Saturday, February 13, 2010

February 2010 Martinique schoolfieldtrip - La Savane des Eclaves

On the last full day of school before the Mardi Gras holidays, Finn & I go with his class on a fieldtrip to neighboring Trois Ilets to the "Savane des Eclaves" - a village reproducing the lifestyle of slaves who sought to live in the freedom of the Martinique wilds. There are beautiful, traditionally-constructed huts with woven twig walls (such as European builders might have used as lath to support plaster) and bound palm-frond roofthatch. The larger, community kitchen hut had a vented roof to allow smoke escape, but the deep overhang of roofing to about 2' above ground would have still kept the occupants quite dry in tropical downpours.

We were given a cocoa processing demonstration...! (My understanding is from the French presentation - please forgive errors.) The cocoa pod is ready for harvest from the trees when it turns yellow. The seeds are then removed and let dry in the sun for a couple of weeks, then briefly toasted. The ceramic barbecue used was a hybrid of a smaller hibachi-style stove and a chiminea - small and precise coals that wouldn't add extra heat to the hut.

The toasted "féves", seeds, are then dropped into a carved out stump mortar to be mashed with a small-log pestle. It quickly turns to a gorgeous cocoa powder, which can be used as such, or, with more pounding, turns to a fabulous mud - beurre du cocoa (coca butter!) The kids all got a chance at pounding to the count of ten. The non-participating students counted aloud: "un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq..." When it was Finn, turn, as if on cue, his classmates shouted "one, two, sree, four...!"
We were able to sample both the feve seed and the finished butter - no sugar added - it was a lovely, dark toasted-coffee flavor with chocolate finish. Finn didn't care for it.

The cocoa butter would then be rolled into approximately 1" thick sticks in a banana leaf - like a cocoa sushi roll - then let dry. The sticks are sold in exactly that form in the markets today (although sans leaf - saranwrap instead.)

Other wild tropical fabulousness that would have been cultivated are also, of course, still part of the creole cuisine, including: manioc (a flour-like staple, and a separate demonstration) cassava, peppers, guava, bananas, sugar cane....

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