| THE COCOA HARVEST
('A colheita de cacau')
The main harvest takes place in September although ripe fruits are harvested throughout the entire year. Harvesting is still done manually, using a very sharp knife with a long wooden handle. The ripe fruits are sliced freom the trunk with one quick, clean cut. Sometimes conventional garden shears are used.
Harvesting cocoa with a long knife ('podão')
It takes two men to do the harvesting. One removes the fruits, the other gathers them together in a large pile. Together they immediately proceed to open the fruits to prevent the seeds from sprouting.
Pile of Cocoa Pods (at the bottom right you can see some pods infested with witches' broomstick fungus)
“OPENING THE PODS”
After the harvest, both workers immediately proceed to break open the pods and extract the seeds. One of them, the “quebrador” or “breaker”, splits the pod in two just under the stalk with one hearty stroke of the knife.
He then gives the larger, upper part of the pod to his workmate, the “tirador” or “puller”, who pulls or scoops out the beans and pulp with his thumb and forefinger. Should there be any beans in the small upper half of the pod, the “quebrador” has to clean it himself. This is a golden rule, the “quebrador” informed me.
Almost every farm labourer owns a dog as his loyal companion. Although it was forbidden to take dogs into the fields to work, there was always at least one dog with us.
Cocoa harvest: splitting the pods - there was always a dog around
Cocoa harvest - breaking open the pods
Scooping out the beans (detail)
The pulp tastes deliciously sweet and refreshing. That is why the workers enjoy sucking the beans and the juicy pulp.
Cocoa harvest: the workers love sucking the beans
Cocoa harvest: taking away the beans
Even more popular amongst the workers is the fruit juice they call cocoa-honey ('mel de cacau'). Before the harvest is taken away, they press the fleshy beans and drink the sweet juice on the spot. Of course they let me try the cocoa-honey too, warning me mischievously that it was not merely delicious but also an aphrodisiac!
For the other labourers, it was a kind of sport to try to steal some of the cocoa-honey from the “quebrador” and “tirador” when they were distracted. They succeeded several times.
Freshly harvested cocoa seeds ('cacau mole')
Stealing the cocoa-honey: a moment of distraction is exploited mercilessly...
Another successful attempt at pinching cocoa-honey
TRANSPORTING THE COCOA HARVEST
('Transporte de cacau')
Everaldo is a “tropeiro“ – a drover. As such, he is responsible for the mule herd (“tropa”) and thus also for the transportation of the cocoa bean harvest. He collects the soft cocoa beans from the plantation and brings the load in baskets directly to the fermentation house.
The drover transports the fresh cocoa seeds
The mule herd on the plantation
The mules en route to the fermentation house
Arrival of the cocoa harvest ('chegada do cacau')
The most senior member of the herd, quite exhausted - my favourite mule
Fridundino, one of the drovers
THE FERMENTATION PROCESS
As soon as Evereldo arrives with the herd at the fermentation house, he is met by fellow workers who unload the harvest and empty it into the containers for fermentation.
In the fermentation house ('casa de fermentação')
Manuel is one of the 'barcaceiros' of the farm. A 'barcaceiro'
is responsible for the fermentation and drying of cocoa
From this moment on, the barcaceiro tends to the cocoa beans. One of these barcaceirosis Manuel. We know him already from the beginning of the report. His task is to ensure that the cocoa seeds ferment properly and then dry thoroughly. The seeds ferment for about one week in their containers. Manuel takes particular care to guarantee that “fresh” beans are not mixed together with “older” ones and thus ensure an equal state of fermentation.
That is why, during the entire fermentation process, Manuel shovels the cocoa beans 4 or 5 times, back and forth between 2 containers of the same identification number. “This prevents mould forming” he explains.
Manuel opens the fermentation container
While moving the cocoa seeds back and forth Manuel begins to sweat because the pulp-covered beans are still very heavy. Besides producing a pungent, sweet-sour smell, the bioreaction of the fermentation process also produces an increase in temperature of up to 60 C. The sugary pulp decomposes and in time dissolves almost completely.
The seeds lose their ability to germinate during the fermentation process and can thus be stored. They turn brown, lose part of their bitter qualities and begin to develop their typical, delicious, chocolate flavour. After fermentation, the cocoa seeds are then called cocoa beans ('amêndoas de cacau').
Manuel in the fermentation container
Manuel redistributes the cocoa. This is to prevent mould growth during fermentation