I have had a lifelong relationship with chocolate.
It has been there for me in happy and sad times, with friends at the movies, and during special life events. Chocolate on Valentine’s Day is especially meaningful for me and my husband as it’s the day of our wedding anniversary! But in the early years of our marriage, Valentine’s Day was not the commerce-oriented holiday it has become today.
This got me wondering about how this happened and what I didn’t know about the origins of this romantic day and the sweet association with chocolate?
Valentine’s Day was named for two Christian martyrs, both named Valentine. Yet, neither was affiliated with romance in any sense of the word!
It wasn’t until the days of Chaucer that romantic love was connected to Valentine’s Day. Medieval times focused on courtly love. Imagine knights presenting fair maidens with roses and reciting love poems and songs about their fair loves. Sugar was a rare commodity back then, so it had nothing to do with romance.
It was only in the 1600s that Europe became obsessed with chocolate. It was often marketed as a health aid to prevent diseases! In London, chocolate shops soon gave tea shops competition as social gathering spots and the first hint of chocolate being a romantic stimulant occurred when Madame du Barry was said to ply her lovers with a stimulating combination of chocolate mixed with amber.
What’s more, Marie Antoinette was said to bring her personal chocolate chef with her to Versailles to provide her with all manner of chocolate concoctions for every variety of health issues.
Who knew chocolate with sweet almond milk helped digestion? This was the beginning of connecting sweet treats with the holiday of romance.
During the Victorian Age, Valentine’s Day was in full swing. Victorians loved the romantic cards and special confections associated with courtly love. Enter Richard Cadbury who invented “eating chocolates” packaged in floral heart-shaped boxes adorned with cupids.
He capitalized on his heart boxes by marketing their dual purpose: once the treats were consumed, the box could be repurposed to hold romantic mementos such as love letters, dried flowers, and other keepsakes. Today, these Victorian chocolate boxes are prized among collectors and families.
Of course, leave it to a woman to have the most commercially successful chocolate enterprise. Clara Stover started making candies in the kitchen of her Denver home in 1923. The candies were called Mrs. Stover’s Bungalow Candies. And it wasn’t long before she and her husband had a fledgling business with several stores in Denver, St. Louis, Omaha, and Kansas City.
The business grew for the next 70 years and in 1993 Russell Stover Candies bought Whitman Chocolates to create a drug store and big box monopoly. The company’s Secret Lace Heart Box is still their biggest seller, covered in satin and black lace. Its easy availability in drug stores and reasonable price has been a winner for the company.
With over $600 million in annual sales, Russell Stover is the number one boxed chocolate company in America. And who could forget the allure and iconic status that Russell Stover’s chocolate boxes have when it comes to Tom Hanks and the Forrest Gump movie. Forrest held a box of Russell Stover chocolates at a bus stop bench when he famously said,
“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Tomorrow we’ll share more about women who made chocolate history. You might be surprised at a few of the Hollywood stars who worked in chocolate shops. If all this is making you hungry for chocolate, visit our WS Boutique for a few gift ideas that support what we do.