If you're taking a break from fried food at the fair, Exhibit Promenade is showcasing a new feature called Chocolate Unwrapped: Beans, Bars & Bon Bons. We dropped in while it was coming together to learn more (and hope for samples). A few of the collectibles they managed to acquire had better stories than most reality shows.
The multidimensional topic covers such a broad spectrum, it wasn't easy for them to narrow down a focus. The most prominent area is a Bean to Bar display, explaining where chocolate comes from agriculturally. A full-sized chocolate tree is recreated, with detailed replicas of cacao pods hanging from faux branches. Yet the bulk of information can be found in their Sweet Moments in Time section.
they were introduced. Adjacent are facts of chocolate's impact on
history, and cases of rare artifacts are prominently displayed
throughout. One item in particular reminded us of See's Candies Easter
boxes– an antique mold in the shape of a bunny. Created with a tin
interior, it not only gave a lustrous sheen on candy, but helped the
items pop out. As time passed, the tin would wear off and production
became difficult. When plastic molds were introduced, tins quickly
disappeared from the production process.
Did you know cacao beans were once used as currency? In Tlaxcala, Mexico (circa 1545), a large tomato or fully ripe avocado translated to a single bean. Turkey eggs went for three, but an entire hen was worth 100 beans. Purchasing value was so strong, counterfeiters existed even back then, making the fakes from wax and avocado pits.
Before folks figured out how to solidify chocolate and candy bars were invented, the only way to consume dessert was in liquid form. At first, cocoa wasn't even sweetened. It took on a bitter taste and was served in bohemian pots. Such ornate vessels and beverages were reserved for well-to-do citizens only.
Our favorite rarity was the World War II chocolate ration known as a Tropical bar. Manufactured by Hershey's, the four-ounce bars were 600 calories each. Purchased on eBay, a bidding war drove the price of authenticity to $60 for a pair. Soldiers used to hand them out to refugees in need, a gesture of compassion and peace. Today, Hershey's produces over a billion ration bars for troops. That reminds us– Xan Confections has a designated area down the way from Chocolate Unwrapped. Daily demonstrations will cure that sweet tooth you'll surely get after walking thru the exhibit.
You know what else is going on in Exhibit Promenade? PIE EATING CONTESTS. Held nightly at 7 p.m., contestants can sign up a half-hour before in the same area. Blue ribbons, bragging rights, and literally stuffing your pie hole with Knott's Berry Farm desserts await the winners. Hey, how about some P90X dvds?
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.