So excited! We just received our first batch of cacao balls from Grenada – used to make chocolate tea…a true delight, I can assure you! I discovered them during my trip last month…after a few interviews and visits to farmers’ collectives and other such places, I got the story behind the drink.
Here’s how you make a chocolate ball, as told to me by someone at a Grenadian nutmeg processing company…aka the GCNE Nutmeg Pool
Alvin Heinz spends much of his day in a tree outside the Radisson Hotel at the Grand Anse beach or at St. Georges when the cruise ships come in. He carves coconut shells into polished dolphins, palm trees, nutmegs, and other medallions which he sells to tourists. His job, he says, is to make sure they have a good time on the island. When they come, he says, they bring money.
I am 46. I was raised by my great-grandmother. My grandmother lived with her mother. We would all wait for money from my mother. She lived in Trinidad. I was born there.
To make more money, my great-grandmother made chocolate rolls that she sold to the people in the village that they melted into tea. Everyone bought chocolate for the weekends, so on Friday, we made three times the amount.
For meals we got a coconut, put sugar and limes in the juice and that’s what you’d eat. You’d go to the garden close by and get bananas and cook them and make bread fruit and yams, mangos, plums. There were a lot of fruits you could survive on. You can’t go hungry that way.
The fruit grew through generations. One banana tree puts out another – in a few months there are other banana trees. You don’t need to cook for the kids – they had bananas, mango, sugar cane. If a neighbors’ tree had lots of mangos, all the kids would come and get it. The neighbors shared – they had plums, mangos, paw-paws, cane sugar. Nutmeg supported the family for years – from children to grown-ups. We used it as a spice – and for cooking, pastry and cakes. Some sold them to market vendors.
All the trees got its use. Bamboo was the main thing for brooms, baskets to carry the cocao and other things. Or you would put wood together in a big pit fire to make charcoal. It would sit for days. People didn’t have gas or electricity – the food was cooked on three stones and a pot.
There weren’t many doctors. You go to the person who has the most experience. They say, go to the river and get this and you get it and in a few days you are OK. No one had vehicles. Everyone had a donkey that we put in one place, like horses. The donkey carried the load, we fed the donkey and got fertilizer for the garden. We had rabbits, goats, all animal feces went back to the garden. Everything grew right there.
Most people worked on estates. There was lots of land – like slave land. They did work for the estate owner to sell to the big companies. People would leave their homes, and work for a certain amount – no matter how big or small, you have to get that amount to survive.
Banana, cacao and nutmeg. It was hard but at the end of the day, we are here now.
How to make a chocolate roll – aka chocolate balls
As described at the GCNE Nutmeg Pool
Pick a cacao pod
Take the cacao bean out of the pod
Dry in the sun for about a week
Put it in a big pot over a fire of coals for 15-20 minutes.
Stir the whole time or it will burn
Let it cool for a day or so
Remove the shell
Get the bean
Grind it in a hand grinder with spices: nutmeg, bay leaf, clove, orange peel, cinnamon
According to Alvin, the spices and the natural fat in the cacao held the balls together
THANK YOU MEXICO! Without Mexico we would be chocolate-less. Of course, early on Mexico was home to the Olmecs, known for their large head sculptures, the Mayans, and the Aztecs.
In 1521 explorer Hernán Cortés landed in Mesoamerica and saw a mesmerizing sight: the great Aztec leader Montezuma, bedecked in jewels and feathers, and attended to by 200 wives. And in his regal hand he cupped a golden chalice filled with the cacao drink. This inspired Cortés, largely to overthrow him, which he did with a devastating, bloody blow.
As for the cacao – the bean which is the essence of chocolate today? The Spanish carried that back to Spain and kept their delicious secret hidden for over a hundred years. Gradually, word spread, thanks to the intermarriage of royalty, each secretly sharing their treasured cacao with their betrothed.
Eventually, the Europeans brought their taste for cacao to North America where the likes of Thomas Adams promoted it as a superior drink to the British controlled tea. The Revolutionary War soldiers ate it, a Massachusetts company (now known as Baker’s Chocolate) processed it, and the well-to-do enjoyed it as a hot morning drink, frequently adding the flavors once enjoyed by Montezuma.