Friday, April 09, 2010

This excellent photo was taken by my wife a while ago during our last Couch Surfer's visit.

Katya from Moscow, Russia was staying with us for three days and went on our little tour of the village we usually give, heading down to the Tong river first, at the dam where most of the local kids swim.

These boys were swimming behind the dam, where the water is a bit deeper. Mam took this photo of them, instantly capturing the epitome of fun they were having.

All smiles and hamming it up for the camera. The boys were so excited to see not just one, but two foreigners in one place!

"Farang! Farang!" They shouted as they jumped off a large overturned stump, flying through the air and into the murky water, coming up smiling for the camera.

This area is well known only to the locals.

A tiny footpath leading up the hill behind the dam on the left as you face the dam, is hard to see unless you are on foot. Follow the path, and it courses uphill a short ways, turns right briefly, then left. Behind some dense foliage is the swimming hole.

Only the bravest of boys go here, as it is both deep and reportedly inhabited by your occasional python like the one in the pictures I posted earlier on this blog.

While Mam snapped the photo, I began looking around. You just never know when you'll find wild orchids to transplant and this seemed a likely spot. There, on the ground before me was a strange oval shaped fruit or pod I'd never seen before. It was broken open.

I picked it up cautiously and looked inside.

Yuck! White, slimy stuff. It appeared rotten.

"Taste! Taste! It's good!" one of the boys shouted in Thai. So again, cautiously, I looked inside and snagged a small piece. A seed, covered in a white, slightly sticky, creamy-slimy substance. Ever so carefully I tasted a tiny piece.

"Ummm! Tastes...tastes kinda like lemon-lime!" I offered some to Katya, who was similarly cautious about tasting this rather disgusting looking fruit.

"What is it?" I asked.

Mam put down the camera for a bit and asked the boys.

"Coco! Coco!" they hollered, still making poses and putting their fingers into that classic "L" shape under their chin.

My brain was racing. Coco...humm. Could it be Coca or Cacao? No, no way. Wasn't that in Africa or South America or something? And wouldn't it taste like...well chocolate? I knew far well that names, especially around here, were unimportant. There were many different names for fruit here, not many of which you'd find in any dictionary or during any research. Most are names the locals give to the fruit, or which means something in Thai or Thai dialect describing where they found the fruit, what it tastes or looks like, and even who was with them when they first tried it.

I took another seed out and bit right into it. Not bad. Still had that lemon-lime taste to it.

"Ask the boys where they found it," I said to Mam.

"They said some orchard behind the one over there," Mam said, pointing to the orchard adjoining the land where our cottage stood. The whole hilltop is covered in fruit orchards, so that could be anywhere.

"Do they have another?"

"Yes, over there! By the base of the tree."

I picked up one of several and asked the boys if I could have it.

"Yes," he said. One of my older students.

It always made me feel good to hear the local kids using English, but "Yes," was pretty universal.

The more I looked at it, the more my brain was telling me I remembered the shape of the thing from reading an article somewhere. But, it had to be long ago.

I cut it open and was happy that this one appeared to be a perfect specimen for some pictures.

I'd download them soon and whip an e-mail off to Normita Thongtham, my resident expert on all flora.

I've been referring all my mystery plants and flowers to Normita for some time now, and if you take a look at some of my plant related postings in the right-hand column, you'll find I attribute most of the identification to her.

Normita writes an article in the Brunch section of Sunday's edition of the Bangkok Post Newspaper. She used to have a website devoted to her Green Finger's column, but recently had to shut it down for lack of having enough time to work on it.


After receiving an answer from Normita, it became official.

It is a Cacao!

Or I suppose more accurately Theobroma Cacao.

The stuff where chocolate comes from!

Normita informed me that the white creamy substance is washed off and the seeds are used to make chocolate. But, to save time and confusion, you can read all about it, if you are so inclined, right....HERE and HERE.

About 300-600 seeds (10 pods) are required to produce 1 kg (2.2 lb) of cocoa paste, the precursor to chocolate. So, I guess I'll have to pick up a few more of these!



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