We re-start with one of my favourite books of the last couple of years, and quite an unknown one. Also, related to baking, as you can infer from its title…
What is it about?
This is a non-fiction account of the history of chocolate production, focusing on the history of the Cadbury company in England (I mean, it is written by someone whose surname is eh… Cadbury).
We begin in the 18th century with the arrival of cocoa to Europe. We are soon put into the scene of the three or four English companies at the vanguard of this new food product (that being drinking cocoa). We are introduced to Cadbury’s, Fry’s, Rowntree’s and Terry’s.
What did these four companies have in common? Cocoa? Yes, sure. But also, more intriguingly, they were all Quakers.
We follow the companies through the 19th century with the invention of milk chocolate in Switzerland by Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé, through to the rise of Hershey’s in America and Lindt and Nestle in Switzerland, to the outbreak of WW1 and how this and WW2 actually massively improved the fortunes of several of these companies (soldiers need chocolate). We see the rise of Mars (the bar, not the planet), the amalgamation and mergers of companies and the importance of marketing in the 20th century in a world moving towards globalisation; finally, we see Cadbury being taken over by Kraft food in the early 2000s.
What makes it good?
We see each of the companies expand their factories and build larger and larger production units until eventually they even begin to build villages for their staff. Being Quakers, each of the owners had a disdain for personal wealth and found flamboyance and ostentation to be sinful. As such, they were ridiculously progressive and caring of their staff, believing it was their duty to spend their wealth on enriching the lives of their staff and the community. They constructed garden cities for them to live in, gave them healthcare and Cadbury’s even campaigned for a living wage in the 19th century, something of a miracle even nowadays.
It’s light and so readable – it’s like a page-turning thriller, except it’s a non-fiction book about the history of chocolate. What’s not to love about it, and I don’t even like chocolate that much!
All that I knew about Quakers could be written on the back of a stamp, so an added benefit is the insight into what being a Quaker means, and more importantly still, what a key role did Quaker entrepreneurs played in English history (Barclays? Founded by Quakers!). I am not sure if this is common knowledge or if it is because I am from the continent, but it doesn’t matter, it works for me.
Like Cherish from “Bake off: The professionals” would say: “Love it, love it, love it”. You can feel the love and respect the author poured over this book, the hours spent interviewing people and reading archives, the appreciation towards that pioneering time and the simplicity and pureness, if you wish, of these companies’ intentions. For this reason, the style is simple and descriptive, never bordering on boring or stiff.
I am not sure if I loved this book so much because of its subject matter, or because through it I explored something that was so new to me. In any case, both Sergeant Lunch and myself loved it. Funny thing is, it was recommended to SL by a colleague (the following recommendations were not so good and will not be featured).