Saturday, January 15, 2011

Finca de Chocolate!!

During our Galapagos cruise, we met a couple from Switzerland who recommended that we visit a chocolate farm just outside of Peurto Quito if we wanted to volunteer and spend some time with a nice family for the Christmas holidays. So, after a wet and miserable few days in Quito, we made a 4 or so hour bus ride west to Peurto Quito to find ¨Finca Blanca Margarita¨. We were greeted by Pedro and his eldest son, Francisco, who drove us another half-hour into the jungle to their private 5 hectare farm.

Upon reaching the driveway, we were both astonished by how beautiful their tropical garden is. The main house, below, is surrounded by orange trees full of ripe fruit, which we got to sample upon arrival.

The main house was also surrounded by hammocks where we took advantage of the view (of the gardens and the backs of our eyelids after a long day's work).

Next to the kitchen hung two of the few types of bananas/plantains... which we got to sample for pretty much every meal. We ate them fried cut lengthwise, fried in quarters, fried whole, baked, mashed then friend... with garlic sauce, covered in batter, with peanuts... We pretty much ate them every way humanly possible during our week-long stay!

Below is our little guest cabin. We awoke daily to the sound of crickets, bees, birds....

...and to the pitter patter of tarantulas trying to climb into our boots!

One evening, this little critter decided he was tired and wanted to come to bed with us our first night at the farm, so he ran through the door when we opened it to let ourselves in after dinner. He was greeted promptly by Tyrone's shoe (which is why he looks a little flat in the photo).

Below, Tyrone and Camilla are filing hollow palm nuts into keychains as Marianella cooks a tasty lunch.

It turned out that the family had a ¨band¨, as all three children were taught to play an instrument by their father. Pedro and Camilla whistled and strummed an Inta Illimani song for us.

Another member of the family is Mathias. He is a baby parrot that they rescued after he fell out of a tree. He seems to have a problem with one of his wings, so he may never fly, but he seems pretty content being doted on by the family. His manorisms reminded us both of a cheeky little old man!

Below is the first chocolate pod that we got to pick! We got to suck the white pulp off the cocoa beans, which tasted kind of like yummy tangy mangoes.

After the beans are sun-dried, you then cook them in order to further dry them and make the shells easier to peel off. We got to cook and peel some already dried chocolate beans and then ground them up super fine in order to make some chocolate! The cooking, peeling, grinding, and then more cooking process took around 4 hours for only three small cereal bowls full of beans!

Marianella and her daughter, Camilla, are shown here preparing an extra little pot of chocolate with ''aji'' (red chillies) at Tyrone's request. We convinced them that we eat chili chocolate all the time back home, but they still thought we were strange! It turned out muy rico, though!!

Lydia sampling the ''milk chocolate'' below after stirring the pot for nearly an hour! The milk chocolate consisted of 97% pure cocoa, and our chili chocolate was 99% cocoa! It was sooooo good and we got to eat it warm that evening, and then again with fresh buns the next morning for breakfast. It had a different texture than traditional chocolate found in bar form - it was almost like an extremely rich brownie consisting of only cocoa powder, sugar and milk (which was exchanged for aji in our delicious experimental chocolate).

The day after we made the chocolate, we got to experience real cocoa harvesting. We were each equipped with either a long pole with a flat or hook blade on it to get the high pods, or a machete and bucket to get the lower pods and collect the fruit knocked out of the trees. We were told to pick up the fruit with the machete instead of our hands, just in case there were any snakes under the leaves! We had to be careful not to spear the pod too deeply, though, because if the pod is split down to the middle, it is no longer good for export.

Pedro and Marianella export the majority of their cocoa to the United States, and even a little to Canada, so perhaps you will be tasting some of the pods we picked back home!!

And here are a couple of pretty jungle plant photos that we found interesting!

And here is a giant grass-hopper that we found that was nearly as big as Lydia's foot (yes, abnormally large, capable of human-eating grass-hoppers do exist)!!

And thus concludes our visit at the finca de chocolate! We got to experience the whole process of chocolate production, from bagging small plants, to planting small trees, to picking the rype pods, to sucking off the pulp and drying the beans, to cooking and peeling, grinding, and further cooking those beans into chocolate! As we are both chocoholics, we will now appreciate nature's finest fruit even more, due to the hard work and time that goes into creating that little bar that you purchase at the grocery store.

1 comment:

  1. Yummm! What a great way to spend Christmas! Really interesting seeing the whole production...I didn't see the shipping home to canada stage :) Do they grow ginger in South America? Chocolate ginger??? You can see you got my chocolate craving going :) Take care guys. Love you. Mom xoxoox