Erin Windhorst isn’t positive John Neville and his family drank chocolate in their 18th-century household, but she’s pretty sure.
“They were among the wealthiest families living in Western Pennsylvania at the time, had a town house in Pittsburgh as well as Woodville Plantation 5 miles from town, and the commodity was available in the 1790s," Mrs. Windhorst said.
The Ingram woman is director of foodways at Woodville Plantation, the Neville House at Bower Hill. Foodways refers to why people eat what they eat and what it means.
From 1 to 5 p.m. on April 26, visitors to the historic house at 1375 Washington Pike in Collier will be able to see how the Nevilles and their 18th-century counterparts would have made their own chocolate beverages at home.
Using authentic tools and an authentic recipe with only ingredients found at that time, Mrs. Windhorst and Susan O’Toole of Rosslyn Farms, a Woodville board member and volunteer of 30 years, will explain how chocolate was made. The lengthy process started by drying cocoa beans, roasting and grinding them, then adding the unsweetened chocolate to hot water with spices to make a beverage as popular in that era as coffee and tea.
“We’ll begin with chocolate nibs, the small centers in the beans, grind them on a metate — similar to a mortar and pestle — then add spices, form them into cakes, then grate the chocolate into the water,” Mrs. O’Toole said. “The beverage is rich and thick due to cocoa’s high butter fat content.”
Patrons will be able to taste the finished product after the demonstrations, which will run throughout the day. Admission to the event ($5 for adults, $3 for children ages 6 to 12) is included in the entry fee for the guided tours of the circa-1780 Neville House, a National Historic Landmark. No advance reservations are required.
“Last year, representatives from the Mars Chocolate Co. did the demonstrations,” Mrs. Windhorst said. “The demos were so well attended we decided to do them ourselves this year.”
Mars Inc. developed the chocolate used in the demonstrations to be sold exclusively at historic sites across the nation. Known as American Heritage Historic Chocolate, the product is based on a 1750s recipe and is made with all natural ingredients with no preservatives.
American Heritage Chocolate is an artisan dark chocolate containing 63 percent cacao. Mildly spicy and slightly sweet, it is flavored with a blend of spices and ingredients available during Colonial times — cinnamon, nutmeg, chili pepper, orange, anise and vanilla. The chocolate is available for purchase in the Woodville Plantation gift shop in stick, block and drink mix form.
"The spices give it a tropical flavor that is not real sweet," Mrs. O’Toole said. "If people prefer a sweeter chocolate, they can add sugar. In the gift shop, we also have recipes for chocolate mousse, tortes and cookies using our sticks and cakes, which can be grated into the mix."
Woodville Plantation, a privately funded, all-volunteer organization, schedules other food events throughout the year such as an Early American cooking class, which uses 18th-century recipes and methods over an open fire or bake oven. No date has yet been set for this year’s class.
During encampments by the Wayne’s Legion re-enactment group, Woodville stages additional period cooking demos. The group is named after the U.S. Army soldiers led by Gen. Anthony Wayne, who defended the Neville property during the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion.
“The Nevilles moved into the house in 1780 while John Neville was commandant of Fort Pitt,” Robert Windhorst, president of Neville House Associates, said. “We interpret the site from the years 1780 through 1825, the year Christopher Cowan, the third owner of the house, made all of the changes we see today.”
Mr. Windhorst said at no other time in the city’s history did Pittsburgh grow as fast. Starting with a population of 396 in 1790, it swelled to over 12,000 by 1820.
Details: 412-221-0348 or www.woodvilleplantation.org
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: email@example.com.