By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
Around Valentine’s Day the worry of what to give that special person is throbbing in ones head.
A nice dinner is always a great start to that special day dedicated to couples.
Commercials show giving diamonds as a way of expressing ones love but I have another way that may take time but shows true commitment, love, and can address those cravings that we all have had some time in our lives.
One may ask what could that be. Well the answer can be found in the candy aisle and it is . . . chocolate.
Growing your own hyper-local chocolate is one way of showing how much you care for an individual.
Chocolate mint is one plant that any individual can grow that smells and tastes like the name states, chocolate mint. But growing the true chocolate or cocoa plant is a unique way of telling that special someone that you care.
The cocoa plant is a challenge to grow for even the seasoned gardener. If it is too dry the plant will die. If it is too hot or the sun is too bright the plant will die and if it is too cold guess what, the plant will die.
To start this project of love, either purchase cocoa plants from a reputable tropical plant dealer or start with the beans. Place soil mixture of compost and sand into a clear plastic container with a lid. Plant sprouting beans in this mixture, and water in. Put the lid on top and place the whole container into another container with a lid.
Before placing the lid on this second container make sure to add water to the bottom. Put this structure on a shelf and wait. Once the seedlings are between two to three inches in height, move them to another container that is taller. Add the water as before and top with the lid. When the chocolate tree reaches one foot begin to introduce it to the indoor environment.
At this stage, your chocolate tree will look like a stick with leaves. To encourage side branches simply pinch the tip of the plant.
Move the tree to a warm room away from direct sunlight. Place container in a container with pebbles and top off with water. Mist the leaves of the tree often and if placed near a window consider misting the window it also. The mist will help with the humidity and divert the sun’s rays.
Once the tree begins to flower, around the fifth year, hand pollination will have to occur. Simply take a cotton-tipped swab and collect the pollen from one flower. Transfer this to another flower. Repeat until all flowers are pollinated. Or shake the flowers to transfer the pollen.
Only about ten percent of the pollinated flowers will produce fruit. The fruit starts off as a green or maroon pod. When the fruit becomes ripe it turns to a golden or scarlet hue with multicolored flecks. Once the fruit has ripened, crack open and remove the “seeds” or cacoa beans from the fruit. Place in a roaster and roast at 250-325F degrees for 5-35 minutes. When the beans begin to make a cracking sound remove from oven and let cool. Remove the husks by hitting the beans with a hammer and blowing away the husks with a blow dryer.
Once the husks are removed, place cacao beans in a chocolate grinder or juicer and separate the liqueur from the pulp. Then refine and conch the chocolate by adding sugar, cocoa butter, and/or milk to the chocolate. Agitate the mixture for 12 hours to several days.
Temper this mixture to refine the texture and finally mold and/or dip the chocolate into whatever you desire.
Once all this is done, the chocolate for that special someone is ready. What an impact it will make if you explain how you even grew dessert to treat his/her hyper-local heart.
So until we blog again, Roses are red, violets are blue, a true chocolate treat can be hyper-local too. Just a little time and talent, is all that is needed, to get ones chocolate to bloom. And so after that stage chocolate will come soon. Picking, husking, roasting along with grinding, refining, and conching, too will prime the chocolate for molding and/or dipping into a dessert that even St. Valentine will drool.