Willoughby: All things chocolate | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: All things chocolate

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
Scene in a 1909 chocolate factory.
Library of Congress/Courtesy photo

Have you stocked up on your chocolate Easter delights, chocolate bunnies, chocolate eggs? Have you finished the box of Valentine chocolates? Are there still some Christmas chocolate goodies in your pantry? What does that say about our holidays? What does it say about our chocolate addiction?

It isn’t only the amount we consume. In these modern times, we are also chocolate aficionados choosing from imported specialty brands. We have come a long way from my mostly-Hershey Aspen childhood. Here is a trip through Aspen chocolate times:

The first local newspaper reference to chocolate was in 1885, when it printed a recipe for chocolate souffle. It was not clear where you would get the ingredients, but in 1886, Casselman’s – a druggist – announced he had something for the cold weather. He “anticipated the wants of the people and added a hot water apparatus to his soda fountain for hot chocolate and hot rum.”

He wasn’t the only one serving hot chocolate. In 1888, Company “A” of the Boys Anti-Tobacco Battalion had mothers serving baked goods and the boys serving hot chocolate at the Armory Hall.

The first mention of candy chocolate was from Davis and Wafford that also was known as the Candy Kitchen, and later Pratt’s. From their Mill Street shop, they sold “elegant chocolate creams in five flavors.”

A few years later, Pratt and Co., still a candy store but later added tobacco, came up with a book lending library in their store, 10 cents each checkout, but you were given some free candy to go with it. 

Offerings escalated in 1890 with the opening of a long-time Aspen business, Julius Berg’s, at 410 Hyman. He made candies but advertised the best chocolate ice cream.

That same year, the Home-made Candy Factory advertised: “Parents need fear no trouble about their children buying candy at our factory” on Mill Street near the Opera House.

With all that chocolate consumption, you can imagine how delighted Aspen was with Congress that year when it passed a bill lowering the tariff on prepared-sweetened coco beans from 3 to 2 cents a pound (81 to 54 cents in today’s currency).

1892 improved shopping possibilities and the quality of what was offered. The Gem of Aspen, also known, as Korn and Co., sold chocolate creams made daily. But more important, imported Van Houten chocolate arrived in Aspen. That brand is still alive today. Coenraad Johannes van Houten, a Dutch chemist, developed a way of treating coco using alkaline salts to eliminate the bitter taste.

Chocolate for the holidays began in 1891 when the Clarendon Hotel included chocolate kisses on their Christmas dining menu. In the new century, Pratt’s – Santa Claus’ headquarters – sold chocolate brownies and fine candies, 2 pounds for $.25. The Aspen Dry Goods Co. offered Schrafft’s chocolate bonbons. The Aspen Drug Co., in 1920, offered “dandy good chocolate drops” at two pounds for $.45.

The first Easter chocolate offering was in 1907. Pratt’s advertised “chocolate days,” when they sold one-half and one-pound boxes of candy for 20 cents and 35 cents.

It wasn’t until 1927 that anyone sold candy for Valentine’s Day — Aspen Drug. It suggested: “Send a box of chocolates, as your Valentine, to that best girl of yours. The boxes are handsome and full of the choicest chocolate candy.”

Fortunately, by the time of my childhood, there were a few more offerings. The Aspen Dairy sold chocolate milk. The grocery store offered Hershey’s chocolate syrup and, my favorites: chocolate chip cookies and chocolate fudge sandwiches. For the more sophisticated taste buds, Guido’s Swiss Restaurant sold Swiss chocolate.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.