FEB 2002

Divine Chocolate

Sex . . . or . . . chocolate? If you could only choose one for the rest of your life, which would it be? I’ve been mulling this question over the past week or so, and I just can’t make a choice. Truth is, I’d prefer both, together, simultaneously. In fact, I believe I was naked the first time I tried a Kilwin’s bombe truffle. But that’s a story for a different kind of magazine.

Of course, I also admire self-discipline, and I see the value in setting limits. The sense of clarity and balance that results from a structured, healthy life can be as satisfying (and longer lasting) as a rush of endorphins lighting up the pleasure centers of the brain.

I guess that’s what the monks of the Society of St. John in Eagle Harbor, Michigan, have come to realize. But we can only hope that their daily routine of prayer, readings, worship, and work—and their vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience—still allow for an occasional bite of chocolate. Because these monks make a mean chocolate truffle. And while they wouldn’t ask you to give up sex to have one, they’ve clearly been rewarded by God for their sacrifice.

These Catholic monks of the Byzantine rite sell their truffles out of a tiny shop on Route 26 in the Keweenaw Peninsula (you know, the part of the Upper Peninsula that is as far north as you can go). Called the Jam Pot, the shop is filled with handmade preserves from the wild fruit that grows up north: bilberries, thimbleberries, apples, strawberries, plums, blueberries, and blackberries. The monks also bake dense, bourbon- or rum-soaked fruitcakes, filled with raisins, dates, and walnuts, and wrapped in cheesecloth. (They claim the cakes will "keep and improve for years.") Other divinely inspired treats at the Jam Pot include homemade caramels, huge carrot cake muffins, and chewy oatmeal cookies.

But for edible sin, the truffles are the most tempting. Over an inch in diameter, with a thin chocolate coating, they’re more than a mouthful of dangerous chocolate concentrate. The truffle paste is made with heavy cream and butter, and flavored with almonds, coffee, hazelnut, or orange. Each truffle is then hand formed and dipped in melted Swiss chocolate or rolled in chopped nuts. They are so substantial that the milk chocolate truffles are almost as strong as the dark chocolate ones. When you open the wrapper on one of these creations, you can almost taste the chocolate in the air. And with each bite, it teases your palette with extracts of smoke, roasting, nuts, and liqueur.

What are monks doing making truffles in the UP? Keeping themselves alive by serving the hedonistic desires of people like you and me. They may be monks, but they’re also savvy businessmen. They know I can’t give up chocolate any easier than I can give up sex, and they cater to my weaknesses with their almighty gifts from the kitchen.

The small Society of St. John came to this wild property on Lake Superior in 1983, where they found it to be the perfect mix of beauty and harshness—just right for the monastic life. During their first summer, they started picking berries and canning preserves to bring in a modest income, and the business slowly grew. They added the other luxury food items over time, always with a commitment to fine ingredients and nothing artificial.

Now vacationers shop at the Jam Pot from late spring to October, and are served by the monks themselves, who stand behind the counter in their brown wool robes and chest-brushing beards. Friendly and patient, the monks are willing to answer any questions about their order and beliefs.

The revenues support their sparse living, keeping them fed and warm during the punishing winters. As word has spread of their unusual story and high-quality confections, their business has grown so much they’ve had to scale it back to attend to their devotions. In the Advent 2001 issue of their newsletter, Magnificat, they recently stated that, "Thousands of people pass through the doors of our shop each summer . . . and we continue to be written about in the press, most recently in upscale regional and travel magazines. We have done nothing to generate all this, other than do our work and live our life of prayer as best we can. Once, when asked quite seriously who our publicity agent was, we could only point Heavenward."

While it’s worth visiting the Jam Pot in milder weather, you can order some of their products by mail from their web site, www.societystjohn.com. The truffles come in a handsome box of twelve, with four different flavors in colored foil wrappers.

When you taste one, you may want to get down on your knees and say prayers of thanks. After all, the monks have made life-long sacrifices to bring you this moment of bliss. But if you’re like me, it may just make you crave more pleasure. And if an orgasm is hard to come by, just open another piece of chocolate. God meant you to have it.

FEB 2002

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