What’s In Your Tool Belt?
By Thomas Swan

I needed to replace the faucet in my kitchen sink. It was not a big job so I decided to do it myself instead of calling a plumber. (I’m sure you can relate.) I got out the tools I thought I would need, purchased the parts I intended to use, and set to work. First, I had to clear all the “stuff” out of the cabinets under the sink. Then I had to get on my back and crawl into the cabinet to reach the fixture. I soon realized the tools I had were not right for the job, and I would have to make do. Because of this, I had to climb back out from under the sink several times and make multiple trips to the basement for other tools to find something that would work.
Back under the sink, I finally got the old faucet disconnected and realized I had neglected to bring a bucket to catch the water that remained in the line. There were choice words as I crawled back out from under the sink (soaking wet) and went back down the cellar steps to get a bucket, along with a sponge to clean up the mess I had made.
Having soaked-up all the water laying in the cabinet, I crawled back under the sink to begin installing the new faucet. I discovered that the replacement water lines I had purchased for the job were the wrong size. This meant a trip back to the hardware store to return those lines for the proper ones.
By now my wife wanted to begin making dinner and wondered when the water would be turned back on. My response was not particularly loving.
I am sure that by now you get the idea. This simple job turned out to be an all-day adventure that cost me a sore back, scraped knuckles, hours of my time and would require significant time on my knees seeking forgiveness for my language and attitude, not to mention taking my wife out to dinner.
A professional contractor wears a tool belt so that he can carry with him all the proper tools that he might need on a job. This enables him to work without the interruption of having to constantly go back to his truck to pick-up something he might have forgotten. It would be silly for that worker to carry only a hammer or screw driver in that belt. (I wanted to use a hammer on that faucet.)
But now think about the job we have as disciples of Christ. What are the tools that are provided for us? Our job is to win men and women, boys and girls for the Lord. Our National office has provided numerous tools for us to do that job. We of course have Personal Worker’s Testaments to distribute, but we also have tracts, testimonies, expression cards, The Lifebook, Friends of the Gideons brochures, and Bible App cards. In addition, we have materials to help us build relationships with pastors and their congregations, and we have human support through our Regional Program Leaders and Area Directors. We also have training opportunities and conventions to teach and inspire us. The list goes on and on.
So how many of us go to work with only a hammer or a screw driver? How many of us fail to witness out of fear, and because we don’t have the tools we need with us, or don’t know how to use them? Many of us carry only a Personal Worker’s Testament (if even that), and never make use of any of our other tools. If we want to be effective witnesses, we must learn to use the right tools for the job. They have been provided. Let’s learn to use them.

The Keystone Gideon newsletter Vol. 65, Issue 2


                                                 Who’s On Your Contact List?
By Thomas Swan

In the last article I wrote for this publication, I asked the question “What’s in your tool belt?” I went on to discuss many of the tools the national office has made available to us to do our jobs, and how few of them we take advantage of.
Today I want you to consider who is on your contact list. Do you have your camp officers on your contact list? What about your Area Director? If you are a camp officer I would suggest that you have the officers from other camps in your area on your list as well. These people can be great resources to you. They can help your camp to be involved in joint projects, and can offer suggestions and tips about how you can make your camp stronger. Your new regional director should also be on your contact list. These men are just beginning a new experience in leadership, and are more than willing to help you with ideas and suggestions.
Each region also has a number of Regional Program Leaders assigned to the various ministry areas. Have you ever contacted any of them? They will come to your camp as a guest speaker to help with concerns regarding membership, the card program, church ministry and more.
The last step up the ladder of leadership is the State Cabinet. Do you know who the state officers are? Are their names on your contact list? They should be. These gentlemen may be quite busy, but they are all terrific people and willing to give you their time and advice. Don’t be afraid to call them!
As an Area Director, I have had the fortune to become friends with all of these people, and I can assure you that they are all on my contact list. When I get frustrated or have an idea that is just far enough out of the box that I want to see if it will fly, these are the people I go to. Occasionally, the response that I get reigns me in a little bit and helps me avoid a mistake. More often I receive some sound advice and encouragement to go for it.
Finally, I would like to make this suggestion. No matter what your position is within the Gideons, find an individual to be a prayer partner with you. If you are a camp officer, find a counterpart from another camp. If you are an area director, find another area director, if you are a regional director, pair up with another regional director etc. As you climb the ladder, it may necessitate looking outside the state of Pennsylvania for a partner who can meet your needs. I believe this is important for all of us to keep us accountable, motivated and moving forward toward meeting our 2020 goals. I look forward to hearing your feedback on this idea, and whether or not you have selected a partner of your own.

The Keystone Gideon Vol. 66, Issue 2


Lord or Servant

By Thomas W. Swan

Lately I’ve been giving some thought to the relationship between the concepts of lord and servant.  Imagine living during the middle ages.  Would you be a wealthy landowner living in the castle on the top of the hill, or would you be one of the many poor serfs struggling to survive on a small plot of the lord’s rental property down below?  I don’t know much about my ancestors from the middle ages, but I suspect I come from the serf population rather than the wealthy landowners.  From everything I’ve seen in movies or read in books the serfs didn’t have a terrific time of it.  Life was hard, money almost nonexistent, and the lord held your very life in the palm of his hand.  Now there were probably some benevolent lords who cared about their serfs, but others… well… not so much.

In twenty-first century America it is hard to imagine living in that kind of situation.  We are used to having so much more freedom.  We bristle at the thought of a rich landowner forcing us to bow and scrape in order to eke out a miserable existence, just so we can pay him for the privilege.  None of us would willingly put ourselves in the position to have to answer to a lord.

Yet, many if not all of us claim that Jesus is our Lord.  And so He is if we believe He died and rose again to save us from sin and death.  But if we accept that Jesus is our Lord, then we are His servants.  Now this isn’t rocket science, but how does it influence our daily lives?  We would all agree that a servant is in the position to do the Lord’s will.  A lord doesn’t make suggestions to a servant, or even ask the servant’s opinion.  He tells the servant what he wants done and then expects the servant to follow through and do what he has been told.  If the servant disobeys or puts-off the expected action, there will be consequences.  So how are we doing at fulfilling Jesus commands to us?  And what consequences can we expect if we have not been paying attention to Him?

Some of you may be asking “So what is Jesus telling us to do?”  The Bible is filled with literally hundreds of imperatives (statements with an implied “you” in front), that give us instruction as to what God’s will is for us.  The best known example is the Ten Commandments.  (In this case the “you” is a “thou”) But the Gospels are filled with the very words of Jesus where He tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27   Or how about Matt. 5: 39 “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  One of my favorite passages is found in Matthew 25 beginning at verse 31.  Jesus is talking about the final judgement and separating the sheep from the goats.  Read on through the end of the chapter and see if you would be ranked with the sheep on the right, or with the goats on the left.  The consequences mean everything, either eternal life or eternal punishment.  In Luke 10:2 Jesus really gets down to business when He says “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  And who do you suppose those laborers are to be?  You guessed it…..  (You) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matt. 28: 19-20   Have you made any disciples lately?  Have you tried?  If not, why not?  I believe the Lord may not tarry much longer, and He will be asking some hard questions of us.  Excuses aren’t going to cut it.  Are you prepared to give the answers He will want to hear?

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Invitation letter for the Ruthfred Lutheran Church

By Thomas Swan


Dear Neighbor,

How good is your imagination?

Is your imagination good enough to get you into heaven?  Would you like to find out?

Let’s get started and see how you do!

First imagine that you died.  Picture yourself in front of the pearly gates of heaven.  Standing just inside the gate is Jesus himself.  He greets you by name and asks you this important question.  “Why should I open the gate and let you in?”  What would you say?

By the way, you only get one response.  A right answer will open the gate.  You will spend eternity in paradise with God.  But if you get it wrong the gate will remain locked.  You will spend eternity in torment with Satan and his demons.  

Most people believe in heaven.  They assume they will go there if they live a good enough life.  Are you one of those people?  If so, you run the risk that your efforts may fall short of God’s expectations.  What if He demands more?

How about a better way?  You can know the answer that Jesus requires.  Be prepared to meet Him at the pearly gates.  Rest assured that you have the right answer to His question.  You will hold the key that unlocks the gates for your entrance into heaven with Him.  Let me show you how.

An offer you can’t refuse

I would like to extend an invitation to you.  Stop by the Ruthfred Lutheran Church any Sunday morning at either 8:30 AM or 11:00 AM.  Our members are friendly and our pastors will greet you and help you feel at home.  Follow along and listen for God’s message.  I promise you will get the answer to Jesus’ question.  

This is the most important invitation you will ever receive!  Your response could literally mean the difference between life and death.   God loves you!  He wants you to get it right!  He will watch to see how you respond to this invitation.  Don’t toss it in the trash and forget it.  Come give us a try.

You might stop off at our website first.  Get acquainted with our staff.  Discover the many ways we can meet your specific needs.  You can even listen to a sermon or two.  Get a feel for what to expect.  The web address is http://ruthfred.org

Some of your neighbors received this same invitation.  Talk with them.  See what they intend to do.  Maybe you would all like to come together.  That would be fine.  Whatever you do, don’t miss this chance, and don’t keep God waiting! 

Yours in Christ, because we care,

The Ruthfred Lutheran Church congregation

Direct Response Letter



The sheep and the goats

by Thomas Swan

In Matthew 25, beginning at verse 31 Jesus begins talking about the final judgement.  This is the passage where He speaks about giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcoming strangers and clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and the imprisoned.

My wife and I had an opportunity to put that verse into practice the other evening.  It was about 11:30 when Sue took our dog, Phin, out for the last time before bed.  All of a sudden I heard her yelling for me to “come here”!  It seems that a rather large dog was in our yard.  One that neither of us recognized.  It was clear that there was no collar or any form of identification on the dog.

Well the temperature was already in the low teens and headed toward single digits and we were concerned about the dog freezing if he were out overnight.  So we coaxed him into the house and then called the police thinking that someone would come and pick him up.  I should have known better.  We were told that no one would be in the local kennel until at least 7:00 AM, and that our best bet was to keep the dog until then.  I gave my name and phone number in case anyone called the police looking for a lost dog, and then proceeded to try and bed the dog down for the night.

At about 1:25 AM my phone rang and a very apologetic man asked about the dog.  I assured him that we had the dog inside and warm.  That he was comfortable and causing no trouble and suggested that the fellow get a good night’s sleep and come for him in the morning.   He was greatly relieved and told me the dog’s name was Axel.  He was a Beagle/Pit Bull mix and just over a year old.

Morning came and by that time Axel was completely at home with us, jumping up to lick my face and nibble on my ears.  The owner came and couldn’t thank us enough for taking him in.  We felt good about the whole event, and were glad we had taken the chance to help out.

So the “least of these” turned out to be a dog this time.  An act of compassion doesn’t need to be a big deal.  Jesus just wants us to do the right thing in all circumstances and take care of all of His creatures.


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Consider the Holly

By Thomas Swan

There’s an old English Christmas carol entitled “The Holly and the Ivy” that relates the story of Jesus birth by comparing it to various aspects of the holly plant.  Little is said about the ivy.

Both holly and ivy grow in my yard.  The ivy, while it has beautiful leaves and is often used in decorating, is a parasitic vine.  It persists in spite of my efforts to poison, mow over, cut back and burn it.  It climbs my trees, chokes my shrubs and clings to the walls of my home.  I inherited the ivy when I purchased the house, and many years later it is still with me.

The holly on the other hand I aquired and planted in a special place of honor in my front yard.  Though it has taken a few years to get established in the stony, shallow soil of my lot, it has finally begun to flourish.

A hardy plant, holly can survive summer’s heat as well as winter’s cold and snow.  It keeps its lush, dark green, shiny leaves year round and supplements them with tiny white flowers in the spring and beautiful crimson berries in the fall.  The leaves are thick and leather-like with a distinctive shape and short barbs along the edges.

Like ivy, holly is also used in decorating, particularly around the Christmas season.  Who among us has not seen a holly wreath?  The shiny leaves and red berries make it beautiful, and its stamina keeps it looking fresh and healthy throughout the holiday season.

I have seen holly plants used as a hedge.  The stems are woody and rugged.  They grow full and thick so that they can be trimmed and will retain their shape.  Because of this fullness and the sharp barbs on the leaves, trespassers, be they human or animal, hesitate to push through such a hedge.

Two very different plants; the holly and the ivy.  Each serves a purpose.   But I agree with the writer of the carol when he says “the holly bears the crown”.

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Just a Regular Guy

By Thomas Swan

Bob was born and raised in the Belrose neighborhood of Long Island, New York City. He had an older brother named Herb.  The boys got along famously and competed in everything just as most brothers do.  Until Bob contracted polio.  That was quite a setback for Bob.  It took a long time for him to overcome the disease in the years before Jonas Salk’s vaccine.  But Bob did conquer polio, and though it stunted his growth slightly, Bob was normal in every other way.

Bob was into baseball.  Bob lived, breathed, and ate baseball and could quote you the statistics of the popular players of the day without having to look them up.  As Bob grew, he played ball for the local little leagues, the high school and eventually for his college team.  While still just a sophomore in high school Bob was noticed by the Pittsburgh Pirates who gave him an opportunity to try-out for one of their farm teams.  Bob was a shortstop, and quite a good one, but a shoulder injury that required surgery put an end to his dream of playing in the major league.

So, Bob went on to Colgate University, where he completed both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education and spent his summers working for U.S. Steel in the mail room.  It was there that he met his future bride, Gladys. Upon graduation, the two were married, and shortly after the honeymoon, Bob was off to OCS with the US Navy. Gladys stayed at home in New York until Bob received his first assignment, and then the two of them were off to one assignment after another together.

Being married had some advantages for Bob in the Navy, as he avoided some of the more distasteful assignments. He spent several months in Yorktown going to Minecraft school and was later assigned to the USS Reedbird, a minesweeper.  During a short four month’s stay in Tampa Florida, Gladys gave birth to their first child, a girl that they named Susan. The Korean War was winding down, and Bob never did spend any time in the mine filled waters of the Pacific Islands.

In 1956, when his service years were over, Bob attempted to find a teaching job, falling back on his education from Colgate University.  But with all the service men returning home, jobs were hard to come by. His father was a very charismatic man who just happened to be an executive with U.S. Steel Inc, so with the aid of his father he took a job with U.S. Steel as well.  By that time the company had moved its headquarters to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from New York, so Bob and his new bride moved to the steel city.

Bob and Gladys settled down in a suburb of Pittsburgh and began to raise their family of four children.  Both husband wife had been raised in the church and now wanted their children to grow up knowing the Lord as well.  They found a local church to join, and Bob became very involved as a Sunday School teacher.  He studied hard and became very knowledgeable about the Bible.  Soon he was recognized as one of the most scholarly Bible teachers in the church.  He was asked to lead the adult Sunday School class, which he did for many years.  He also became an elder in the church and was asked on occasion to preach from the pulpit.  Bob also sang tenor in the church choir, attended the men’s group meetings and of course, played on the men’s softball team.  In addition, Bob led a Bible Study for the U.S. Steel employees until he retired.

As Bob’s family grew, he and his wife became committed to the children’s education.  His oldest daughter still remembers the sacrifices she had to make in her social life to put the emphasis on her education.  It all paid off in the end as she graduated with honors, double majored in college and went on to a higher degree and a successful career as a teacher and librarian.  The younger children also did well in school, had their opportunities for college and career and have all been successful.

While all of this was going on in Bob’s family, I was growing up in the same community.  My family attended the same church as Bob’s and I even had him as a Sunday School teacher for a year during high school.  I also had my eye on his daughter.  Sue and I started dating in 1980 when we both moved back to Pittsburgh from out of state.  I had been living in Michigan where I had recently completed a Master’s degree, and Sue had been teaching in upstate New York.  But her mother became ill, and Sue was traveling back to Pittsburgh every weekend to be with her.  She finally decided to give up her job and move back home.  I found a better job situation in Pittsburgh as well and moved back myself.  After a year, we got married and Bob became my father-in-law.

I had always looked up to Bob as a pillar of the church and the community, but now that I was part of the family I really got to know him as a man.  It was obvious that Bob was a hero to his children.  Their love for him outshines the relationship I had with my own father.  I have come to love and respect both of my in-laws, and feel very blessed to be a part of the family.  Bob is kind to a fault, and as generous as the day is long.  I have never heard him curse or seen him drunk.  His advice is always right on target, but he allows Sue and me to make my own decisions.

Bob recently turned 87.  He has experienced much in those 87 years.  In addition to beating polio as a child, Bob has also overcome cancer of the salivary glands.  He has been cancer free for almost 20 years from a form of cancer which all too often recurs and leaves very few survivors after so much time.  Bob still mows his own lawn of nearly an acre, drives himself and my mother-in-law around the community and clears his own walk and driveway of snow in the winter.  He has finally given up his golf game, which became his passion years ago after he had to relegate baseball to a spectator sport, and at which I never have been able to beat him.

One of my favorite things to do with Bob is to sit with him at the table and get him talking about his life.  He has many wonderful stories to tell about his school years.  He relates things about his teachers and his classmates that cause me to dream about what it was like to go to school in the city back in the 1930s.  He also talks about his college classmates, some of whom he keeps up with still.  They must have been quite an exceptional group of guys. And his stories about the Navy are also fascinating.  All in all, it has been a privilege to know Bob.  His whole family considers him to be an extraordinary man.  But Bob thinks of himself as just a regular guy.

Case Study



Everything you ever wanted to know about Chocolate and more.

VOL. 01                                           ISSUE 01                                     MAY 2017

The History of Cacao: Part 1—The Early Years

By Thomas Swan

Chocolate has been around for a long time. Although it is relatively new to most of us, the Indians of Central and South America knew of this treat hundreds of years ago. There is evidence on Mayan pottery that they were consuming chocolate as early as 500 AD. They referred to chocolate as food for the gods, and believed cacao to be a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl. Some historians believe that the Olmec civilization, which preceded the Mayan, may have known of it as well.

The chocolate that these early civilizations knew was nothing like the “Hershey” bar that you and I enjoy today. Chocolate was consumed as a bitter-tasting drink. It was made by grinding cacao beans and mixing the resulting paste with a few local ingredients. Sometimes mixed with water and sometimes with wine, the drink was often seasoned with vanilla, chili pepper or pimiento. It was thought to cure diarrhea and dysentery, but the real draw was that it was believed to be an aphrodisiac.

The first European to encounter cacao was Christopher Columbus. During his fourth voyage to America in August of 1502, his crew encountered a large dugout canoe off the coast of Honduras. It was filled with trade goods, including cacao beans. Columbus seized the canoe and its goods and made the leader their guide. Ferdinand, Columbus’ son, was surprised by how the Native Americans seemed to value the cacao beans. What he didn’t realize was that the beans were being used as currency. This practice continued all the way up to the last century. Although Columbus probably took the cacao beans he seized back to Europe, they were largely overlooked by the Spanish court. Twenty years later when the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez brought back chests full of the beans, they were recognized as being a treasure stolen from the Aztecs. It wasn’t until 1585 that the first official shipment of chocolate made its way across the Atlantic, leaving Veracruz and arriving in Seville. At that time chocolate was still being served as a beverage, but it wasn’t long before an important evolution took place. The chili pepper was replaced with sugar, and the new sweetened drink became a luxury very few could afford.

By the 17th century both hot and cold chocolate drinks had become common to all the European nobility. Other countries began to challenge Spain’s monopoly on cacao and began to cultivate plantations in their own colonies both in the Americas and other parts of the world. More production brought with it lower prices, enabling chocolate to be enjoyed by the masses. But the increase in production also required slave labor of both Native Americans as well as Africans.


 The Best Chocolate Cake Recipe (Ever)

              Prep time         Cook time        Total time

              15 mins.                30 mins.                45 mins.

–A one bowl chocolate cake recipe that is quick, easy, and delicious!

Author: Robyn Stone of Add a Pinch

Serves: 12



  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1 cup milk, buttermilk, almond, or coconut milk
  • ½ cup vegetable, canola oil, or melted coconut oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • Chocolate Buttercream Frosting Recipe (below)

Preheat oven to 350 o F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring.


  1. Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.
  2. Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water to the cake batter until well combined.
  3. Distribute cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center of the chocolate cake comes out clean.
  4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, remove from the pan and cool completely.
  5. Frost cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.


The cake batter will be very thin after adding the boiling water. This is corect and results in the most delicious and moist chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted!

Recipe by Add a Pinch at https://addapinch.com/the-best-chocolate-cake-recipe-ever/


Perfect Chocolate Buttercream Frosting Recipe

        Prep time            Total time

15 mins                15 mins

Author: Robyn Stone of Add a Pinch

Perfect Chocolate Buttercream Frosting is an essential when it comes to birthday cakes and other celebrations.


  • 1 ½ cups butter (3 sticks), softened
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon espresso powder


  1. Add cocoa to a large bowl or bowl of stand mixer. Whisk through to remove any lumps.
  2. Cream together butter and cocoa powder until well-combined.
  3. Add sugar and milk to cocoa mixture by adding 1 cup of sugar followed by about a tablespoon of milk. After each addition has been combined, turn mixer onto a high speed for about a minute. Repeat until all sugar and milk have been added.
  4. Add vanilla extract and espresso powder and combine well.
  5. If frosting appears too dry, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency. If it appears too wet and does not hold its form, add more confectioner’s sugar, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency.


Recipe by Add a Pinch at https://addapinch.com/perfect-chocolate-buttercream-frosting-recipe/#easyrecipe-7008-0


Food of the Gods

By Thomas Swan

The eighteenth-century naturalist Carolus Linnaeus gave the cacao tree the name Theobroma cacao which literally means “food of the gods”. Linnaeus was not being particularly innovative with this name, as the Maya, Toltecs and Aztecs all regarded chocolate as a gift from the gods.

In the wild, the cacao tree may reach a height of 50 feet, but cultivated trees are generally kept between 13 and 33 feet for easier harvesting. The leaves are a glossy dark green. Clusters of pink, light yellow or white blossoms bloom directly on the trunk and main branches. These flowers develop into fruit pods that resemble a small ribbed football about six to ten inches long and three to four inches in diameter. The pods, like the flowers, may be of various colors including green, yellow, purple, orange or red.

As you can see, different colored pods may grow right next to one another on the same tree. The pods contain a pulpy, white mass which is actually a fruit. It is eaten by Native American children as a treat. It has a mild chocolaty taste, but not something we would find very interesting. The pulp surrounds an average of 20 – 50 seeds (what we know as cacao beans) that average 1 ¼ inches long and vary from white to purple. These are the source of our chocolate.

There are only three main genotypes of cacao beans used in the production of chocolate. These are criollo, forastero, and trinitario. Forastero is the most hardy and disease resistant, but not the most flavorful. Criollo is considered to be the premier bean, and trinitario is a hybrid of the two. Without getting too technical, we will touch on each of these three genotypes.

Criollo Beans

The name Criollo comes from the Spanish word “creole” meaning “of native origin”. Criollo trees were first discovered in the Central American countries of Venezuela, Columbia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico where they were first cultivated. Today, the beans are also grown in other parts of the Caribbean.

Criollo beans make up only about ten to fifteen percent of the world’s beans. This is due to the difficulty in growing the trees, their vulnerability to disease and weather, and a smaller than average crop yield. The beans are prized for their delicate flavor and aroma, but you will be lucky indeed if you find chocolate made from 100% Criollo beans. They are usually blended with other kinds of cacao beans to improve the flavor of the more common chocolate and to keep the cost down.

A few names to look for on the wrapper of your chocolate bar are Porcelana – considered the acme of beans, Ocumare 61, and Sur del Lago, all grown in Venezuela, and Criollo Andino grown in the Andes.

Forastero Beans

Forastero, (or “foreign” in Spanish) beans originated in the Amazon basin and were not used in the production of chocolate until the seventeenth century when the Spanish and Portuguese began to cultivate it. The pods from these trees are rounder with smoother, thicker skins than the criollo pods. They are hardier and easier to grow, with a much higher yield. About 80% of the world’s chocolate comes from these beans. But the flavor is stronger, less complex, and more bitter than the criollo beans. For this reason, forastero beans are almost always used in blends. The only exception is the Arriba bean from Ecuador. But some experts debate about whether or not it is a true forastero. Other names to look for are the Ghana from Africa and the Bahia from Brazil.

Trinitario Beans

How do you get the best of both worlds? In this case by accident. In 1727, a blight destroyed most Criollo trees on the island of Trinidad. Forastero trees were introduced from Venezuela, and nature did the rest. There was cross-pollination of the two geneses, producing a hybrid that retained the benefits of both. Trinitario trees are hardier than the criollo, yet the beans have a milder, more pleasant flavor than the forastero. Surprisingly, trinitario make-up only 5% of today’s chocolate. Names to look for here include: Carenero Superior and Guaribe from Venezuela; San Juan Estate from Trinidad; Guayaquil from Ecuador and beans named for the places where they are cultivated, such as Madagascar, Grenada, and Papua New Guinea.

Bulk or Flavor

Why are there so many brands of chocolate? Why do they all taste different? The answer is relatively simple. As the cultivation of cacao spread around the world, it created numerous varieties within the three main genotypes. These varieties differ in quality, flavor and aroma. Taste is affected by growing conditions, as well as local differences in the time and method of processing. Some varieties are prized for their subtle or complex flavors, while others for their robustness and body. Since most of the chocolate we eat is blended, manufacturers can use particular combinations of beans to create their own distinctive tastes.

Beans generally fall into the two categories of either bulk or flavor beans. Criollo and trinitario beans are considered flavor beans while forastero are bulk beans. Bulk beans constitute the majority of a blend. Don’t get the idea that bulk beans are inferior to flavor beans. Bulk beans can be of high quality while flavor beans can be of low quality. Much depends on the method of the beans’ fermentation as well as any anomalies that may occur during processing.




Chocolate Trivia

  1. About 85% of the chocolate eaten in America is milk chocolate.
  2. Europe and the United States have different ideas about what constitutes dark chocolate. In Europe, chocolate must contain a minimum of 43% cocoa paste and 26% cocoa butter to be considered dark chocolate. In the United States 35% cocoa paste is sufficient for chocolate to be considered dark.
  3. The amount of sugar added determines the difference between semisweet, bittersweet or extra bittersweet.
  4. The drink cocoa is made from cocoa powder, but hot chocolate is made from solid chocolate dissolved in milk.
  5. Unsweetened chocolate has antibacterial agents that fight tooth decay.
  6. Eating chocolate does not cause acne.


Word Scramble

Unscramble the groups of letters on the right to make words that fit the spaces on the left. Then unscramble the letters that replace the asterics to find the answer to the puzzle.

Hint: All the words can be found in the newsletter.

__  __  __  __   *                                          c l o m e

__    *  __  __  __  __  __                             s w o r e l f

__    *  __  __  __  __  * __  __                   t r a s e r o o f

__  __   *   __  __  __  __  __  __  __  __       h a d r a i p i c o s

__  __  __  __  __   *    __ __                        v a r b e e g e

__  __  __  __  __  __  __   *   __                  l i v a t u t e c

*    __  __  __  __  __                                 r o l l i c

__  __  __  __  __  __  __  *                           s e p s o r e s


ANSWER: __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

(The answer will be in next month’s newsletter.)



Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. The European Discovery of America: The Southern Voyages, 1492-1616. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.

Teubner, Christian. The Chocolate Bible. New York: Penguin Studio, 1997.



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