Easter equals chocolate for Greater Victoria

Local chocolatiers pour it on for spring holiday weekend

Kees Schaddelee

One week before Easter he is covered in chocolate from chest to knees and Kees Schaddelee is happy.

“When you’re working like this five hours a day, I feel like I’m 20,’ says Schaddelee, 62, of the Dutch Bakery on Fort Street.

Schaddelee officially retired last year but was back at it making chocolate eggs, bunnies and a multitude of other shapes for the shop.

He started making the shop’s trademark bombiers – 20 centimetre two-part milk and dark chocolate hollow eggs – when he was 23. His parents, baker Kees Sr. and wife Mabel, emigrated with their four sons from Holland to Canada in 1955 and brought their chocolate-making experience with them.

“Molds were tin then and there was no machine like this,” Schaddelee says, pointing to the chocolate bath with a 50-centimetre spinning wheel that keeps melted chocolate moving. He pulls a handful of chocolate wafers from a 10-kg box and tosses it in the bath – that helps keep the mixture at an even 93 degrees Fahrenheit.

“This is so old fashioned I can’t believe it,” he says about the temperature gauge and how he coats, chills, then coats again the inside of a mold to make a bunny. Everything, from 40-cm high hollow bestselling Thumper bunnies down to solid three-centimetre eggs are made by hand in a one-week period before Easter. Over 1,200 kg of chocolate is used.

Langford resident Maria Lironi received her first chocolate bunny from the Dutch Bakery when she was seven. Her grandmother bought everyone in the family chocolate bunnies at Easter and when she died, Lironi, 48, took up the tradition in her early 20s.  “I always buy the same bunny for each family member: motor cars for dad and my brother and a mommy bunny for my mom. The sad thing is no one buys me a bunny so I have to buy one for myself, this year a little chicken. Easter for me is the memory of my grandma,” she says, “and Dutch Bakery bunnies are a part of that.”

University of Victoria religious studies professor William Morrow says humans adapt traditions to fit changing times and Easter is no exception.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s religion or chocolate bunnies, we’re creatures of the Earth and we respond to the cycles of the Earth,” he says. As a species, whether we go to church or a synagogue or down some chocolate this time of year, we’re repeating ancient rituals.

“Easter has a long pedigree before Christians ever got hold of it because most ancient peoples celebrated the coming of spring, the spring equinox, the renewal of the Earth, with some kind of religious festival.” After the dark of winter humans feel better when spring arrives, he says, and express it by sharing feasts and treats.

Chocolatier David Booth doesn’t make chocolate eggs of any kind but does agree that chocolate makes people happy. “I have fun taking raw ingredients and making something beautiful out of them.” A chocolate purist, he makes 30,000 creme-filled truffles each year in the basement kitchen of his family’s Humboldt Street bed and breakfast that are sold in Victoria markets and shops.

Beginning in late February Rogers’ Chocolates chocolatier Cornell Idu and his staff of 12 make about 20 different kind of chocolate items dedicated to Easter.

Idu says chocolate at Easter has its roots in the ancient traditions of Lent and Ramadan when people abstain from eating or indulgences. Those with chickens would end up with an excess number of eggs and so decorating them became a spring tradition, once Lent ended.

The first chocolate egg, Idu says, was made by Cadbury in the late 1800s. And how many chocolate bunnies does his team make for Easter? “No idea. Lots. Oodles.”

By the numbers

$1.5 billion: Total revenue from manufacturers of chocolate and confectioneries from cacoa beans in Canada in 2009.

221: Number of manufacturers of chocolate and confectioneries in Canada in 2009.

$1 billion: Value of egg sales in Canada in 2011.

27 million: Average number of hens laying eggs each month in Canada in 2011.