Battista Bolla - Chocolate maker

Chapter 6

The arrival of Battista Bolla, a skilled chocolate maker, brought changes to the Gattis and to Ragazzo.

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At first, Carlo got Battista to run one of the many kiosks he had set up in London. Battista was glad enough of a job, but as the months passed he fretted

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"The longer I am in London," he said to Carlo, "the surer I am that we should introduce our own drinking chocolate. Chocolate from the Blenio. Why in France, all over Europe, hot chocolate is drunk everywhere. Why not here?" Battista, usually a silent man spoke vehemently.

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Carlo looked at him thoughtfully. "First and foremost, Battista, the English have become tea-drinkers. They drink a certain amount of coffee and you will find hot chocolate in some of the high class cafes. Why, even the street sellers here sell what they call cocoa."

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"Miserable tepid cups of chocolate water - phat!" Battista spat out the words with disgust. "That's not hot chocolate." Carlo smiled. "Now I believe," Battista went on, "there's a place for drinking chocolate, particularly in London, not only in the cafes, but at home, for breakfast, in the afternoon, at ladies tea parties, for children. And not just for the rich, for people of all kinds."

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Carlo warmed to the idea and a few days later, as he and Battista sat over their morning coffee, he said, "Battista, if you can make the chocolate, I'll sell it. How do we start?"

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And that's where the problems began. For Battista had been trained in the French and Italian tradition and needed special types of cocoa beans for his chocolate.

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"Very well, we'll import the beans from Paris," said Carlo remembering his days in the Great Market there.
"But what about the machinery for crushing and grinding the beans?" Battista was taken aback by Carlo's sudden enthusiasm. "To make it by hand is back-breaking work."
"Santa Maria," cried Carlo, "if you want to make chocolate, back-breaking it must be until we can do something better!"
"I shall need help," said Battista humbly.
"We'll soon find you that."
"There's a nephew of mine, Julian, he's had some experience in chocolate making. When I left Castro he begged me to bring him with me."
"Send for him," said Carlo.

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Once he had determined on something. Signor Carlo moved quickly and so it came about that within a month Carlo and Battista, as partners, had rented a house in Holborn Hill. It was a tall house on an important thoroughfare, just on the corner of Leather Lane, with its busy market. On the ground floor was the shop, with two good windows and paned glass. Inside, a long serving counter with shelves behind for the bottles and jars and packets of chocolate; and two little tables and chairs where customers could sample Battista's Blenio confections.

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The Gatti family lived on the floors above, together with Battista and Julian; and once again Ragazzo found a place in the long attic under the eaves amongst the other workmen Carlo had brought over from the Ticino. Ragazzo's favourite, Luke Corazza moved in too.

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Leaving the flower-makers in Coppice Row was a wrench, but to Ragazzo's surprise and delight he found the signora had engaged little Carrie Pye as nursemaid to Rosa and the new baby, Clara. Here was an ally and friend on those days the Signora let him know the roughness of her tongue!

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After the sadness of the last months, everyone looked forward to the move to the new house and to watch the beginning of a new business. Back-breaking work Battista had called it and he was right. To make chocolate by hand was slow, laborious, hot and exhausting and Ragazzo was soon to be drawn in to take his turn with the others, now that Carrie was working upstairs helping the Signora with the children.

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Sometimes he was set to stir the cocoa nuts whilst they were roasting in an iron pan on the stove. "Keep stirring all the time," said Battista, a watebful eye on the pan. When after some time the husks began to split, he removed the pan from the fire and Julian and Ragazzo had to peel off the hot dry husks from each bean, often burning their fingers raw in the process. Then back went the beans to the iron pan to heat again until they began to shine and were ready for pounding in the big mortar.

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Fortunately for Ragazzo, Battista did not think him strong enough to do the pounding, so his job was to cut up the shining sugar loaves and feed them into the mortar. And what an ordeal the pounding was! Summer and winter. the sweat poured off Julian and Burgonino, one of the workmen, until they pounded the beans and sugar to an oily paste.

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From there the chocolate paste went to the stone. A fine stone slab set in a wooden box with a little charcoal fire inside, to keep the slab and the paste warm. With a long narrow iron rolling pin, the paste must be rolled and ground over and over again. This was Ragazzo's job and he hated it. After a long stretch at the stone, he would sit back on his heels, his arms aching, his head burning, exhausted. Then Signor Battista would come to test the chocolate. "It should melt in your mouth like butter," he would say, "hmm, there's still a roughness, a little graininess there. Try again Ragazzo." And Ragazzo who had never tasted butter would continue to roll the iron pin backwards and forwards until the chocolate maker at last was satisfied.

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Often Rosa would come down to the kitchen hoping he would come out to play with her as he used to do, but seeing him so tired and worn she would say, "Poor Rag, poor Rag is tired," and then dance away, leaving Ragazzo wishing he had never left the Signora upstairs.

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In those days his job seemed never done. For ten hours a day he would work in the kitchen or in the shop on the stone, carrying water and always sweeping out and tidying up when all the others had gone. Sometimes he fell asleep at the stone or dropped down in a corner, his broom still in his hand. One or other of the workmen coming in at night would not bother to wake him but simply carry him upstairs to his pallet in the attic. Signor Carlo and Battista were hard masters but they worked hard themselves and expected it always of others.

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One day Carlo set off for Paris. He was going, he said, to make a contract for the special type of beans Battista needed. For ten days they heard nothing of him. It was Rosa who saw him first. Standing in the shop window, she saw a large cart draw up and to her surprise, her father descending from the seat by the driver.

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"Papa, Papa. It's Papa," she shouted, running out into the street. Picking her up in his arms, Carlo kissed her.
"Run and fetch your uncle Battista. Tell him I have a surprise for him."
Wiping his hands from the sticky chocolate, Battista hurried outside. In the back of the cart there were piles of sacks.

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"This should do your heart good," said Carlo. "Bahia, Caraque, Grenada - all the sort of cocoa beans you spoke of. Here they are." Battista stood amazed.
"Get hold of this, Roger," said Carlo to the driver. "We must get the sacks inside." And as they carried them into the shop he added, "There's more to come. Battista. Get Julian and Ragazzo."
As they continued to unload, Battista realised that the floor of the cart was covered with pieces of machinery.
"Bought it cheap," said Carlo. "A chocolate grinding and mixing machine - all we can afford at the moment."

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Battista was appalled. The machinery was old and worn and rusty. It lay in confusion at the bottom of the cart. "You're the chocolate maker, I'm relying on you to put it together again." Carlo'said. "It cost as much to bri

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ng this lot by cart from Paris as the machinery itself."

For days Battista, Julian and Ragazzo would stare at the pieces of machinery on the floor of the back kitchen, trying to put them together. Young Julian would assemble one section successfully only to find it would not fit with another.
"I thought I understood it when they dismantled it in Paris," said Carlo puzzled, "but now I can't make head or tail of it."

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Gradually, as they cleaned the parts of rust and oiled them, the machine began to take shape and it was Mr. Spizzi the instrument maker from Leather Lane who finally got it going. The machine revolved and rattled emptily and noisily. Battista was delighted. At last he would be able to roast his own beans to perfection, to mix and blend the chocolate to his exact Blenio recipes, for every chocolatier carries his own secrets of manufacture which he guards carefully.

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"We shall put it here, Ragazzo," he said as they manoeuvred the machine towards the corner.
"No, no, not in the kitchen. Let's put it in the shop," said Carlo. "Right in the window so all the world can see you at work. It will be a great novelty - good for business."

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And so it had proved. In a busy street like Holborn Hill there were people passing all day and most stopped from sheer curiosity to see the strange new machine. There were always children peering in, squashing their faces against the small window panes and many people came in to ask about it., to sample the drinking chocolate and to look with some wonder at the new-fangled eating chocolate, Battista's tablets and French bonbons, which they saw on the counter.