When I realized that Valentine’s day was fast approaching, I decided to make Jeff chocolate from scratch. He loves chocolate and it seemed like the perfect gift.
Just kidding. I am not a big Valentine’s day person. I am, however, a big fan of squash. So when I saw this in the gourd section of the grocery store, I got excited.
I knew immediately, mostly, because of the sign, that these were cacao pods, which are used to make chocolate. I had been on Theo’s chocolate tour in Seattle where they passed around photos of these pods. I think I may have spaced out though on the tour when they explained everything that came between pod and chocolate bar.
The pod was less than a dollar, but when the grocery store bagger stared at it and held it up to look closer, I realized making chocolate from scratch was not a common thing, even in Panama.
When I looked up how to make chocolate on the internet, I realized I may have wasted my seventy-eight cents.
It sat on our counter for a week until I built up the nerve to “make chocolate.” It also took that long to convince Jeff to help me. In our over 25 year marriage, Jeff has had to rescue me when I decided to “make” soap, cheese, soy lattes, hummus, roasted pumpkin seeds, and guacamole.
But then I got up the nerve and the strength to cut the pod open.
Cutting it open was super hard. Jeff stood by to dial 911 in case I cut my finger off.
Wouldn’t you think when you cut open a cacao pod, M&M’s would fall out? At least you would think it would smell a tiny bit like chocolate.
Nope, didn’t smell like much actually.
The inside was similar to acorn squash, lots of weird seeds, slimy, and gross looking. The seed things had a membrane that tasted sort of fruity. Sort of like a sour green grape.
I planned to cook the squash but no, people don’t eat them. They don’t have much taste.
According to the internet, you have to ferment the pods to get them to taste like chocolate. They need to sit out in hot weather which there is a lot of here in Panama City.
The internet said it would take two to seven days. I put a lid on the jar and put it on the balcony.
In the meantime, I was on a kick to try new local fruits. They have a fruit bowl in our gym with mostly apples. One day they had these little yellow things that looked like pears. I asked the guy what they were in Spanish.
I said, “Como este?”
I was pretty sure that meant, Look how interested I am in your culture. Please tell me what this strange exotic fruit is? I actually said, “like this?” which doesn’t’ mean a whole lot in this context.
I thought he answered, “bara” which I took to be some very exotic Panamanian fruit. I presented it to Jeff to try.
Turns out the gym guy said “pera” which mean, pear in Spanish. I might not recognize a pear when I see one, but I do know a jar of rotting, I mean fermenting cacao seeds.
The next step in the process according to the internet was baking the seeds.
Baking the seeds went well. Peeling them was as tedious as you would imagine.
After the cooking and peeling of the seeds, I feared they would never become chocolate. But then, I thought about the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016 and knew anything was possible.
The blending took forever. I think it took at least an hour. Jeff says only five minutes.
While it looked pretty, it didn’t taste like chocolate. Jeff mixed it with peanut butter.
It tasted like mashed up crayons with a very faint taste of chocolate.
So then I decided to “make fudge.” I added a ton of sugar, butter, and milk.
Jeff was once again ready to call 911 in case the boiling “chocolate” shot up and burned me.
But then after we refrigerated it overnight, we finally had “chocolate.”
It pretty much just tasted like sugary goo which is still very delicious. The next time you see a fancy chocolate bar at the store and wonder why it’s so expensive, this is why. The cacao pods might be cheap, but the process is not easy.