Magical Mesoamerican Chocolates

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Sagahún Chocolates in Portland, Oregon makes some of the most interesting chocolate confections in the nation. The chocolate barks get their crunch from nuts, pumpkin seeds and crushed, salted corn nuts. They take their scents from edible flowers and lavender. And they contain potent doses of jalapeño, ancho and other chiles. I am not talking about a dainty little dusting of pepper -- I am talking about enough chile to make your mouth burn.

I have often wondered if the 2000 movie Chocolat was modeled on Sagahún's owner, a beautiful artist-turned-chocolatier named Elizabeth Montes. Montes was an artist in New York when she started apprenticing to chocolate makers and learning the craft. She was forever changed after reading the Florentine Codex, the natural history of the New World written by Fray Bernardino de Sagahún. The priest wrote about the Aztecs mixing chocolate with flowers, chilies and honey. Montes took the ancient Mesoamerican approach to chocolate as her inspiration, and in 1999, she started a company called Sahagún. In 2001, she moved to Portland, where she cooked up her candy creations at home and sold them at farmer's markets. Her business took off when she opened a tiny shop on 16th Avenue in downtown Portland.

I once made the mistake of giving Sagahún chocolate to a loved one. Now they won't settle for anything else. There is plenty of great chocolate in Texas, but I still mail-order magical chocolates from Sagahún for special occasions.

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