Happy Summer Solstice!
Today marks the first day of summer and the Solstice-the longest day of the year. Much of the country is under an extreme heat wave and the West is experiencing record- breaking heat, forest fires, and drought. Here in the Hill Country of Texas we are having heat in the low 90’s which is pretty normal for this time of year. In March and April, we had quite a bit of rain, and by the end of the week there is forecast for some thunder showers. We are grateful for the rain.
Solstice reminds me of Chaco Canyon National Historical Park in Northwestern NM. Early Puebloan cultures marked the course of the sun with special rock formations and carvings. In Chaco they built the “Sun Dagger” to mark the passage of the sun, and the largest kiva had special nichos on the wall that the rising sun on that day would accentuate.
In 2019 we put on a special program there to celebrate the Solstice. We did a lecture on chocolate in Meso America and its journey to remote places like Chaco Canyon through trading. Cacao beans were traded, along with scarlet macaws and turquoise by early inhabitants there. The birds could not survive the harsh winters, but cacao beans, stored in ceramic pots could survive. In 1999 an archeology expedition, head by Patricia Crown unearthed over 100 black and white patterned clay vessels. When tested in a lab, they revealed theobromine, the active ingredient found only in cacao. The beans themselves were long gone, eaten by rodents or used by people themselves, but the chemical fingerprints of cacao remained intact. We can only guess if they made hot beverages from the beans but that certainly would have been desirable in cold ,harsh winters.
For the Chaco Solstice party at the Park we made two different hot chocolate drinks, using native flavoring ingredients like juniper berries, blue corn, and chiles. They were prepared with water and served to all who wanted to try them. The rangers were impressed that our presentation filled the auditorium with standing room only. After the slideshow, lecture and chocolate tasting we convened outside for an amazing star party. With the telescopes they had at the visitor center we were able to see the rings on Saturn and the ranger pointed out the constellations and stars above us with a laser pointer. We were invited back ,but Covid arrived in 2020 and this year Chaco has not yet re-opened as it sits within the Navajo reservation, one of the hardest hit areas in New Mexico. So today we will say a prayer for our Native American tribes and the ancestors that created and survived in these special , wild places.
At Art of Chocolate I created a special collection of truffles called Chaco Pottery Shards. It has 4 black and white patterns derived from the vessels found, and flavors using many indigenous ingredients like prickly pear cactus, pinon nut, juniper berry and chokecherries. I have 50 of these boxes going to a wedding in Utah this week, and it seems fitting that I will finish them today on the Summer Solstice.