Wildlife wonder- Cacao Tree
These small, evergreen trees are doted around the island and are quite common to see. The younger leaves are red which then turn green and so they are easy to spot because their leaves are often red, orange and green at the same time. There are three types of cacao trees: the Forasteros, the Criollos and the Trinitarios. The latter formed when the first two were accidently crossed in Trinidad and this is now the main type of cacao tree in Grenada.
The trees have large yellow fruit hanging down and these pods have a woody, hard shell that need a machete, or something similar, to break them open. As you can see in the smaller, inserted photo above, you can find a white, pulpy fruit inside the shell which are the cocoa beans, covered with a soft, gooey coating. I have been told that some people, particularly the children, will eat the fruit directly from the tree, or squeeze the juice from it, to drink it. However most of us have eaten the fruit, in the form of cocoa or chocolate.
There are a lot of steps to making chocolate from the cacao fruit. First, the white beans are scooped out of the pod and fermented for about a week with yeast and this is a key process to produce the chocolate flavour. They then look like small, brown beans which are put out in direct sunlight, to dry for about another week. Next, these beans are roasted in an oven. Then the shell is removed from each bean and the cocoa beans are put in a winnowing machine which blows away any remaining shell parts. The beans are reheated and then ground into cacao mass which is often heated and cooled a few more times to give it a smooth texture.
As well as chocolate, these trees provide us with cocoa butter products which is the white fat, drained off the cocoa beans during the final stages of chocolate production. Cocoa butter is used in skin creams, hair products and moisturisers. To those of you who like eating white chocolate, you may be interested to know that this is actually the fatty liquid, drained off the cocoa beans and is cocoa butter with added milk and sugar.
Grenadian gift- Chocolate Fest
You may notice a chocolate theme to this blog. Well, that is because Grenada has just been celebrating its annual Chocolate Fest. Chocolate is one of Grenada’s main exports, alongside its various spices and rum. There are about five chocolate factories on the island and most of them do tours. The tour usually includes seeing the trees, learning how chocolate is made and sampling the different varieties the factory makes. (I will probably focus on some of these chocolate factories in future blogs). This year’s chocolate festival is the ‘rum edition’ and is celebrating the tenth anniversary of this week-long event. The schedule of events centres around the True Blue resort and various chocolate factories, such as the local Belmont estate. There have been various events which have included creating cocoa-scented candle holders and having a chocolate foot soak as well as a lot of rum and chocolate consumption!
My friends and I visited the House of Chocolate in St Georges which is always worth a visit. They have various souvenirs, a range of chocolate merchandise and interesting displays on the history of cocoa farming in Grenada. We decided to stop for lunch there and had Guinness chocolate cake, a chocolate caramel tart and chocolate and ice-cream milkshake. Well, it only felt right to support the local festivities!
Reflections from the Retreat
Over the years of planning our retreat house, I have had various daydreams about different retreat ideas. One of them, that I have toyed with, is the idea of a chocolate retreat during Grenada’s Chocolate Fest. Retreats are all about slowing down and reflecting on life and we can become more mindful and intentional towards any activity, even eating chocolate.
A mindfulness exercise I have used in therapy groups over the years, is the chocolate mindfulness exercise which is always a popular exercise! Usually when we eat, even if it is a bit of a treat and enjoyable, such as a piece of chocolate or our favourite Quality Street, we can rush into it and swallow it before we have really tasted it. This is one reason why we are then often tempted to have another…and another. Mindfully eating chocolate involves first intentionally taking a piece and before even eating it, to smell it and look at it and notice it, as if for the first time. We then eat it, allowing it to move around our mouth and fully focus on the experience. People often feedback that the chocolate tastes stronger when they eat it mindfully, compared to when they had eaten it at their normal pace. This can be true for any food item and you can try it with a piece of fruit, for those who are not keen on chocolate, or even mindfully eating a whole meal.
Over the years, I have developed a meditation practice that is part of my daily rhythm. This often involves reflecting on a piece of writing and seeing what words resonate with me the most and then allowing my reflections to lead into a time of stillness. For those who have tried mindfulness exercises or a meditation practice, you will be familiar with the battle to still our minds and to not get distracted that challenges our desire to find that still space at the heart of each of us. Some people focus on their breathing or a lighted candle or use something like Pilates or Yoga to bring our awareness to the present moment. Even rhythmic, practical tasks such as cleaning a house, creating art or weeding a garden can become a mindfulness or meditative experience. I have recently been hand sewing some cushion covers and curtain ties for the library as well as starting a jigsaw and both these activities can be calming and have a meditate element to them.
Often we can find that nature naturally makes us stop and be still and somehow it seems easier to slow down in nature. In the UK, I started having what I called ‘eco-meditation’ times when I would sit in a wood and be aware of the sights and sounds around me. Now that I have such beautiful views from my home, it is easier to sit and be still, as I look out to the vast ocean or sit by a lake. Whatever guides us into a time of reflective stillness, whether it be the sea, a piece of writing or even eating a piece of chocolate, these times are important and can act as anchors in the busyness of life.