Friday, April 24, 2015

Huchuy Qosqo: Hiking up…up…up

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Shopping…Cooking…Eating: Chapter 2

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Fiber: Chapter 7: Colores! Colores!

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

From Coca to Coffee and Cacao: Part 2

On the second day of our trip to the coffee and cacao plantations, Easter morning, we awoke to a delicious breakfast: a platanos con leche (bananas with milk) smoothie, fried yucca, fried plantains, cheese, bread, eggs, and, of course, coffee we had prepared the day before.

Then we walked about 20 minutes to Raul’s six-acre cacao plantation, Plato de Palta  (Avocado Plate), the only farm in this community growing cacao in the native way. But, many other plants grow here as well: papaya, bananas, avocados, coffee, mandarin, and more. Raul grows the native Chuncho cacao, whose fruit is smaller than the more prevalent hybrid varieties. Cacao is ripe when the fruit turns yellow and it is harvested here from December through April. Raul’s farm is a bit high in altitude for growing cacao, but even so, with climate change, his harvest is now being extended into May and his production is increasing each year.

Like coffee, cacao utilizes the potassium that is released to the ground when nearby banana tree trunks are cut.  

Peru grows only about 1.6% of the cacao in the world,
but is second
 in the production of organic cacao.
(Ecuador is first.)

A major disease of cacao, which causes the pods to rot, is carried by a small fly, and since this is an organic farm, and like Julia and Jose’s farm, must retain its organic status, a natural “brew” is concocted to spray on the fruits. Consisting of banana trunks and leaves from the Pacai tree, sugur, salt, ash, blood from chickens or cattle, and water, the concoction is fermented for two months. It is then heavily diluted and sprayed on the pods to prevent the fly from boring into them. This practice prevents about 65% of the disease.

We moved on to Raul’s compound to make and eat chocolate! After being fermented for 3–4 days, the beans are sun-dried to 8% humidity. Raul provided some fermented and dried beans to roast. Then we had to husk each bean by hand before they were ground (again, in a small molino) into 100% chocolate paste. You can tell from the photograph how much oil is in the beans—the paste is the consistency of room-temperature peanut butter.

While Raul prepared some traditional hot chocolate using water (not milk), we had the opportunity to try the paste on bread, bananas, and mandarin. But my favorite, above all, was the 100% unsweetened paste on perfectly-ripe avocado. It was like drinking good wine, with all the different flavors that continued  in my mouth for a minute or more after being eaten. 

Then we were served the luscious hot chocolate. A lot of jokes were made about it being Easter and a perfect day for eating chocolate. We were surely taking advantage of that excuse.

Raul and his mother, Margarita, send half of their crop to the cooperative or traders and keep the other half to process themselves into 100% organic chocolate bars. We walked to Margarita’s house in the nearby village to purchase some of this ambrosia and were welcomed with open arms. Margarita even brought out her dancing parrot to perform for us.

She, Margarita not the bird, gravitated toward me, I think, because I was so close to her in age. Smiling and laughing, she hugged me several times while we were there and seemed to be delighted that I came to visit. 

I purchased several 400-gram (almost a pound!) bars of the organic chocolate for 10 soles each ($3.20). Most will go to my daughter, Rebecca, who missed this tour last year. They were also selling local organic coffee, which I also could not resist.  

After one last hug with Margarita, we walked back to Julia and Jose’s farm to eat lunch and depart back over those windy-twisty roads home. 

I had had such a good time in this short weekend, that I almost cried as we waved goodbye to this remarkable family. 

Jose and Julia, with their sons Moises (left) and Miguel
Able, our guide, asked the driver to stop on the return trip at this mirador (lookout) to see the entire valley below us before we went over the Andean pass. 

Raul’s Bees. Check out the cute little hives on the right.
If you are visiting the Cusco area, I highly recommend this tour to Raul’s and Julia and Jose’s farms. Abel, our guide, told us that the ChocoMuseo does not make money from these tours—they have been created mainly to benefit the farmers and to educate others about these fascinating crops.

For more information, contact the ChocoMuseo in Cusco or Ollantaytambo.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

From Coca to Coffee and Cacao: Part 1

Last April, when Rebecca was here in Peru with me, we visited the ChocoMuseo, a chocolate museum where the held a “bean to bar” chocolate making workshop which she and I attended. We really had a lot of fun and learned a lot—roasting the fermented and dried beans, making two kinds of hot chocolate, grinding the beans, making chocolate candy. Delicious.
At the time, we learned about the excursions that the ChocoMuseo offered to visit organic coffee and cacao plantations, but we just were not prepared to spend the money. This year, however, I decided the excursion was something I did not want to miss out on. So on Saturday, the company had enough people to make a trip across the high (14,500 foot) pass and down into the high cloud forest where coffee grows so well. After a three-hour trip over the MOST winding and twisting roads I have ever been on, we arrived at the farm of Julia and Jose and their sons, Miguel and Moises. As we tumbled out of the car, all looking a little green from the trip, we were welcomed warmly and shown to our private rooms and allowed to rest a bit and get the dizziness out of our heads. Then Julia had prepared a hearty lunch, complete with passion fruit juice, for us before we started on our tour of the farm. 

One of the first things I noticed was the “Programa Organico” sign near the kitchen. Both the farms we were visiting are certified organic by the government. Two to three times a year, the farm is inspected to be sure it is following all organic standards. If they fail the program, they are removed from it for 10 years! 

Jose, and our English-speaking guide, Abel, pointed out some of the unusual plants and fruits on the farm. Everything is interplanted here. You don’t just see rows of coffee or cacao plants. It is a food forest where bananas, passion fruit, mandarins, achiote, limes, avocados and more, grow alongside the coffee plants. One colorful plant was the “Nariz del loro,” which is related to banana and the flower even looks like banana flowers, but it is only ornamental. The individual blossoms look like a parrot’s nose (nariz del loro). We also saw potato vine, which is a true potato, except that the potatoes grow above ground on the vine itself. Abel told us that they make good “papas fritas” (fried potatoes). The leaves from the guanava are made into a tea which is a cancer preventative and in Brazil, anti-cancer medicines are made from this tree. 
Coca Plant
And of course, coca. This entire valley used to be filled with coca farms until about 30 years ago.  At that time, which interestingly coincides with the beginning of the US War on Drugs, the UN began a program of crop substitution, to help local farmers learn to grow such things as bananas, coffee, citrus, and cacao. Despite the fact that coca is a more lucrative crop, many farmers have embraced the substitutes and now this whole valley is filled with new crops. A few coca plants crop up now and then, however. It is only in this area of Peru where it is legal to grow coca—the dried leaves from the plant are chewed throughout Peru for health and to acclimate to high altitudes. Farm workers also chew coca to give them more stamina so they can work longer hours.  (See my blog post: “The Benefitsof Coca”)
On to the coffee…The coffee here is shade-grown—a growing method which encourages the farmers to nurture the forest as a whole. Julia and Jose’s farm produces both red and yellow coffee. Harvest begins in March and runs through August; with most beans harvested in May and June. The chemicals used on conventionally-grown (non-organic) coffee affect the acidity and aroma. Some organic growing methods include: 
Interplanted Coffee and Banana Plants
  • Planting coffee seeds in river sand through which boiling water has been passed to kill insects.
  • Banana trunks are cut after each fruit stalk is harvested. The water in the trunks, which is high in potassium and other minerals, then flows down to provide enriched water for the coffee plants. 
  • Plants start producing after the second year and will have 5 to 15 years of good production. Then they are cut back, but in the meantime baby plants have been planted among the mature bushes to ensure a constant harvest. (Farmers save their own seeds for new plants—No GMO’s here!)
We harvested some beans to take back and learn how the beans are processed. 

Most of the coffee beans from this farm go to a local cooperative where they are processed to the “green bean” stage (see below). Julia and Jose’s family keeps only some of them for their own use and processes those by hand.  First the beans are run through a mill which removes the red fruit pulp. 

The beans are allowed to ferment for 12 hours in the large tank, and then they are washed to remove the slimy fermented flesh. After drying in the sun for 3-5 days until 12% humidity is reached, the hulls of the seed are peeled by machine and the “green” beans are ready for export. We peeled our own in a small molino (mill), and Jose winnowed them by hand. 

They were roasted for about 20 minutes. There are three ways to know the roasting is completed: by color, odor, and sound (crackling). Then same molino was adjusted to a different size and used to grind the beans for Jose to make us some delicious coffee.  

40% of Peru’s organic coffee goes to the US and most of the rest is exported to Europe.

Coffee Seedling
You can read more about the ChocoMuseo’s chocolate-making workshops and tours to these organic farms here.
Jose’s Bees – The honey we had for our meals tasted like bananas!

In my next blog post, I will share what our second day on this excursion was like.