The harvest of cacao beans, unlike that of other crops, lasts throughout the entire year. Peak seasons occur at different times of the year in different countries although the climates of the different countries may be vastly similar. The world over, harvesting is a matter of hand labor for the most part. Pickers called tumbadores are sent out into the plantations armed with long-handled, hook-bladed knives to clip the ripe fruits from the trees. They are followed by women and children with baskets, who gather the fruits up, dump them in huge stacks, sort them and open them with lethal machetes. Within the fruits, the cacao beans nestle in a soft mucilaginous pulp which is scooped out by hand or wooden spatula. A good worker can open 500 cacao pods an hour. As a rule it requires about 400 beans to make one pound of chocolate.
Between the breaking of the pod and the appearance of the chocolate there are many months and many miles. Beans and pulp together must undergo a natural fermentation which lasts from two to nine days. Then the beans must be dried. The same drying method is in use today as was used four hundred years ago by the Indian slaves of Montezuma. The beans are spread on trays of bamboo matting in the sun. In some places, hot-air pipes have been put to use to accomplish or facilitate the drying; but, wile the hot air dries the beans, it lacks the sun's power to develop flavor. And finally when at last sorted by hand, the beans are poured into sacks, stamped with the grower's name and point of origin, and carted to shipping centers, from which they go to manufacturers in all parts of the world who buy not from one source alone, but many, using different cacao beans from different parts of the world with an eye to blend of flavor. It is in fact the blend, in conjunction with the particular chocolate-making process that each manufacturer follows, that determines the quality and flavor of the chocolate which at last reaches the consumer. Blend gives the individual characteristics that make one chocolate different from another and in the long run, determine the taste of the cakes, cookies, pies and creams that appear day in, day out, the world over, at a million tables. Blend accounts for the personality that the chocolate makers stamp on their products. And it gives us, of course, not only diversity, but endless pleasure.
Next Article: Types of Chocolate