How my chocolate aversion was chipped away

For most of my life I've spurned chocolate - making me an anomaly to some, and giving rise to incredulity among those who refuse to accept that anyone could dislike arguably the world's most popular indulgence food.

Others have accommodated this peculiarity. When we were kids my cousin Janet baked Tollhouse cookies, and sometimes - depending on my standing at the moment - she made a sub-batch, sans chips, just for me. Years later my husband, who has no aversion to chocolate himself, modified an old family recipe, substituting chopped dates for the offending chips.

I've observed with detachment - and perhaps the tiniest smidgen of smugness - the near-lust many of my friends have shown for a substance I found unappealing. I've seen friends helplessly succumb to brownies covered with a blackish glop that had no effect on me at all, except to make me shudder.

I didn't always feel this way. As a small child, I consumed more than my share of the tantalizing derivatives of roasted cacao seeds. It was the allure of dark chocolate, in fact, that motivated me to learn to climb. With the aid of a kitchen chair I ascended to countertop heights, where I stood on tiptoe to attain peppermint patties supposedly stashed beyond my reach.

By similar means my cousin Diane and I scaled another cabinet to raid the cache of cupcakes our grandmother had capped with a tasty chocolate frosting. On more than one occasion, I now confess, we ate the tops off, leaving behind a platter of beheaded cupcakes.

My childhood affinity for chocolate also helped me learn teamwork. Michael, the little boy who lived across the street, preferred vanilla to chocolate. When the ice-cream vendor came, we teamed up to share a single ice-cream bar. I would strip the chocolate coating away and eat it, handing off to Michael the unclad ice-cream-on-a-stick. A win-win if ever there was one.

Best of all was the fudge made from Hershey's cocoa, powdered sugar, butter, and a splash of vanilla, culminating in sweet, dark, reddish-brown, slightly granular cubes of pure delight. You could use your front teeth to shave the firm corners of a morsel, or just pop it into your mouth and let it melt into unparalleled gratification. This delicacy stood as a culinary constant in our family - to be enjoyed in perpetuity.

Or so I thought.

One day, without warning, my mother discovered a divergent recipe - one that introduced marshmallow cream. This new fudge lacked the rich, dark appearance. It was too soft and gooey to scrape with teeth. And it didn't melt readily in the mouth. Instead it just lay there, oozing a thick, heavy sweetness that corrupted the cocoa flavor. Others preferred this unpleasant usurper, however, and that was the end of the good fudge.

Not long ago, something sent me down memory lane to revisit that exquisite fudge, the one that reigned uncontested until the interloper came along. As I recalled the good-fudge era, and how it ended, I began to suspect that my sudden distaste for all things chocolate coincided precisely with the onset of the faux-fudge era. I further conjectured that my dissatisfaction lay solely with the intruder fudge, not with chocolate itself. Then I thought no more about it.

Not long after this little insight, I noted a willingness to munch various chocolate bars. This surprising change of heart escalated to encompass a broader range of items, even those previously shunned gloppy brownies.

Now I think it's safe to say that the decades-long hiatus in my fondness for chocolate has come to an abrupt end. I'm free to join my cocoa compatriots, for gone is the aversion. But also gone is my lofty chocolate-free perch; no longer do I sit safely above the tasty fray. Instead, I'm down there with everyone else on that level playing field - the one paved with M&Ms.

This turn of events raises a food-for-thought question: If the return of an appetite for chocolate is due to pinpointing that disagreeable fudge as the lone culprit, might it have been wiser to leave that mystery unsolved? One wonders....

I'll pause now and chew on that conundrum - or perhaps on a Nestlé Crunch.

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