May and June see the start most Belizeans favorite season, mango season. After eight months of deprivation, these sweet beauties suddenly grace every market stall and roadside vendor in Belize. The countryside and city yards overflow with mangoes of every shape and size, with colors ranging from green to red, to yellow and even blue.
In Belize, there are well over 20 varieties of mango with names just as colorful as their skin. There are Hairy mangoes, Blue mangoes, Garlic, Daddyfoot, Common, Number 11, Slippers, Julie and even Turpentine.
There are four different stages of the mango, each with a very different taste. When it is green, the mango is hard and tart, delicious with salt and local habanero pepper, and is often used to make chutney. When its full or ‘turn’, the mango is just about ripe with a firm, slightly less sweet flesh, which is easy to eat and great in salads. Ripe mangoes are juicy and ready to eat with a delectable slightly perfumey aroma and taste. Overripe fruit is extremely messy and is best used to make mango juice. Add some lime, ice and a little bit of mint to it and you have a refreshingly delicious drink. The mango is paid homage to at an annual Mango Festival, in Hopkins in the Stann Creek District, usually at the beginning of June.
Belizeans love to celebrate the bounty of nature and the cashew is another fruit feted with its own festival. The Cashew Festival is held annually in Crooked Tree Village in late April or early May. Wait! It’s a fruit? Yes, the cashew is actually a very fragrant fruit with the more familiar nut hanging below. It grows wild in North Central Belize and flourishes despite the poor sandy soil in that region. It doesn’t need much water or fertilizer so it is indeed seen as miraculous. Harvest is generally between March and June where the trees are resplendent with red, orange and yellow that is the cashew fruit. Birds love the fruit as well, much to the chegrin of the farmers. It also makes a great wine.
Here is a great video that tells you all about this fruit and nut!
Cashew SeasonStraight outa Crooked Tree and in time for cashew fest 2017.
Did you know that chocolate was a fruit as well? Strictly speaking cacao (where chocolate comes from) is the actual fruit of the Theobrama tree. These colorful pods grow straight from the trunk or branch of the tree. Inside these pods are about 20 to 30 seeds covered in a thick sweet pulp that tastes nothing like chocolate, but is delicious all the same. It’s the beans themselves that are taken from the pod, fermented in a box covered with banana leaves, dried and roasted. Once roasted they are ground in a machine to release the oil (cocoa butter) which is put back into the cocoa mass to produce a liquor which will become chocolate as we know it. The Cacao Festival a celebration of chocolate occurs annually in May in the Toledo District of Belize.
DATES FOR THIS YEAR’S (2017) CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL ARE MAY 19TH, 20TH, 21ST.
This month is a very special one for the Toledo district of Belize because it marks the 10th Anniversary of the Chocolate Festival of Belize.
Back in 2007 the first festival was founded originally as the Toledo Cacao Festival, with the idea of promoting this very unique district of Belize and the amazing cacao that grows here. The then British company Green and Black who were buying the majority of the cacao for their “Maya Gold” bar, were one of the main sponsors of the event, along with the Toledo Cacao Growers Association (TCGA). The event opened with the signature “Wine and Chocolate” evening. All the cuisine was chocolate related and guests were treated to bars of “Maya Gold” as a welcome gift. The following day a street fair was held in the town of Punta Gorda, the town clock was painted especially for the event. There were stalls of all kinds selling every kind of cacao related product you could think of, wine, vinegar, soaps, earrings and of course chocolate. Local musicians played marimba and the Maya ceremonial deer dance was re-enacted. There were activities for children to learn all about cacao and even trips to local cacao farms could be arranged. The event culminated on the Sunday with fireworks and the music of The Three Kings.
The Maya of the Toledo district have of course been making chocolate for thousands of years. They discovered that if the seeds grown in the pods of the Theobrama Cacao tree were roasted and ground, mixed with local spices and water, that they provided a refreshing drink. This drink originally drunk in dried gourds is still very much a part of the Maya culture although today it is more likely to be drunk from brightly colored plastic cups. This first ever cacao event was not only a showcase of the traditional Maya culture but also an inspiration for a handful of people to start making their own “bean to bar” chocolate within Belize using Belizean cacao. By the following year there were already four new chocolate makers in Belize, showcasing their products at the 2nd Cacao Festival. These included Belize Chocolate Company, Cotton Tree Chocolate, Goss Chocolate and Ixcacao (originally Cyrila’s)
The Toledo Cacao Growers Association which was established in 1984 was the original source for buying beans. Until very recently the cacao farmer would harvest the pods, extract the beans and then ferment them in wooden boxes covered with banana leaves. This process would take approximately 7 days. Once the beans were fermented they were laid out to dry. The TCGA would buy these dried and fermented beans from the farmer. In 2010, Maya Mountain Cacao started purchasing wet beans from the farmers in an effort to provide a more consistent quality to the buyer. The TCGA quickly followed suit and today both companies centralise the fermenting and drying of the cacao. It is at this stage that the various chocolate makers buy the beans to transform it into chocolate.
The Cacao festival changed its name in 2013 to The Chocolate Festival of Belize. As with years gone by, this year the event will be held on the Commonwealth weekend 20th – 22nd May and will follow the same format as the original with Wine and Chocolate evening on Friday, Taste of Toledo street fair held on the Saturday and Grand Finale on Sunday. Come and check out what promises to be a fabulous, informative weekend filled with chocolate, culture, music and fun and of course make sure you fly there on Tropic Air.