Bridge mix for the artisan eater
by Ari Weinzweig
One of the phone numbers I’ve dialed regularly over the last four months, in my effort to stay grounded and gain insight, is the one that connects me to my friend Shawn Askinosie. They’ve been good calls to make. Sometimes I learn about chocolate. Other times about monastic life (he’s a lay brother at a monastery). Sometimes it’s about the cacao-growing cultures of East Africa or South America or the challenges of importing. I always come away from the calls feeling a bit better than I before I made them. The feeling is, apparently, mutual. Shawn wrote to me the other day, “I always feel better after we talk; even though it’s often about tough stuff.” Our connection alone won’t pay the bills, but it’s of huge benefit to both of us. It reminds me of what anarchist geographer Elisée Reclus wrote a century and a half or so ago: “Someday the quest for friendship will replace the quest for material well-being.”
A new chocolate to love.
Shawn and I have been working together for nearly 15 years now. I love his chocolate. I love his work. I love him. I’m inspired by all the positive contributions he’s made to the community of cacao growers in the producing countries around the world. When I eat his chocolate (which I do often) it reminds me how significant simple and meaningful small bits of culinary beauty can be. One square of his bean-to-bar excellence can reground and remind me that you really can taste—and emotionally feel—the difference.
Earlier this spring, Askinosie Chocolate introduced its new Chocolate Covered Cherries & Hazelnuts. It’s no ordinary bulk-bin Bridge mix. I asked Shawn for some background.
Why this new bridge mix is so special.
This is our take on the classic “Bridge Mix” (a mix of nuts and fruits), with a craft chocolate spin. It’s a salty/sweet crunchy/chewy snack that’s great for dark and milk chocolate lovers. We use premium dry roasted Duchilly Hazelnuts coated in coconut milk chocolate and organic Bing Cherries coated in Tanzania dark chocolate. Like our best-selling Malt Balls [which are also excellent], we make these by hand in our vintage panning machine by tumbling them for hours in layer upon layer of creamy chocolate. This is a limited-edition Kosher product—we’re only making a select amount over the course of the next several months and when we’re out, we’re out!
My mother would have loved the kosher part. I’m more intrigued by the rest of it. The key, of course, is that these new Chocolate Covered Cherries and Hazelnuts taste terrific! So much so that this spring Shawn shared a perfect-for-the-pandemic moment bit of passion: “I really love these, Ari. Hazelnuts and dried cherries are nutritious and when coated in our chocolate they’re hard to beat! This is my go-to snack right now while binge-watching ‘Homeland!’”
The history of bridge mix.
In case you were wondering where “Bridge Mix” comes from, it seems to be a mid-20th century invention. The obvious origin story I found is that it was eaten by card players, since people tend to snack while someone else is shuffling. The more interesting story is that at the Hershey factory in Pennsylvania, bits of candy that fell off the “bridge” on the conveyor belt were all thrown into a single bucket. The inevitable and otherwise incongruous combination of sweet and salty, chocolate and fruit, turned out to be an inside hit! The staff loved it. Later the company started selling it. Another example of how creative insight and new products can emerge from the strangest places.
In ancient Rome, hazelnut trees were planted to bring future happiness. I hope these chocolate-covered hazelnuts and cherries bring a bit of happiness your way. They certainly have mine.