Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Oil and Chocolate

I remember Debe. Thirty years ago, Debe was an intersection at the end of a trainline for a train that had stopped decades before. But that "trainline" was where - under the guidance of Robert May - we made a beeline for hot poolowrie, cachowrie, doubles and aloo pies. When he knew we were coming to visit the new Palmiste housing estate, he would arrive in the little cocoa house office with greasy brown bags full of the stuff, hot out of the frying oil and hot with pepper.

Debe in south Oropouche is now a bustling town. The trainline is gone.
Selling the same treats: aloo pies, baiganee, cachowrie, doubles

Street food in Debe
Debe sweet seller: jallebis, kurma, barfi and ladoo
"You're late," we'd say as we unceremoniously attacked the bags in his hands.
"Better oily than late!" he would reply. And that's how the meeting would start, with lunch and later a tour of areas being newly cleared. I was there once when an old cocoa estate was being bulldozed. I felt a pang to see the red earth and the upturned trees. But Charlie Brash's vision for Palmiste was a beautiful suburb with wide curving avenues, home sites on gently sloping hills - and that meant clearing nearly everything first. He didn't touch the lovely Pasture with its landmark palmiste trees though, keeping the savannah for the pleasure of the residents.

Brash then, as the principal in the Well Services group of companies headquartered in deep South, past Mosquito Creek - Otaheite (what a lovely name!) - was investing his energy sector earnings in real estate, the start of a project that would continue for another 20 years.

Thirty years later, the Brash oil enterprise celebrates yet another diversification: an old agricultural holding is being revitalised to cocoa and mixed crops, and the creation of a nature park. At the official opening held at Rancho Quemado (located on the Siparia Erin Road past Penal), representatives of Agriculture, Tourism, Forestry and Wildlife praised the initiative. It is fitting, they think, that the energy sector should turn back to support the sector that nourishes us.

Already the area designated for the nature park is equipped with a few (caged) birds and animals - macaws, raccoon, an invisible toucan. There are see-saws for the children and enclosed picnic tables for family gatherings. What creates the ambience though are the tall trees shading the walkways - cedars and immortelles, and a lovely old cannonball tree. Notice as well that this pleasant park is set in a rehabilitated working cocoa estate. Five thousand new trees have been planted. And you should marvel at the hefty pods hanging from the trunks of young and older cocoa trees.
Lofty trees shade the Rancho Quemado nature park

Look for the big cannonball tree: its ripe fruit smell like carrion

Towering immortelle covered in epiphytes

Vines on an old tree

Mosses and ferns in shady spots
Special first day visitors at Rancho Quemado nature centre
For Rancho Quemado - scorched land - is fertile and fruitful. You'll find beehives dripping with honey, laden grapefruit trees, ponds full of tilapia and koi. But most of all, you'll find cocoa - mixed generations, young trees among the old - being harvested for beans to be transformed into the finest chocolate by the Rancho Quemado/ Cocobel chocolatier, Isabel Brash.

It is all experimental, says Isabel - the youngest Brash - but there's magic in the taste of chocolate made of beans from a single estate in the land where "cocoa was once king." This is the island which once supplied the world with the cocoa trees cross-bred to make it a global crop (Trinitario), and whose production of beans - however diminished - is still considered "fine flavour" and highly desired on the world market.
Even slender new cocoa trees have giant pods

The government representatives are delighted by what they call "integration" of the stages of production - bean to bar. They are thrilled that it is taking place here in the part of that country which once abandoned its estates to pursue oil and gas production.

Trinidad's "cocoa culture" once stopped at the beans, bagged and accumulated for export. But in this incarnation of cocoa, new possibilities arise - that we might yet produce and enjoy here in the island, finished cocoa and chocolate products identified by the soils of their origin. And in time, that Rancho Quemado becomes a name of distinction for cocoa and chocolate.

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