Notes from the resistance

It is hardly more difficult to make chocolates than to cast lead bullets. I had never made either, truth be told, but there are instructional videos on YouTube for the curious, and there are more detailed, written instructions elsewhere on the Internet for those who, like me, might want to make their bullets in a more leisurely, contemplative way. (Too, the modern reader ought to be reminded, there are old books.)

“Have you ever had your eye on an unusual gun, but were put off by the oddball calibre and lack or expense of commercial ammo?” one such website asks. “No problem. … The bullet casting process can be easy, enjoyable, and in many ways, relaxing.”

On more diligent inquiry, the claim may be excessive. For should one’s arquebus, wheellock, snaphaunce, or other muzzle-loaded weapon happen to fit any standard-bore ammunition, modern mass-production will probably defeat your economics. It is the same with almost everything, these days. The commercial machinery has probably shot out a hundred thousand of whatever is wanted in the time it takes you to make six. If your time is worth anything, you may ignobly reason, it would be cheaper to drive to some wretched big-box store and have done with it. This will be especially the case if your weapon is itself of recent manufacture.

And then there are the safety obsessives who warn that the loading of your pre-Napoleonic, sentimental favourite, requires skills you may lack. Even if the balls are cast fairly symmetrically, you must get them to lie comfortably on the powder. Air spaces are the devil. Get it wrong, the musket blows up in your face, and where’s the fun in that?

Whereas, a chocolate may remain quite edible no matter what a mess it looks, and I have never seen one explode. This was the argument when, earlier this week, I decided to make chocolates in anticipation of Christmas. Or rather, just one of the factors, for I noticed no spare lead lying about the High Doganate, and though I am shy to admit it, no venerable guns. (There is however a small brass model of the Zam-Zammah in Lahore, “that mighty fire-dispensing dragon,” which with patience could be interpreted as a working piece.)

On the other hand, reviewing my gift stocks from the previous Christmas, I discovered an unopened jar of maraschinos, in a liqueur distilled from proper Marasca cherries (in Italy where they know how to do these things). Too, there were bars of baker’s chocolate I had never got round to using, nor could remember having purchased.

My better angel thus insisted I make chocolates instead.

This, gentle reader may know, is very easy if one has chocolate moulds. I have two, of ancient provenance, obtained in a flea market somewhere on impulse (they are delightful works of art in themselves), but these designed only for casting more bars (although with inspiring, Catholic decorations). I decided to leave them hanging on the gable of a bookcase.

My father taught me to be resourceful. I looked about for some substitute, found I did not own even an ice-cube trough, and eventually gave up.

By now I was determined to make chocolates, so melted my dark chocolate in my makeshift double-boiler, sweetening with buckwheat honey. Spreading parchment on a ceramic oven tray, I dropped generous dollops in an unsatisfying pattern, excavating cavities in each with my fingers and straightening the sides while the chocolate remained fairly soft. One cherry with liqueur was then spooned into each recess, and more molten chocolate spilt over the tops. Quick, solidifying refrigeration could be obtained by placing the large tray on my balconata bench (even mild Canadian winters are useful for this), and Bob was finally declared to be my uncle.

The result was quite appalling to the inspection of my eye; and in places where the liqueur had seeped out, there was an unpleasant sticky glistening. Some carving with a paring knife was necessary to make them at all presentable.

Worse, my good intention to distribute them among worthy souls during the Twelve Days of Christmas has been somewhat undermined by the failure of my own Advent resolution; for I have caught myself eating them on several occasions. But this does put me in the happy position of being able to claim they are very much more delicious than the kind one gets from the production-line capitalists.

And therefore, in the balance, as a moralist I declare that we should all revert to making our own chocolates — recipes for alternative fillings abound — and put an end to this shameful practice of obtaining inferior quality, “store-boughten” goods — that both of my grandmothers condemned.