Hot chocolate was a trifle sweeter when it took teamwork

October 29, 2012 01:07 pm

That is the word that seems to run our world, mine at least — convenience.

It came to me this cold fall morning when I decided to have a cup of hot chocolate with my breakfast.

Automatically I reached into the cupboard and withdrew the little Swiss Miss sealed packet from amongst others awaiting my desire.

Tearing open the packet across one end, it was easy and quick to do so and pour the contents into the waiting mug that had Carnation Hot Chocolate printed on its side.

I didn’t even have to decide which mug to use, although it did cross my mind as to whether or not they would be compatible, Swiss Miss and Carnation. The decision was made, as to which cup from which to drink my brew, as automatically as it was in choosing the convenient packet offerings.

Turn on the hot-pot water spout and fill the cup, stir with a spoon to be sure it is well-mixed, although it hardly needs my extra attention.  The dry mix willingly dissolves into a deep brown color.

I was tempted to add a few mini-marshmallows but resisted.  You know, to avoid the extra calories.  Or, was I just too lazy to open the container in the cupboard? Why didn’t they come already included in the mix? Maybe they did and I had failed to spot them in the store to have a choice, with or without marshmallows. That would be real convenience.

It was while I was pouring the chocolate packet contents into my cup that I remembered having planned to make my drink like we did when I was a kid at my Mom’s old wood burning kitchen range.

It wasn’t so simple. First we had to have a fire in the stove. Then we had to remove the sugar can and cocoa cans from the cupboard, a mixing spoon from the drawer, a saucepan from the hook, and the milk bottle from the refrigerator.

We poured the milk from the bottle into the pan and put it on the stove, heated by burning wood, where the milk would warm, but not get too hot, too fast.  While that was happening, we measured sugar in a cup and stirred in cocoa granules until it was well-mixed.

Into this mix we added just enough hot milk to blend the liquid with the dry ingredients.  This we added to the milk now hot in the saucepan.

And, that’s what we had to do in order to pour it into our mugs and sometimes add marshmallows that rested against our lips and gave us white mustaches as they melted in the heat of the cocoa drink.

Some recipes call for added salt and/or vanilla and boiling the sauce part, but I can’t remember going to so much trouble.  We liked it just as it was — cocoa, sugar and milk.

The main thing we had to watch for was overheating the milk or the milk would scald on the bottom of the pan.  This gave it a bad burned taste and taught us a cooking lesson — don’t neglect what’s cooking on the stove.

We called our drink “cocoa” as the family gathered together for breakfast or in the evening with popcorn. I don’t know when we graduated to calling it hot chocolate. 

Maybe when the plain cocoa from the can was replaced by melted chocolate squares down town.  Those cups of foaming brew coming from machines were always such a special treat.  Maybe because it was just that — a treat and not daily fare.

Now it’s as simple as ripping open a packet and adding hot water. Even the milk has been added to a single cup, not pouring milk from a bottle and heating it first. One cup to wash, not a pan, ingredient cup, big spoon for stirring, and the drinking cup. And, no cooking items to replace into the cupboard, drawer or hang on the hook. Just reach in and take out a packet.

How quick and convenient.

No wonder I failed to take the time and effort of going through the steps of making a single cup of cocoa when it had been made so convenient for me by the industry.

It was a great time-saver, I decided.

It saved on using a pan, dishes and utensils along with heat, regardless of its source.

Yes, it was a great time-saver, for I had made my cup of coffee the same way.  Put instant coffee in a cup and added hot water.  No waiting.  Then I figured out that I had avoided preparing the dripolator and having to deal with coffee grounds or discarding left-over coffee which was wasteful. No wonder I liked drinking coffee in town where they took the time to make it the regular way.

What did I do with all the time and effort I saved just in making a hot drink, I wondered.

Why didn’t instant everything seem as rewarding as it used to?

The smell of perking coffee in a pot on the wood-burning stove came back to haunt me.  I loved watching the color turn from clear to brown as the perks came into view in the little glass cup in the lid.  The drink wasn’t for me, but the fragrance was better than perfume as I watched adults sipping from their cups and visiting together.

During the time I have saved in my instant kitchen of packaged food and drink, I sit and think about what is missing. I could be very busy. I have saved the time of convenience in which to be busy.

It’s the word “we” that makes the difference. “We” has turned into “I.”

I have convenience. I lack camaraderie. I need incentive.

I have saved nothing and lost everything.

Don’t scold me for remembering my losses. It’s a momentary thing. The pain will subside and I’ll revel in my present day blessings, but for the moment, the memories are mine to hold dear.

Veteran newspaperwoman Dorothy Fleshman is a La Grande native.