I wasn’t really ever a chocolate eater or lover of chocolate
I prefer savory stuff, not sweet. My favorite food is mashed potato with lots and lots of butter.
So when we started experimenting with chocolate way back when, it was not really love at first sight.
For Chris is was a different matter. He was a self- confessed chocoholic. He launched himself totally into the entire chocolate making experience. He loved to taste the beans – the raw beans. One of our very first trips down to Toledo to buy beans ,after we had decided that ,yes, actually we were going to make this chocolate thing our next business, he sat for an entire morning chomping on the raw beans, trying to get a taste for them and to work out the different flavors inherent in each bean and each bag (a different one from each farmer and consequently lots of different nuances). Needless to say he had a HUGE headache afterwards…. Me, I tasted one and spat it out.
My love for chocolate came later when I started making chocolates and it was only then that I really really began to appreciate the absolute amazingness of this tree, flower, pod, seed, bean, chocolate.
Chocolate comes from a tree… it’s not a particularly big tree and unlike our national tree of Belize, the Mahogany, it’s not a particularly impressive one.
It grows in the shade and it loves damp, moist areas with heavy rainfall. Here in Belize the Toledo district “the cacao district” has the most rainfall of the country at an annual average of 160cm. Theobrama cacao is the name of this tree and whilst it can grow to as much as 15 metres, here for ease of cultivating it is usually trimmed to about 8 to 10 metres. This shady, moist habitat is great for the chocolate tree not so great for a human not partial to bugs or humidity, the reason being that there are lots of them and believe it or not, these midges are really the whole reason that chocolate exists. (All this talking about chocolate is making me hungry, I’m going to pause to eat a piece of leftover chocolate easter egg)
On the trunk of the tree clusters of flowers grow.These really are the most beautiful little flowers, very delicate and pretty and its no wonder those midges love them. These midges are crucial as they are the pollinators. Pollination according to Wikipedia is “a process in which pollen is transferred to the female reproductive organs of seed plants, thereby enabling fertilization and reproduction through growth of the pollen tube and eventual release of sperm”. Basically it means that once pollinated the cacao fruit or pod starts to grow. At any one time the tree can have flowers, buds and pods ripened and un ripened in hues of green, red, orange, yellow and purple. It really is pretty special to see .
Once ripe these pods are harvested. Here in Belize, this usually takes place once a week during the season which normally stretches from March until May, (although this year the season is later) pods are skilfully cut with a machete from the trunk and then cut open to reveal the “booty” inside. These jewels are the seeds covered in a milky, sticky sweet pulp, delicious to suck on and spit out onto the ground; a normally pretty disgusting habit, this is acceptable on a Belizean cacao farm because this together with the discarded empty pods is contributing to the organic mulch that provides a breeding ground for those millions of midges.
The seeds and pulp are collected in buckets ready to begin their transformation.
So there you have it. The beginnings of my love affair with chocolate.
To be continued…….