Valentine's Day Season
"Life is like a box of chocolates."
~ Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami, 1987
Today's traditional gift-giving of boxes of chocolates, heart-shaped truffles, and Conversation Hearts began in Victorian times, paralleling the improvements in chocolate processing techniques, which allowed smooth cocoa butter to be extracted from whole cocoa beans. Formerly used mostly in hot beverages, the new processing techniques allowed chocolate to be more easily moulded into candy form and became instantly popular. The Cadbury Chocolate Company seized on this new trend and created (and even patented) elaborately decorated heart-shaped boxes which are rare collector's items today.
"Sweets to the sweet!"
Conversation hearts, truffles, and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are traditional sweets and gifts for Valentine's Day that everyone recognizes. But although Valentine's Day has a history going back to Roman times, candy as a gift is a relatively recent tradition.
By the 1840s, the notion of Valentine’s Day as a holiday to celebrate romantic love had become popular, and Victorians in particular, enjoyed the giving of elaborate cards and other gifts. During this period, Richard Cadbury, heir to the British chocolate manufacturing family, made use of the latest improvements in chocolate-making techniques which allowed pure cocoa butter to be extracted from whole beans, producing a more palatable drinking chocolate. This process resulted in an excess amount of cocoa butter, which Cadbury used to produce many more varieties of something new, what was then called “eating chocolate.”
Cadbury recognized the great marketing opportunity for the new chocolates and started selling them in beautifully decorated boxes that he himself designed. And while Richard Cadbury didn’t actually patent the heart-shaped box, it’s widely believed that he was the first to produce one. Cadbury marketed the boxes as having a dual purpose: When the chocolates had all been eaten, the box itself was so pretty that it could be used again to store mementos, perhaps locks of hair or love letters.
The boxes grew increasingly elaborate until the outbreak of World War II, when sugar was rationed and Valentine’s Day celebrations were scaled down.
Victorian-era Cadbury boxes still exist and are sought after collectors' items.
This tartan, designed by Carol A.L. Martin, is reminiscent of the colors of a red satin and black lace Valentine's Day box of creamy chocolates, each marked on top with signature colored designs, hinting at the flavors within.
For more about the history of Cadbury chocolates, click the box of chocolates!
Or for a light-hearted poem ...
My Mother’s Chocolate Valentine
I bought a box of chocolate hearts,
a present for my mother,
they looked so good I tasted one,
and then I tried another.
They both were so delicious
that I ate another four,
and then another couple,
and then half a dozen more.
I couldn’t seem to stop myself,
I nibbled on and on,
before I knew what happened
all the chocolate hearts were gone.
I felt a little guilty,
I was stuff down to my socks,
I ate my mother’s valentine…
I hope she likes the box.
~ Jack Prelutsky