Food in Grenada
There is a lot to learn about food here in Grenada from one exchange Karen had in the grocery store. She commented that it had been days since they had any ginger root at all. The local lady behind her explained, “It’s been raining for three days. Nobody want to be out there digging in the mud!”
Every weekday, there is a van parked along the road with its tailgate open. Inside are many dozens of dozens of eggs being sold by the owner of 2,000 hens that lay the eggs. In the grocery store, chickens look like nothing you have seen in a stateside grocery in a generation. Not the overbreed monstrosities, but something the size and shape of a real bird. Almost no extra fat, and very tasty.
With rich volcanic soil, a stable climate and an even supply of rain, the locals brag that you can plant anything and it will grow.
Here at the marina, there is a small “farmer’s market” every Saturday. There is at least one real farmer there every week. Jenny runs a small farm up in the hills. and a little while ago ran an open house at her homestead. It was an interesting mix of locals, ex-pats of a wide variety, and visitors. Food, music, and a fascinating setting.
Located up a steep, narrow, and winding road on the southeast side of the island, Jenny’s farm is just like almost every other patch of land on the island: steep. Flat ground is very rare. The view out to the ocean is spectacular.
The “farm house” is a particularly tropical design. There are shutters, but no glass in the windows. Cold is not an issue in this climate, and at this altitude, the valley below funnels the tradewinds up and through the house. Even this close to the equator, air conditioning is not needed.
The house is surrounded by a wide porch, with an overhanging roof, ensuring that ventilation can continue even in the frequent rain showers. The whole setup makes the difference between “indoors” and “outdoors” sort of fuzzy.
Of course if you open your house to the world, you have to occasionally expect some guests who will have varying degrees of welcome. With neither glass nor screens on the windows, mosquito netting is an important bed accessory.
If you look closely you might see another pair of guests in the bedroom a bit larger than a mosquito… (answer below)
Jenny has an obvious soft spot for animals. She hosts over 20 rescue dogs, a blind pig, a lame donkey, and I am sure more critters that we missed. Oh, the guests in the bedroom picture? Up high on the ceiling, just left of center, a pair of small bats sleeping for the day.
The Big Crops
The big cash crops here are soursop, nutmeg and chocolate. Although there is a lot of land devoted to agriculture you can drive down the roads all over the island and never see anything that looks like a traditional farm. Especially from a distance, you see a lush green hillside that looks like any other patch of tropical forest, but it is actually is a carefully managed farm. Nutmeg and cocao trees grow in mixed culture with bananas and other fruit.
You might never have hear of soursop, but it has become a recent favorite of the woo-woo health crowd and is supposed to cure everything. You know magical thinking is involved when a tea made from the leaves is touted as a cure of all kinds of things, but ONLY if made from an odd number of leaves. Yeah, right. If you are thinking about soursop as a cure-all, there is as much evidence for it as a cause of a type of Parkinson’s as well. So there is that.
Lucky for the local farmers it grows well here, and they have ready export markets to Trinidad and the USA. The fruit has become so valuable as a cash drop, that soursop rustling has become a thing. Last week two locals were fined under a new law to about half a year’s average annual income for picking fruits from trees they did not own.
Nutmeg was a huge crop here. Brought here by the British in the early 19th century as part of their effort to break the extremely lucrative Dutch monopoly on nutmeg in its native Indonesia. In 2003 Grenada was 2nd or third (depending on who is telling the story) in world nutmeg production. In 2004 Hurricane Ivan destroyed almost all of the trees on the island. New trees have been planted and are now coming into fruit bearing age.
Nutmeg is a medium sized tree, a bit unusual in its a pyramid shape, where most tropical forest trees have high spreading crowns. The fruit has four parts:
The yellow outer pulp, a red lacy lining, a hard shell, and the inner nut. The outer pulp is sometimes consumed as a sweet fruit, the red lining is actually the spice “mace”, the inner nut is the actual nutmeg, the most valuable part. The shell of the nut is the only part that has minimal economic value. It is widely used as a garden mulch here on the island. When fully ripe, the fruit splits open and the mace and nut fall to the ground. This makes it easy to spot a cultivated nutmeg tree, the ground under them is kept clear to make it easy to harvest the ripe nuts.
The Cocao tree grows very well here. It is easily recognized by its large drooping leaves, and the red-brown color of the young leaves.
The small trees have an unusual fruiting habit. Instead of flowering on new growth, the rather small flowers sprout from the trunk and main branches.
The large seedpods that follow are red or yellow as they ripen depending on variety.
Inside the raw fresh pod, the seeds are encased in a white sticky goo that is sweet and tastes like mango. At this point the seeds themselves are bitter and inedible. In the local markets, this is “wet cocoa.”
The local chocolate factories buy the seeds from the farmers. The chalkboard lists the places they will be buying this week:
The first step in processing is to cover a pile of the wet seeds in banana leaves and leave them to ferment for about a week. They come out of this process a dark brown, and are ready to dry in the sun. Spread on large trays that run on rails so the crop can be pushed under cover if rain threatens.
After a week in the sun, you now have “dry cocoa.” They look a lot like large kidney beans. Some of the larger farmers will do these steps at their farm, to add to the value of their crop. This is the first stable product that can be stored or exported.
The “beans” are now roasted, and the shells removed. This results in a product called “chocolate nibs.” The nibs are very rich in the fat known as “cocoa butter,” so much so that when the nibs are ground a thick liquid known as “chocolate liquor” is the result.
From here on, the processing consists of matching controlling the amount of cocoa butter. If enough cocoa butter is removed that the product is just solid at room temperature, you have “100% chocolate” or “baker’s chocolate.” If essentially all the cocoa butter is removed, you have cocoa power, as would be used to make hot chocolate. Intermediate amounts of cocoa butter make various other grades of chocolate. “White chocolate” is made just from the cocoa butter itself.