims about Nacional’s distinction from other cacao such as Forastero. Perhaps I should become a cacao genetics expert.
My first thoughts of San Jose Del Tambo were that it had a bitter and fudgy aroma. It took the chocolate at least 10 or 15 seconds to melt on my palate before I tasted anything, which seemed extraordinarily long. These flavors were the same as the chocolate’s initial aroma. When bitten, the bar was tangy, and I found myself licking my chops like a cat trying to shrug an aftertaste. Except I wasn’t trying to shrug it, I was trying to taste it more fully. Compared to other chocolate I’ve tried recently, this bar was awfully bitter for having a 70% cocoa content. Amazing.
My second taste was more mellow than the first, and was earthy and a bit fruity. I was relatively unimpressed, honestly, until I chanced to eat more of this chocolate while accompanied by a cup of jasmine tea. Something about the flowery nature of the tea brought out an awesome, amazing, super incredible, I-can’t-truly-describe-it fruitiness in the midst of all this dark and bitter. I was floored. Askinosie mentions that this bar has “a stout flavor with notes of dried fruit and citrus and hints of coffee.” I didn’t taste anything reminiscent of stout beer, and I wouldn’t describe it as bulky in figure, corpulent, or thickset. However, it was firm and resolute in flavor – until I unlocked the key to some of its hidden character. I didn’t notice any coffee in the bar either. And while I liked it – much more after discovering it offered more than lurks on the surface – I don’t think I would choose it as my favorite bean-to-bar dark chocolate. I might reserve that label for the Soconusco 75% dark bar, which is unfortunately not currently available.
To decide for yourself (you really should):
514 E. Commercial St.
Springfield, MO 65803
Factory Store Hours
Or if you’re in the Asheville area, you can purchase this (and more, such as my recently enjoyed Olive & Sinclair Sea Salt bar) from:
10 S. Lexington Ave.
Asheville, NC 28801
And if you ever find yourself in south-central Pennsylvania, with a desire for a double dose of wide-open country and bloody historical nonfiction, I highly recommend steering yourself over to:
1195 Baltimore Pike, Suite 100
Gettysburg, PA 17325