Thelma in high school

Does the name Thelma evoke a visual of Gena Davis and Susan Sarandon’s infamous characters driving a turquoise colored 1966 Thunderbird convertible over the edge of the Grand Canyon? Can you hear the roar of the V8 engine or feel the cloud of dust they left in their wake? Spoiler alert for those not in the know, this is the final scene from the 1991 film classic “Thelma and Louise.”

You ask what does this have to do with chocolate? Well that movie made my mom’s name famous and associated it with strong willed women; which definitively described my mom. People continually ask how I create flavors. This is the story of how a chocolate came to be named Thelma. It’s a brief glimpse of my mom’s story, selfishly written for myself and my siblings.  And for you. Perhaps it will inspire you to tell your mom’s story or bring back memories. If you are blessed to have her present in your life, create new stories. My mother passed at the end of 2011 just as I launched my chocolate company. This is my way of keeping her close and top of mind. No publisher is breathing down my neck, but this piece is long overdue in my book. With Mother’s Day around the corner, I thought it a fitting time to share it and remind us what a great gift, moms are to the world.

Mom and Dad engagement party

A child of immigrant parents and raised during the Great Depression, Thelma grew up a resourceful, resilient and strong willed. A bit of a tomboy she ran track, played handball and other sports in high school. Typical of the times, she married my father, Arthur, three years after graduating. They planned to start a family and thirteen months later my sister Cheryl was born. Three years later my brother, Scott, arrived. I showed up four years later and we moved west to St. Louis, home of the Gateway Arch.

Mom knew her way around the kitchen. She was an excellent cook, not fancy or big on sauces, but very efficient and stealth. A Russian born mother and Syrian father provided my mother an interesting palate of flavors and spices to utilize when it came to meal prep.

Never short on good Jewish cooking, brisket and potato latkes appeared regularly on dinner menus. One thing my siblings and I agree on, she made the best chopped liver. The secret sauce you ask? Her home-made schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). Schmaltz, like lard, tallow or butter each imparts its own unique flavor; no substitutes will suffice. While you won’t find rendering fat on my repertoire of cooking skills, I surmise I inherited mom’s ability to cook from scratch and authentically. And I am grateful!

Thelma & Arthur cozy on the couch.

Mom went to work part time when I entered first grade. But she kept up her religion, a trilogy of bowling league, Tuesday night mah johngg and Friday night poker with the ladies. I looked forward to the Tuesdays and Fridays mom hosted the games. Why? Brach’s chocolate bridge mix and an array of licorice candies. All the best licorice treats were on hand: bites, pastilles, hollows, soft gum drops, Good & Plenty and Twizzlers.

My mom loved everything licorice. When my parents retired to Florida, I remember sending her boxes of Black Jack Gum after I found it in a retro candy store. I did the same with tins of licorice mints. Her fondness for the flavor probably came from her roots, growing up with undertones of fennel and anise seed in her meals. Everyone in our family including grand kids, nieces and nephew all knew about her affection for the flavor that people vehemently love or hate with no middle ground.

A Florida visit with mom. (left to right) My Sister-in-law. Rosie, me, mom.

Almost a year after her passing, my family and I stood graveside for the unveiling of her headstone. Through tears, laughter and prayers we placed small colored gemstones on the marble stone denoting her life. The translucent stones reminded me of hard candy. At that point my niece Jessica suggested I create a chocolate in my mom’s memory. I don’t recall who said it but the next words I heard: licorice flavor. My family laid the gauntlet down graveside, great.

Hum, I mused, licorice and chocolate? Not so sure about this. Then it hit me: think biscotti. Anise and chocolate play together well in that crunchy cookie. Hazelnut represented my mother’s middle eastern roots and would make for a perfect finish. Surprisingly, it worked. Thelma, the chocolate was born.

At a recent wine tasting led by Chef Mark Tarbell, her pairing with a Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 was received with pleasure. I hope you will give Thelma a try. My mom would not have driven over a cliff like Thelma and Louise, but she was bold in her own way.  She told it like it was, not necessarily everyone’s taste as is the case for this flavor combination that is bold and subtle at the same time. Even if you don’t like licorice, it is worth a try.

For those in Phoenix, Thelma will be available at all our markets for sampling and purchase this weekend. Wishing everyone the very best Mother’s Day.

If you are interested in creating a signature chocolate for your company or to recognize a loved one, contact b Naked at 480-947-3900.

Sue Berliner
Founder, creator & owner
b Naked Chocolates

Copyright Sue Berliner 2018 All rights reserved.