Friday, November 20, 2009

'Tis the Baking Season-Part 1:Baker's Chocolate!

In the spirit of the "baking" season...and knowing how many of us work so hard to bake the most perfect "Martha Stewart" looking holiday treats, I thought I would dedicate each Friday to a "holiday baking" theme. Perhaps I'll post about a special New England bakery, or traditional New England holiday baked good, a history piece, or perhaps stoneware or baking utensil offered from one of New England's finest...the possibilities are endless so I hope you will enjoy and follow along.

I would like to start with Baker's Chocolate. You know, the cute little box of chocolate squares in sweetened, unsweetened, german and white chocolate that we love to break up for cake or pie recipes, etc. not to mention drizzling over sliced fruit!

Originating from Dorchester, Massachusetts, this is a suburb south of Boston that was very, very rich in Irish working class history as well as the home of many factory mills along the historical Neponset River.

Let's go back to 1760, introducing an Irish immigrant and chocolate maker named John Hannan, who was a sketchy little fellow but a popular whiz at understanding the process of melting cocoa beans in hot water and setting up a "proper mill" thus making sweetened chocolate drinks. Now, these drinks were much like our coffee fix of today!
Impressing many and opening doors for others to venture into the cocoa (chocolate) business became a popular trade and a much needed job during those tumultuous times in Boston. (We can relate to that)! Well, during this time, someone else was paying close attention to Hannan. Realizing his great skill, a wealthy and smart Dr. James Baker, teamed up with Hannan and together they started the first chocolate factory; Baker's Chocolate, outside of Boston, Massachusetts in 1780. Business was great! Baker was the "financial backer" as Hannon was the "creative hand" behind the mill and sales grew forcing them to a larger mill along the Neponset River.

This is where Baker's brother-in-law, Edward Preston, comes into the picture and shakes things up as he is the larger mill's landlord. Plus, he wanted "in" on what he could see was a lucrative chocolate business. He kept quiet and learned alot! As sales continued to grow favorably, they decided to buy an additional mill. Baker and Hannon started quarrelling. Hannon now ran the other chocolate mill which suffered a massive fire. That's enough to make one stressed, and he was very unhappily married. So, one day he up and left telling all he was venturing to the West Indies to buy more cocoa beans. Hannon was never heard from again. Well, surprise surprise, quiet Mr. Preston raked Hannan's share and produced Preston's Chocolate as a major competitor for years to Baker's Chocolate. (Hmph!)

Years later, James Baker, known as "the king of cocoa" stepped down leaving all to his son. It's always the younger generation that takes the family business to new heights! And that's just what Edmund Baker did by purchasing a larger and fancier mill offering more features available during that time!

War of 1812-Not a good time and Edmund Baker's chocolate business was doing very poorly. Luckily, Edmund was another smart one and ventured into other industries to keep that money coming in, because he knew once again, those cocoa beans would be flying off those ships and Boston's finest river would be spilling with chocolate! Soon after the war, Baker's chocolate was in the general stores once again!

Welcome Walter Baker, Edmund's son. Another smart one that successfully ran the business in one of Boston's largest mills at the time and the first to hire two women! But the climate in Boston was harsh in the winter and steamy hot in the summer. So imagine this town full of hard working immigrants working in not the best of conditions in such weather. But business prevailed over time and Baker's Chocolate from Boston, Massachusetts succeeded as the pioneer of chocolate, even with stiff competition from Preston Chocolates!

Baker's Chocolate was eventually purchased By General Foods and after 1965 was manufactured elsewhere outside of New England. The Walter Baker Mill remains as do many of the mills in the Dorchester area and have been refurbished into beautiful town lofts. If you ever happen to be visiting Boston, check out the Lower Mills historic section of Dorchester, Massachusetts. It's a great walking tour.

Interesting fact: an employee named Sam German, developed German's sweet baking chocolate for the Baker Company in 1852. It wasn't until 1957, when a Texas homemaker (a SAHM) sent a cake recipe using Baker's German chocolate to a Dallas newspaper thus resulting in a huge increase in Baker chocolate sales. Today, that most famous cake recipe is German Chocolate Cake!

Baker's Chocolate- A New England piece of history!