Honey in my cacao (kuh-kah-oh), maple/birch syrup in my coffee.

Some years back I banned white sugar from my cupboards. Nutritionally, it’s a dead food. And we all know, delicious as it makes stuff, it’s just plain not good for us, not good in spades. (I have a vintage heavy, tightly woven cotton sack from the farm days with ‘SUGAR’ printed in washable light blue ink on its face.)

Back up on the farm in the ‘30s-’40s, Grammie Tucker bought her flour and sugar in cotton sacks. Usually, the flour sacks held up to 50 lbs. of white flour and sugar came in 20-lb. bags. The bags were made of 100% natural cotton, tightly woven in a special weave that held the flour or sugar in. Coffee beans came in jute burlap bags from South/Central America, measured in kilos. Jute burlap, unlike the potato burlap we’re familiar with, was lightweight, tightly woven and smoothly soft. I don’t know if they were saved for some use or not. (Once upon a time, you could even get "infused” coffee from Central America. “Canna beans” to “wake up with a kick.”)

Back during The Great Depression and World War II era, housewives washed out the cotton flour sacks and used them to make everything from dish towels to "roll" hand towels to clothing to pillowcases to curtains. (“Housewives.” There’s another column all in itself, “Housewives and house dresses.")

Flour mill manufacturers caught on and … well, I’ll save the history of that for another week except to remark that I now sit here in my sunny windows with their cafe curtains I made from white flour sacks. and a vintage '40s flower print flour sack hangs from my Hoosier-style hutch.

Now, the sap is running.

We Mainers are making our way over muddy farm roads to get to the sugaring house for our first amber jars of maple syrup. Me, I’m going up on a hill here in Morrill to a sugar house run by a couple sisters to get some maple sap straight from the trees. My brother and I, up on the farm, were allowed our own maple tree to tap and collect sap. We loved to just drink the "sweet water" as it comes from the tree.

So anyway, years ago, I switched from white sugar to brown organic and then to just plain black coffee for some years. Then I tried maple syrup to sweeten my coffee and was hooked. Then I started using honey for my old-fashioned cuppa hot chocolate which I make with 100% cacao the Inca way, other than the honey. Coffee in the morning to get me going and cocoa at night before bed — and a chunk of cacao during the day to boost my mood.

Now we all know how bad chocolate is for us, right? Turns out it isn’t the chocolate but the way we process it and add sweeteners to it. Pure 100% chocolate (cacao) is actually super nutritious. Some chocolate makers, like Hersey’s (in their same old packaging), still provide just the 100% cocoa/cacao powder.

You can pick it up in any grocery store or you can go to a health food store and get it labeled strictly as "Cacao” from Peru or some other South American country and pay many times more for it. But it’s the same powder. I don’t get milk chocolate or candy bars with the extra sweeteners and the carnauba wax — yes, the same as in car waxes — added to help keep the candy from melting during transport and shelf storage, or the darker “Dutch” cocoa as it’s been processed and not as healthy as the way nature produces it on the cacao tree. Yes, cacao beans grow on small tropical American evergreen trees and cacao was restricted to the Inca/Peruvian rulers as a “Food of the Gods.”

Now, why is chocolate good for us? To borrow from Browning: “Let me count the ways ….” Actually, the health benefits would make another column or two — so I’ll just list a handful here 'cause you can find a plethora of videos expounding on the jam-packed nutrients and minerals that make this “the tastiest of medicines.” (One video is short, sweet and pretty thorough by Dr. Gus. Just search for “Dark Chocolate Benefits — Bitter Dark Chocolate Health Benefits You Wouldn’t Believe Exist Dr Gus.”)

But a quick rundown: !00% cocoa/cacao is super beneficial for the brain, for all things heart-related, for learning and memory, mood-boosting, circulation and a full range of vital minerals, including magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, etc.

Oh, I make my hot chocolate by first heating a quarter cup of water (for one cup) to a boil, whipping in 2 Tbs. cocoa powder, a smidgen of sea salt, a bit of cayenne pepper, and a dollop of butter. Once this is well mixed I put in the milk. To finish, I pour the hot drink into my hot-chocolate mug and add a dash of 100% vanilla that I make myself from Madagascar beans.

I have a different cup/mug for different drinks. Can’t drink coffee, for example, out of a Staffordshire china cup. But that’s another-other story.)

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools. She now lives in Morrill.