Last Wednesday was our weekly Garden Share Day in the milpa at Better In Belize, the ecovillage where I live, and there were cacao pods on the share table, so I brought one home to my little earth bag house. In case you didn’t know, cacao pods are the source of chocolate in all its many guises. Here’s the pod, about eight inches long, and a brilliant shiny yellow. It grows from the trunk of the cacao tree – I have been watching a crop of them ripen from green to yellow in the milpa for some time now.
When my friend José came today to use the internet I asked him to educate me about cacao matters. José is Belizean, and one of my go-to persons for advice and information.
“Well, first you split the pod with your machete,” he said, “then you open it up and the cacao beans are inside…”
“Will you show me?” I asked, fetching my machete for him. And so began my cacao pod education.
José opened it carefully, first slicing down its length with the machete to open up a crack, then prying it apart with both hands to reveal the cluster of beans inside, each enveloped in a juicy, sweet, rose-scented silver-white jacket. I caught the rose scent as soon as the crack widened upon opening.
“Taste one,” he said, passing the pod to me. I shivvied one of the beans out and popped it into my mouth, sucking and tonguing it. Heavenly!
“Help yourself,” I motioned for José to enjoy them, too. We talked for a while about the next steps in cacao culture as we popped and sucked the beans, and since José’s mom used to work on a cacao plantation in Guatemala, I expect he knows what he’s talking about.
He told me the beans are removed from the husk, sucked if you wish (the sucking isn’t necessary if you are harvesting a lot of them), then they’re spread out in the sunshine to dry if they're to be shipped off to the chocolate factory. We had a good laugh imagining a production scenario where every bean needed to be sucked clean before drying -- “Hurry! Hurry! Suck faster! Faster!”
I’m sitting here plucking the slick, gooey beans from the husk as I write, sooking and sighing with pleasure then ejecting each now nearly naked inch-long bean into the empty half of the husk after the goodness has been sooked off. There’s not a lot to sook, but what there is, is delicious. “Sooking” by the way, is an old Scottish word I have a fondness for. It sounds so much more, well, sucky, than the word “sucking.”
Tomorrow, on José’s advice, I’ll put the cacao beans out on a plate in the sunshine to dry so that they won’t rot or get moldy. When dry, they can be planted by simply poking them into the soil in the rainforest, or they can be started out in grow-bags like any other nursery crop.
“Hey, José,” I call out from my computer. “Do cacao trees like sun or shade better?”“They like to grow in shade,” he responds from where he is surfing the web out on the
veranda. A moment later he adds, “with a little bit of sun, too.”
I think I will plant a bunch of these at Micasa, my jungle retreat, and someday (about four years, I believe) I shall pluck a pod from one of my trees and make up a cup of steaming hot, sweet, homemade-from-the-get-go cocoa.
And when my coffee plants also have a bit more age on them, maybe I’ll add a little of my home-grown, roasted coffee bean essence for a homemade-from-the-get-go mocha. Oh my! The possibilities are endless.
[Later: there were sixty beans in that pod. I shall have a veritable chocolate ORCHARD! ]