Off to a Chocolate Farm
A chocolate farm? Why not - we love the stuff! Bet you didn't know they farmed chocolate in Panama. (Remember Mums when we plagued you for that bar of Frys Five Boys or Cadburys Dairy Milk and the answer came back - it doesn't grow on trees you know - come to think of it was that the money to pay for it you were referring to?) Well, yes it does, the chocolate that is, although to look at it you would not associate the raw product with anything that ends up in a cardboard box with colourful wrappings.
This whole area used to be a huge chocolate producer but then a blight came, wiped out the crop and the indigenous Indians bought a load of cows with funny looking ears instead. Now some enterprising ex pats from the USA have set up a small farm at their home in the Bocas area where they harvest, ferment, dry, roast and sell their beans into the local economy. And they welcome visitors to tour the estate for a modest fee which to be honest is a bargain.
We visited Green Acres with cruising friends. The tour was not just about the owners Cacao cash crop but included a 2 hour walk through their 55 acre site which had formerly been used for grazing cattle (with the funny ears). Most of the land has been allowed to revert back into jungle, which happens in an amazingly short space of time whilst incorporating the Cacao trees that the chocolate bean comes from. Fortunately, we were rewarded with a bright sunny day for the tour. At the end we bought some 'nibs' which are the chocolate beans that have been crushed ready for use.
One common misconception many of us have is that we think chocolate is naturally sweet. Well, that's incorrect. It's very bitter when in the pod but after fermentation much of the bitterness goes. Only when it is further refined and has milk and sugar added by Messes Hershey, Cadburys, Mars or that company that used to make those ghastly cheap fake pipe chocolates our Grans bought us for Christmas does it become the sweet we know. In the state it is in on the farm there is no sweetness but it's full of goodness being excellent food for a healthy heart and metabolism. It was the naughty British that first added sugar to make it what we are all familiar with and thus making it into such a fattening food.
View from the seaward where, incidentally, we narrowly avoided a reef on final approach! And the view to across the lagoon through the Skippers thatch
The area near the house is beautifully landscaped
..and incorporates one completely mad resident mutt and a nest of hummingbirds (which measured about 2" across - one good sneeze and it would have been gone))
Now to the chocolate .......... these are the pods that contain the beans that are covered by a white pithy substance..............
We actually ate some of those (monkeys eat them as well) After fermentation are left to dry in the sun
The owner has some interesting pieces of apparatus including this propane bottle roaster and this home-made grinder - producing the finished nibs
The old husks make excellent mulch.... .... whereas we will enjoy the finished product at our leisure
The remainder of the tour took us through the jungly part with the usual array of critters .......
We all look down as we walk! Any dangerous stuff is often at ground level. ..... this little fella was, we're sure, glued to the tree
The jungle has a natural beauty of its own
Here are the green froggies we mentioned in the last blog.......An interesting fact - you can find out if a frog is poisonous by touching it with your tongue. If it tastes bitter then it's best not eaten -even the legs! Good luck with that test!
Just an inch or so long - So cute! (Prefer the red ones though).
One final point - like all of the properties away from Bocas Town power is by way of solar panels - large banks of them usually sited on the roof. All water is by way of rainfall and held in huge plastic drums in basements or adjoining buildings. All of the chocolate produced is processed using these natural resources making it a very 'green' food!