I don’t remember ever using the word candy until I moved to the States and even then, because I felt like Dick Van Dyke on a Pinewood Studios movie set, fraudulent to the extreme, not until I had lived here for several years. It still sounds incredibly odd whenever I utter the word ‘candy’, so much so that I’ll occasionally catch myself looking around to see which American is asking for something to placate his sweet-tooth. So, in order to stop any American woman who might be reading this blog involuntarily cooing every time I use the word ‘sweets’, or indeed any man reading to have to constantly suppress the urge to throw his computer across the room due to my nauseating quaintness, let’s instead settle on a word that by and large sums up the majority of all the candy, or sweets, consumed: chocolate. Chocolate is where my problems with Easter began, and chocolate continues to cause me angst today, albeit for different reasons, more of which I’ll come to later.
I have an odd relationship with chocolate. I don’t often hanker after it, nor would I consider it my favourite sweet treat. In a restaurant, for instance, I’d much rather choose a slice of lemon meringue pie over a piece of chocolate cake. Equally, I can’t remember the last time I selected chocolate ice-cream at a Brahms or Baskin Robbins, instead routinely opting for cake batter, cherry, or butterscotch flavours. Never the less, whenever I engage with chocolate in any meaningful way, our relationship is intense, tempestuous, obsessive, and almost always ends in shame and/or disappointment. My earliest disconcerting memory of such a liaison was at Easter time, back when I was perhaps 7 or 8 years old. In England, at least back when I was a kid, we didn’t diversify our Easter treats. We didn’t have Peeps, or Limited Edition ‘pastel’ Junior Mints, plastic eggs with candy hidden inside, peanut butter filled chocolate rabbits, ‘spring-time’ Oreos, or any other of the inexhaustible selection of offerings available to parents here in America. Occasionally English children would receive Cadbury Creme Eggs (beyond delicious), but unless your family was loaded and could afford the ostentatious extravagance that was Kinder Eggs, there tended to be only one other gifting option: proper Easter Eggs.
What’s a ‘proper Easter egg’ you may be asking? A proper Easter egg consists of two chocolate egg halves, loosely adhered to form one whole, hollow chocolate egg. Depending on the egg in question, they could stand anywhere from 8 to perhaps 12 inches, though to any child lucky enough to get one (and most children probably received a few each year), wrapped in its glittery, brightly coloured foil, any egg not only appeared to be about 3 feet tall, but also like the most precious treasure they’d ever laid eyes on. And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, most eggs were branded and came with either ‘fun size’ versions of a particular chocolate bar or, if you were REALLY lucky, one or two full size versions of such riches as Mars Bars, Twix, Milky Ways, Crunchies, Smarties, Buttons, or whatever. I’m sure every child as they were being given one of these eggs most likely presented a face similar to the one Indiana Jones displayed upon seeing that golden idol at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. We were pitiful, it was pathetic, chocolate owned us, and never more so than in simple egg form.
Anyway, it was one such egg that caused me such embarrassment and whose memory still burns so bitterly in my mind. It was one such egg that I hid away with, crossed legged behind one of our living room chairs, and devoured. I ate the entire egg, accompanying chocolate bars and probably the foil wrapping, too. I did so in record time, without pausing to consider offering any of my prized possession to any other family member – and I got called for it. Both my Mother and my Aunt, who I remember discovered my hiding place simultaneously by peering around either end of the chair I had absconded behind, took me to task in the sternest manner possible. They dressed me up one side and down the other for being greedy, gluttonous, and selfish, for hiding away sneakily and not considering others. They were quite right, of course. I hadn’t paused for even a moment to consider offering any of my chocolate to anyone else. I got overwhelmed, over-excited, and altogether lost in the delirium that a simple chocolate egg and accompanying candy bars caused me. Chocolate was a wicked mistress, and her wiles unforgiving.
But, of all the things I have to be grateful to America for, your chocolate is yet another to make the list because, to put it as plainly as I can but as inoffensively as I am able, it’s not good. In fact, it’s very, very bad. American chocolate is gritty and bitter, plasticy in texture, chemically over-bearing often times, and devoid of anything even remotely akin to, well, the taste of actual chocolate. Over-processing strips the humble cocoa bean of all of its charm, character and, most critically, distinct taste and, moreover, American chocolate uses much less cocoa than you might expect. English chocolate – and European chocolate in general – typically contains well over DOUBLE the cocoa solids of its American cousin. Additionally, American chocolate, perhaps in an effort to redress this imbalance, goes heavier on the sugar, whereas its English counterpart contains far more dairy; usually milk, but occasionally real cream, the latter almost never found in a candy bar this side of the pond.
I know this all sounds like I’m beating up on American candy bars, but I actually want to sincerely THANK Hershey’s and every other major American chocolate manufacturer. Were it not for you presenting me with a version of chocolate so at odds with what my youthful palate had come to know as chocolate, I may not have been able to avoid her sweet and tasty clutches in adulthood. Living stateside and simply not possessing the same level of enjoyment for the American chocolate product has saved me. I am unlikely again to ever be found tucked behind a Laz-e-Boy, surrounded by shreds of foil wrapper, the remains of a chocolate egg and its contents spread out before me, the balance already filling my cheeks and covering my fingers and face. So thank you, America, for sparing me any repeat of that indignity. That is until my next visit to England.