Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Childhood and Cocoa

My earliest memories of having hot cocoa are from the days when we walked to and from school...I was in kindergarten. It took about forty five minutes to walk home on our little legs. My companion most days was Kevin who lived a block further on past my house. Kevin later became a priest. I guess I was a good influence, or at least not a distraction from his vocation. I think sometimes he stopped by our house and had some cocoa, too. After first grade my Mom started driving us to school, so I didn't see him much. Looking back it seems kind of amazing that little kids just walked by themselves all those miles, but times were different.

In late fall and for much of the winter, my Mom would make hot cocoa for the school kids and for the little ones who were old enough to drink hot drinks. She usually used canned milk because regular milk was expensive and there were a lot of kids. She would often join us at the dining room table, sipping on her cup of tea, perhaps with a piece of toast or a cookie if we were having cookies. It was a time when we could tell her how things were at school. In later years I would have tea, too, and we would talk politics. We still talk politics and I can not tell you how excited my Mom is that we will be having such a grand new president in a few weeks! As a life-long Democrat, she is thrilled.

Getting back to my childhood, I remember that I loved to have hot cocoa when we came home in the winter after sledding. I would stay out in the snow until I was totally chilled, so warm, dry clothes and hot cocoa were just the best thing going.

Later, when I was in high school but my sister had graduated and gone to nursing school a few hours away, I made the cocoa to welcome my parents home after their long drive to take her back to school when she had visited home. It was always a relief to see their car's headlights turning into the driveway.

Home made cocoa is so simple to make. I usually still make it with Hersheys cocoa powder, but now I often use low fat sweet milk. A special trick is to add the vanilla just before you serve it...you can really smell it during your first sip! If you like marshmallows, by all means add some to your cup.

Hot Cocoa from My Childhood
For each serving:

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon sugar
a pinch of salt
¼ cup hot water
1 cup milk (I used a combination of evaporated and fresh)
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a saucepan, mix together the cocoa, sugar and salt. Make a paste with some of the hot water, then add the rest, stirring constantly, to make a smooth liquid.

Heat over high heat just until it begins to simmer, then reduce heat to a simmer and simmer 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Add the milk and stir to incorporate, then turn heat to high again and heat to the desired temperature to drink (some people like their hotter than others), stirring occasionally. When at the desired temperature, turn off the heat and add the vanilla. Stir.

Serve right away in a large coffee cup or mug.


  1. LOL-45 minutes. I can't think of one kid now a days that would walk that far. :)
    Your cocoa and memories are wonderful.

  2. Anonymous6:13 AM

    Cocoa after sledding was the best! Also after going around the neighborhood singing carols on Christmas Eve. The cocoa tasted even better then with some of those crescent cookies from the entry earlier this month.

    On more everyday occasions, we often had cocoa made with Quik, but "real" cocoa with Hershey's unsweetened was always preferred. It was special when we got to have that.

    I used to love to add the vanilla to the cocoa--at the very end, when the pot was taken off the burner. I was fascinated by the way it looked when the vanilla mixed with the cocoa, which was different from adding other liquids. I know now, but didn't know then, that this was because of the little bit of alcohol in the vanilla--but I still like to watch it.

    In winter, I often have a cup of cocoa in the afternoon instead of tea or coffee--a nice way to get some of that all-important calcium!

    I had a friend (now deceased, God rest his soul) who also loved cocoa, but the way he was used to having it from his childhood was with much more water and much less milk (probably for economic reasons, like our using canned milk). The proportions of milk and water were reversed from the recipe above, and he still liked it that way. So when I visited him, we would make our cocoa separately--he would do it his way, I would do it mine, and we would then sit down and drink it together, both enjoying the comfort of hot cocoa.

  3. Elle, what a wonderful reminder, especially after our Daring Baker challenge this month, about how perfect the most simple of things can be.

    Happy New Year my friend.

  4. Oh, wow. If I lived on a country road and it was flat and relatively car-free or had a trail next to it, you bet I'd send my imaginary children on a 45 min. walk. And then make them do chores when they got home.

    (Okay, you can see I've gotten a little cabin fever from being sick.)

    The cocoa looks great. Usually I add a smidgen of cayenne or mint, but the original is always lovely.

  5. It's so cold in Canada today - a cup of that hot chocolate - amazing.

  6. Peabody, well it's true, we did chores when we got home. I guess we were tough children :)

    NSD, Thank you for the additional memories...I had forgotten caroling cocoa. Sorry about your friend, but glad that you have good memories, too.

    Breadchick, Yes, after the madness of the Christmas run-up, simple is perfect.