Today was a foodie’s dream. At eleven in the morning, we started our day with a tour of Tobago Estate Chocolate, a 50-acre cacao plantation. 25 of those acres were developed and had 23,000 cacao trees, adding 5,000 more and developing 5 more acres annually. It was the only producing cacao plantation on Tobago because a hurricane destroyed all of the cacao plantations more than a decade prior and they had been abandoned. Only two people work on the entire plantation, doing tours, harvesting the cacao, planting the new trees and clearing the new land.
In growing the cacao trees they start by planting banana trees a couple of months before planting the first cacao trees so that the cacao trees have shade because the harsh sun will damage them. After the cacao trees are planted they add Immortelle trees as long-term shade. The banana trees are cleared after the cacao trees begin producing cacao because it allows a breeze between the trees to keep the pods dry. The main pests are parrots and red squirrels which will eat the unripened and ripened pods off of the trees, though sometimes they will bring in trained hawks to get rid of the parrots. They use hybrid cacao trees because they take two and a half years to mature and produce fruit rather than five years and the trees live to be over 100 years old.
On the estate, they also grow Roucou, Breadfruit, Soursop, Gri Gri, Coffee, Banana, Coconut, and Guava trees. Roucou trees look more like a large green bush and produce a spiky fruit whose inside consists of bright red seeds. The inside can be used in cooking as a natural coloring and has a history of being used as war paint by the native populations. Breadfruit looks like a large green melon but tastes like potatoes and can be substituted for potatoes in recipes. Soursop is a gourd-shaped fruit which is green and has spikes like pineapple, it is often used in ice cream. Gri Gri trees produce a fruit which we saw as green though it wasn’t ripe, while the fruit is edible no one eats it because it is so bitter.
The tour guide provided fresh cacao from the pod to try, the seeds were white and had a soft pillow-like feeling with a sticky, slimy texture. The ones from the yellow pods were sweet, like candy or gum, while the ones from the dark mauve pods were more sour, like a sour patch kid. The inside was purple and looked like a small dumpling. The process of preparing cacao and turning it into chocolate is a lengthy one. After harvesting, they open all of the cacao pods and ferment the seeds for six to eight days. The white part liquifies and can be used to create alcohol. They also only use wooden tools because if the beans are damaged in opening the pod they will grow a fungus and infect the batch. After fermentation, the beans turn red and must be dried for another eight days, during the drying process they must be turned every fifteen minutes to keep the drying even and prevent the growth of mold. Once dry the beans can be kept for up to three years without spoiling. The beans are sent to France for industrialization into chocolate and then the chocolate is sold in Trinidad and Tobago. The empty cacao shells are thrown back into the estate for fruit flies to be born in because the flies are the only thing that pollinates the cacao tree flowers which produce the pods. The harvest season is from September to March, and the yield can be affected by too much rain, too much Sun, and climate change. We tried samples of all of the kinds of chocolate, two kinds of dark and one kind of milk. All were extremely flavorful, with a rich taste that stayed in your mouth. The dark chocolate from the Trinidad plantation was fruitier than that from Tobago. I purchased one of each of the dark chocolate bars and a cocoa ball for $200TT.
At one that afternoon, we stopped at Breb’s Bakery in Belle Garden. Everything was marvelous and cost about $5TT for each pastry. For $10TT you could get a full meal of chicken or cheese pies, a savory pastry with a spicy chicken filling or a buttery, cheesy filling. They also had lots of sweet treats and ice-cold drinks, the rollie pollie was a doughy bread with berry filling and it was rolled like a cinnamon roll. The bread pudding is sticky and sweet.
At 1:30 we stopped at Fort King George, an archaeological site and museum that showed the full history of the islands from the Paleolithic era of what are believed to be the earliest native peoples to the island all the way through colonization to present day history. Entry into the museum was $20TT, though it was a terrific photo spot otherwise and had a lot more to look at than Fort James earlier in the week.
At 3 we went to Store Bay Beach for a late lunch/early dinner. I tried Miss Jean’s conch with provisions and a side of macaroni pie. The conch was a similar texture and flavor to buttery scallops and was prepared in a spicy green curry. The provisions were a mix of vegetables - sweet potatoes, plantains, and --. The macaroni pie was bland and mostly flavorless. In total, the meal was $70TT. I also got Moby juice from Esme’s Local Dishes, it’s a juice made from the bark of the Moby tree and had a very interesting flavor. It was sweet with a bitter, spiced aftertaste. The juice cost $12TT.