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Fundraiser in Hartland supports church by auctioning off Valentine’s Day treats

  • Todd Lloyd, of Hartland, Vt., a member of the First Universalist Society of Hartland auctions off a chocolate sheet cake during the society’s chocolate auction on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019 in Hartland. The Valentine’s Day-themed event raises money for the church. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Coleman Waters, 11, of Hartland, Vt., raises his number high when bidding on a chocolate dessert at the First Universalist Society of Hartland chocolate auction on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019 in Hartland. The Valentine’s Day-themed event raises money for the church. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, February 10, 2019

HARTLAND — Ann Bahlenhorst had her eye on a German chocolate cake, but when it came down to it, she decided to lock down her options early. Sure, the coconut-topped creation was tall and exotic-looking, but the heart-shaped, raspberry studded confection she went home with would suit her needs just fine.

In chocolate auctions as in love, the indecisive and overly picky run the risk of ending up bereft. Everyone gathered in the basement of the First Universalist Society of Hartland on Sunday seemed to know this. In its 11th year, the society’s live chocolate auction, a Valentine’s Day-themed event that raises money for the church, is both serious business and lighthearted fun.

Bahlenhorst, who lives near the church and sometimes attends services, came to snag a cake for a friend’s birthday. She’d heard that bidding gets fiercer as options become scarcer, so she wasted no time in raising her bid card. The $45 she spent on the first cake that came along turned out to be a virtual steal. From there, the prices only went up.

Not that anyone came looking for a bargain. The auction is a chance for home bakers and a few professionals to dream up eye-pleasing creations and for friends and neighbors to engage in a bit of friendly rivalry.

“It’s very popular and we get people coming back every year,” said Nancy Walker, who came up with the idea for the fundraiser 11 years ago and organizes the event every year. “Of all the fundraising events that we have, this is the third on the list for the money contributed to the church.”

In past years, the event, which also includes a raffle for a gift certificate to Skunk Hollow Tavern, has raised more than $2,000. This year, with bids flowing as smoothly as the chocolate fondue set up in the corner to whet appetites, it looked likely the proceeds would surpass previous totals. The coveted German chocolate cake went for $50; a chocolate food cake with raspberry buttercream brought in $65; a rainbow cake with chocolate frosting that auctioneer Glenn Walker described as “as tall as a top hat,” fetched $80; and a mocha cake with coffee Swiss buttercream went for $140 at the end of a lively bidding war spurred on by Walker’s reminders that the minister’s wife had made it. Along with the array of cakes, there were whoopie pies, brownies, toffee bars, and numerous other confections. Kids had their own table of goodies — chocolate chip cookies, brownies and lots of pots of “dirt” pudding — and their own auctioneer, 10-year-old Caitlin Seville. A third auctioneer, Todd Lloyd, used an authentic auction chant to keep enthusiasm high.

Nancy Walker’s inspiration for the event was simple: “I love chocolate,” she said.

And of course, chocolate and love go hand in hand. Prized as an aphrodisiac by Aztec and Mayan civilizations in the 14th century, chocolate made its way to Europe in the 1500s and 1600s, where it was enjoyed only by the wealthy classes before the British learned to mass produce it. There is some science behind the claims that it promotes amorous feelings, owing to the chemicals trytophan and phenylethylamine, but there is little evidence to support the correlation.

The connection between Valentine’s Day and chocolate dates back to the Victorian era, when a chocolate manufacturer named Richard Cadbury managed to capitalize on the starry-eyed culture of the day, according to the History Channel.

At the chocolate auction, love was certainly in the air, but not necessarily the romantic variety.

The star of the show this year as in past years was an enormous chocolate raspberry cake donated by Skunk Hollow Tavern, which is next door to the church. After battling it out with a friend, Michael Theroux of Claremont secured the prize for a tidy $210. He then proceeded to cut the cake up and share it with everyone else.

“It’s not the cost of the cake. It’s for the church,” said Theroux, taking a seat atop a chest freezer to eat a small slice. “Besides, I’d never take this home with me. Too many calories.”

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com and 603-727-3268.