Sunday, December 25, 2016
Chocolate Cockroaches-19th Century Christmas Treat
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…
The children were nestled, all snug in their beds
While visions of cockroaches danced in their heads…
This riff on Moore’s ode refers to an "Addams-like Christmas tradition" practiced by late 19th-century Victorians. They didn’t eat real roaches, they ate chocolates molded to look like them.
“The chocolate cockroaches are a real window into the Victorian sensibility and soul, what they thought was wonderful was so different. If we looked back at some of that stuff, we’d go ‘Ewwww!’” says Marcia Young, site manager of the David Davis Mansion, a state historic site in Bloomington, IL where chocolate cockroaches are a must for Christmas."
The chocolate cockroaches tradition stemmed from two Victorian beliefs: that children should receive special treats for the holiday and that nature was wonderful.
“Candy was a big deal to kids. Getting candy only happened on very special occasions,” says Young. For Christmas, Victorians gave them lots of candy in stockings or as gifts.
Some of that candy was made to look like items in nature. “This was a time in which a lot of exploration is occurring all over the globe,” Young says. “Victorians are very excited about what they’re finding. They’re fascinated by the natural world, even the smallest parts, like insects.” That fascination inspired their candy-making, so they created chocolates that looked like carrots, lobsters, rabbits, beetles, spiders, and even cockroaches.
“The David Davis Mansion has chocolate cockroaches at Christmas because we’re trying to tell the story of how all these Christmas customs evolved,” Young adds. “Christmas traditions we think were from time immemorial were not. Christmas as we know it today started in the 19th century…We show Christmas as it was celebrated after the Industrial Revolution.”
“We like to do odd orders,” says Doug Anderson, vice president of Pease's, who oversees the production of its candy. (It made chocolate coffins for the gift shop in Springfield’s former Museum of Funeral Customs.) Anderson ordered chocolate moulds in the shape of cockroaches to fill the Davis Mansion’s request. “If people are looking for something, we want to help them out. You can always have a chocolate mould made.” Currently, Pease's only makes cockroaches for the Davis Mansion; it’s had no other requests for them.
The Mansion includes the cockroaches in its decorations and sells them for 95 cents apiece in its gift shop. “They sell very, very well,” Young says. “They’ve become known as something you can get here. We’ve had people come here from other towns just to buy the cockroaches.”
--from the Illinois Times
Fascinating custom, but one I'll forgo!