Half way through my month’s sabbatical, and I enjoy a relatively quiet weekend catching up on domestic things up at Mt Rodney and managing a bit of reading and some guitar playing, trying to crack Ralph McTell’s live version of After Rain; it’s trickier than it sounds.
The week that follows keeps to a similar pattern to the previous two: doing the research necessary to fill in details of the GCC’s 2013 profit & loss account with a view to being able to advise whether an increased price can be paid to the organic farmers for their wet cocoa, and how much that increase should be.
Increasingly I am becoming aware that the company’s situation is looking very positive, and certainly from a sales perspective alone the GCC had its best year ever, by a very long way, definitely turning a corner. This is a huge relief and the great irony is that the one person who should have been enjoying that change in circumstance is no longer here to celebrate.
I am also aware that even though I have more than a week left my priority next week will shift to helping organize the organic certification process of the business (another area that Mott micro-managed) and this includes, critically, individual farm certification, with attendant record-keeping and box-ticking to be borne in mind.
There will also be the Independence Day EXPO fair in St Georges next week and preparations for Independence Day can be seen and heard everywhere, whether it is groups of school children practising their drumming with great gusto, or a fresh lick of paint being applied in the national colours to every kerb, crash barrier or tyre in sight. National dress is of course on sale everywhere too.
On Thursday Rococo’s head chocolate maker, Barry Johnson, arrives with girlfriend Sarah for a week of very well-earned holiday plus a week with the Bonbon shop team, giving technical advice and working on their flavour range.
In the factory everyone is on double shifts, working like crazy to finish off the Tres Hombres shipment. The sail-only freighter arrived in St Georges from Barbados on Tuesday, and the crew will spend the week putting it into full ocean-going ship-shape prior to the final leg of the trip to Holland. Only one more brief stop after this in the Dominican Republic.
On Friday, mobile telephone comms having drawn a blank, we decide to visit the Tres Hombres and invite them up to the factory for lunch the next day. Annie (bless her again) very kindly lends me her 4×4 so the route across the Grand Etang is less taxing than in my usual chariot, but when we arrive entry to the dock is barred without an introduction from Skipper Lamaerts. And Skipper Lamaerts’ phone, as we know, isn’t working…
Eventually, with wild gesticulation across the harbour, we manage to attract a crew member’s attention and Edmond gets to meet the new crew. Every year the boat trains up an entirely new set of land-lubbers, and on this occasion the captain, first and second mate, plus cook are all new too – they are the only (minimally) paid hands. The next day’s events are loosely arranged, and after a couple of ‘chef bars’ chocolate deliveries to restaurants in the area we head back to Hermitage via the fish market, where a huge 43lb yellow fin tuna is landed for the Petite Anse weekend kitchen.
Back at the chocolate factory Kimon has bought from a passer-by three great bundles of green beans known as half-yard beans. They can be found either a yard long or as in this case, half that! My part of the banquet will be preparing these and half an enormous squash that looks like it was the winning entry in some Caribbean produce-growing contest.
Relatively early back at Mt Rodney Friday afternoon, and ‘Saint Annie’ is entertaining a gaggle of local schoolchildren who are as lively as you would expect kids to be after being cooped up at school in the tropical heat. Nattie and Natisha introduce me to French cashews, which are an extraordinary colour. The fruits are quite astringent, probably not something the King’s taster would get excited about, though they have a refreshing sweetness too.
It’s funny how easy it is to wake up in the topics, and Edmond and I start preparations early on Saturday. I had thought that only having one top and tail per half-yard was going to make the beans easy to sort out, but 7lbs of beans is 7lbs of beans and the monster squash takes some peeling and fills even one of Annie’s catering saucepans…her kitchen comes in handy as the stove at the factory has only one ring…
The menu is fusion all right: jerk yellow fin tuna, fresh French green bean salad tossed in shallot and olive oil, Japanese squash ‘nimono’ (i.e. simmered in soy and wine), and Oil down (Grenada’s national dish of coconut milk, vegetables, every available starch, dumplings and plantains including the mysterious ‘blogo’) cooked in an enormous cauldron on an open fire in the factory yard. We aim to wash everything down with wine and beer, and eskis full of ice arrive even before I do. The final act of fusion will be Annie’s flapjacks as dessert!
The crew arrive mid-morning and their Brazil-Barbados-Grenada sea legs have toughened them up sufficiently that all 15 fit like uncomplaining sardines into the cab and back of the farm crew’s pick up for the journey across the mountain. On arrival beers disappear with unsurprising alacrity (alcohol is really only permitted at sea for medicinal purposes, so better make good use of all opportunities on land) and then while the Oil down is cooking we wander down to the Grococo farm. Amazingly, the time at sea has also made them largely immune to the attentions of the cocoa-pollinating sand flies, and they are fascinated to see organic cocoa growing at first hand. For sure it is nowhere happier than in the mixed farmland that typifies a Grenadian farm. Just wish I knew some more of the names of the huge variety of trees which provide the bio-diversity on the farm, as they are a curious bunch.
Back up at the factory the banquet is nearly ready and it is great to see almost the whole GCC staff assembled and ready to indulge…
See the rest of James’s Grenada diary here: