Garfield Park Conservatory's Chocolate Fest

January 31, 2008 8:23:11 AM PST
Most candy originates from plants found in nature from around the world. For example, the cacao tree makes chocolate and carnauba palm is used to make Gummi bears. That's why each year, on the weekend before Valentine's Day, the Garfield Park Conservatory celebrates the origins of candy, especially chocolate, with its Chocolate Festival. The 9th annual festival will be held Saturday, February 9 and Sunday, February 10 from 11a.m. to 4p.m. at 300 N. Central Park, Chicago. This year's celebration is made even more special as the Conservatory celebrates its 100th birthday with year-long events, themed "CHICAGOASIS: The Greenest Show on Earth." Suggested admission is $1.

Garfield Park's flowering cocoa trees inspired this enticing event nine years ago teaching visitors that chocolate really does grow on trees. The cocoa trees originally lived in the Sweet House which currently under construction and slated to reopen March 1 as a new exhibit called "Sugar from the Sun." The cocoa trees currently are living in the palm house. Chocolate Fest not only gives visitors a chance to sample some chocolate but to really learn about the origins of this favorite sweet treat and its evolution to its many forms (dark, white or milk chocolate.)

Festival visitors will learn all about the fruit trees and plants that produce the necessary ingredients in our favorite candies; they'll find out about the candy-making process as well at the two-day event. The weekend will include interactive education stations children's activities, and opportunities to purchase chocolate directly from some of Chicago's favorite candy companies just in time for Valentine's Day.

Here are some activities that will take place at this year's Chocolate Festival:

  • Candy Education Stations -- Come visit this hands-on education site to find out the surprising answer to the age-old question- "does candy grow on trees?" Friendly volunteers will be on site to help trace the candy bar back to its plant roots. Throughout the Conservatory, visitors will also encounter stations that tell the candy story. Locate each of these stations throughout the conservatory and learn up close and personal how more than a dozen treats like Gummi Bears, coconut, hot cinnamon candies, and orange slices are made from many kinds of trees and plants.
  • Kids Valentine Card Making -- All are invited to enjoy the yearly Chocolate Fest tradition of making your favorite people a special token of love. Paper hearts, doilies, crayons, and more will be provided free of charge. Come explore your creative caring side!
  • Candy Confection Sales -- Here is your chance to get a head start on the Valentine's Day holiday by stocking up on your chocolates or candy. Participants will include Godiva Chocolate, Whole Foods and Fanny Mae.
  • Live Demonstrations -- Watch as some local pastry talents, such as CakeWalk Chicago and Now We're Cooking, whip up delicious delicacies before your eyes. Enjoy a taste and free recipes.
  • Mary McMahon of Now We're Cooking in Evanston will be among the chocolate experts appearing at the Chocolate Festival. She's sharing three of her favorite hot chocolate recipes. For more information on the festival call 773-638-1766 or visit

    Hot Chocolate Trio

    Recipes from Mary McMahon, Now We're Cooking

    White Hot Chocolate

  • 16 oz Half and Half
  • Zest from Half an Orange
  • Pinch Ground Mace, to taste
  • 1 Tbsp White (or Pink) Peppercorns
  • 1/4 Vanilla Bean, opened and seeds stripped
  • Pinch Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Good Quality White Chocolate (chips or chunks)
  • In small saucepan, stir together half and half, zest, mace, peppercorns, vanilla bean pod, seeds and salt. Heat until just simmering, turn off and cover; allow to steep for 1/2 hour.

    Reheat cream over low heat. Stir in chocolate until fully melted. Strain chocolate into cups, and serve immediately.

    Malted Hot Chocolate

  • 16 oz Half and Half
  • 1 -- 2 Tbsp Malt Powder (found in baking section)
  • 1/4 Vanilla Bean, opened and seeds stripped
  • 1/8 Tsp Salt
  • 2 Tbsp Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Milk Chocolate (chips or chunks)
  • Put all ingredients in small saucepan and heat until simmering. Serve immediately.

    Hot Hot Chocolate

  • 16 oz Half and Half
  • 1/2 Cinnamon Stick
  • 1 Tbsp Black Peppercorns
  • 1/4 Vanilla Bean, Seeds Stripped
  • 1 Tbsp Allspice
  • 1 Dried Birds Beak Pepper
  • 1/4 Cup Sugar
  • Pinch Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Dark Chocolate
  • Place all spices in small sauté pan over low heat and sauté (dry) until they start to release aroma.

    Meanwhile, bring half and half, salt and sugar to a simmer. When spices are smoking, add to half and half. Stir well, then remove from heat, cover and allow to steep for 1/2 hour.

    Bring back to simmer over low heat, and stir in chocolate until melted and well combined. Strain and serve hot.

    COOK'S NOTE: Good accompaniments include ?

    Cocoa rolled marshmallows

    Cocoa Nibs

    Twist of Orange Peel (with white chocolate)

    Ginger Snaps (for dunking)