Monday, 2 November 2009
cacao harvest time
roasted cacao beans
We're in the middle of our cacao harvest. It takes a while, spread out over a course of maybe 5 weeks as we wait for pods to ripen. The cacao pods grow from the trunk and branches of the tree and change from a pale green to a darker yellow or red before they are ripe.
This farm used to be a cacao plantation, but was abandoned in the 1970s due to the Monila blight which took out almost all the cacao farms in this area. The blight attacks the fruit, not the tree, so there are still many many hundreds of trees around which produce fruit. The harvest is a spotty thing, as we do not treat the trees or fight the blight, we harvest what we can: the rest the squirrels or blight takes. It's not a huge harvest, just enough to last us the year.
The pods are hand picked with a curved blade on a strong stick - cacao pods rarely fall by themselves and last years blackened, eaten out pods can still be seen on the trees. They do make an excellent mulch though, so we like to see them on the ground. After picking they are cut open with a machete and the insides scooped out into a bucket. I've written about cacao several times on this blog (search for cacao in the search tool), so won't go into too much detail herte about how it all looks. When the bucket is full it is emptied into a gunny sack - in our case old rice sacks, and hung in a cool covered area, for 5 days or so. In the past the cacao was piled onto banana leaves and covered with more leaves.
Inside the sack the beans ferment in their white gloopy pulp: fruit flies, beetles, earwigs are all part of the process. The bag smells like fairly bad and oozes a sticky transparent juice. Not really what one would associate with chocolate.
After 5 days the beans look like beans - the white pulp covering is gone and they look like smooth plump almonds in a tawny covered skin. Now they are sun dried for 3 or 4 days or until they snap cleanly when broken in two. At this stage they are ready for storage - the major chocolate producers buy them at this point and roast them as needed. We roast ours just before we use them for the best flavour.
The beans are edible at every stage, raw in their pulp they are bitter and 'green', taste nothing like chocolate. Dried they are still bitter and smell a little chocolately but have no real taste. After roasting they begin to have the wonderful aroma of chocolate. We use our in granola bars, in granola, in dried fruit mixes and to munch on when we need an energy boost.
cacao pods on the tree
pile of pods, each pod contains 20-50 beans
the gunny sack with beans and pulp
inside the gunny sack, day 2