Delve Deep (Tazrae)

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Syka is a new settlement of primarily humans on the east coast of Falyndar opposite of Riverfall on The Suvan Sea. [Syka Codex]

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Delve Deep (Tazrae)

Postby Marino Oceangem on June 3rd, 2020, 6:34 am

Marino lowered his head respectfully, and listened while Uta explained the exposed section of jungle to them. It was impressive just how much she knew about it. She’d obviously spent a fair amount of time out here and it showed. Even he didn’t know this much about what went under the water and he lived there for all of his life. The extent of his investigation usually went along the lines of, is it edible?

The way Uta talked about it though made it apparent that a lot more went into it than that. As she continued to speak about the leaf litter, he knelt to inspect the ground while he was trying to picture what he was saying. To help his mind along he took a handful of moist earth and plant matter, rolling it between his fingers as he took in the smell. It wasn’t exactly the most pleasant. Earthy with another strange scent beneath. He dropped the pile and dusted his hand off on his breeches. There were a whole range of scents he’d have to get used to in this jungle. Sights as well he realized as she started talking about the upper reaches.

Marino wasn’t used to looking up on the ground. So it was disconcerting to think that most of the food was there. His mind trailed off to consider what sort of creatures might take advantage of that food source so high, and idly he wondered if there were any he would watch for. He trusted Uta’s senses in this regard but an extra pair of eyes certainly couldn’t hurt. Only, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to spot anything in the dense vegetation.

It was kind of overwhelming to think of all that went into this jungle. He had naively thought it all would have been much simpler but he wasn’t disappointed at the complexity. That just meant he needed to focus on what Uta was saying and try to apply it where he could to the sea because it might help make it a little easier to remember.

Looking at what Uta referred to as the canopy, he wondered if he was going to have to learn how to climb to survive in the jungle. That got his heart beating a little faster as he silently hoped that would not be the case. It didn’t seem like it would as he had heard little to no mention of climbing since coming here, but he still couldn’t help but fret a little while looking at those tall trees. If there was a way to survive just off the ground alone, he was certainly resolved to go for that option. Then he looked at the grove and wondered what part they would be harvesting from there. Hopefully not the high bits if he was fortunate.

Together they walked into the jungle a little ways. Marino was surprised to learn that variety was apparently the norm within the jungle. He naturally suspected that it would have been more like the grove throughout the jungle, but the way Uta explained it made sense. It was like the length and breadth of the Suvan sea all condensed down to an acre. So much variety in a little plot of land.

He listened to both suggestions carefully, and ended up agreeing with Tazrae. His preferred method of learning was more hands on, so he wanted to figure a way to remember the other pieces before they got onto those. Besides, he could do with a bit of labor after all of the information he’d been given so far. “I would like to learn about the Cacao as well. Its so much easier to remember with my hands.” He said smiling, as he tapped his thumbs and index fingers together.
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Marino Oceangem
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Delve Deep (Tazrae)

Postby Tazrae on June 7th, 2020, 3:45 am

ImageBy now, Tazrae had pulled out a small leather journal with blank pages and a lead stick that she was quietly taking notes with on one knee as Uta talked. She made a quick sketch of the rainforest layers and had noted some brief things about movement and the jungle. It was easier to listen to Uta, then take the notes, while Uta paused than it was to write as she spoke. The young woman seemed fascinated, and tucked her little leather book under her arm and stashed the lead stick in the roll of the big bun at the nape of her neck as she followed Uta back out into what Uta had dubbed a ‘grove’.

“If you look around, this is a cacao tree.” She said, pointing to a tree that was no more than about fifteen to twenty foot high. It looked old, but among the ‘grove’ there were others that looked very young as if someone had been tending the area and planting it. Much taller trees grew among the Cacao Trees, and Uta addressed that immediately. “They have been planted among taller trees… there’s banana trees all over, palms, and that one over there is a rubber tree.” She gestured, identifying each tree. “They are all crops. I think the young cacao trees need shade and shelter from direct driving rain and hot sun. The taller trees certainly shelter them from the wind. And with the other crop trees all around, the fruit continuously drops off, rots away, and provides a good lasting supply of fertilizer for the cacao… or else the animals that eat the crops and leave their feces and urine here does.” She indicated.

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Tazrae squatted down on her heels and worked quickly. She opened her sketch book and started to sketched out the tree in brief lines, knowing she was missing a lot of detail. Her fingers worked quickly on the tiny drawing, making notes about how the thing actually looked and wished she had some way to denote color.

“There are excess midges here… they are like tiny biting flies. I think they pollinate the cacao flowers. Almost nothing eats the cacao fruit, so it all goes back into the soil…. Well nothing until we came… or if you consider what groves like this mean… until people returned to this area.” She said. By then she’d lead them up to a Cacao tree and pointed out a few things about it.

“The seeds are produced in these big deep red warty pods that hang from the main branches and truck of the Cacao tree rather than out on the ends of the branches. It’s an unusual setup but a necessary one since the pods are very heavy and would likely break the branches. In Cyprhus there’s a city.. Kenash… that is also hot and humid that produces Cacaco trees. They make chocolate from theirs… we can do that here too. Their seed pods look vastly different… smooth and yellow. Its an inferior quality to ours because their moisture and heat is no where near as intense as ours. And the chocolate we can make from our deep red pods is outstanding… so too is the cocoa butter. You’ll see. I’ll teach you how to make both since Marino, I know your Lia has a sweet tooth, and Tazrae, your guests will love the treat.” She added.

Then the lecture continued.

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“The little seedlings are almost red in color from the trunk to the branches but as it matures, it turns green and blends in like the rest of the green here. They don’t seem to do well in sunlight. Anytime there is a break in the forest canopy and direct sunlight hits this grove, the little trees tend to bake and eventually turn black and die. “ Uta said, peering over Tazrae’s shoulder to where the girl sketched and took notes. Her sketches were abysmal, but the main idea of Uta’s lecture was certainly making itself known.

She continued after a moment. Tazrae kept taking notes, not stopping to ask questions because Uta was being thorough in covering

“So… like I said… the cacao tree sprouts flowers and seed pods from its trunk and main branches. It will have thousands of pink blossoms when they bloom. This is a very incredible place to see when they are all flowering, you two, which happens about every ten day or so. It’s almost a dream it looks so unreal. But… only about three to ten percent of those flowers mature into fruit. Most of these trees that are healthy can give us up to two thousand pods a year each. How? It produces fruit year-round and often has flowers, un-ripened fruit, and fully mature seed pods all at the same time. The flowers sprout from cushions that are clustered together on the trunk and main branches. Oddly, Kenesh’s cacao trees have white blossoms.” Uta said thoughtfully, shrugging. “They must be a completely different variety which is why the things they produce are so inferior.” She added with a smug smile.

Tazrae twirled around slowly, trying to look everywhere at once. The Cacao Trees were indeed beautiful… some of the most beautiful things she’d seen so far.

Then she approached one of the trees in question, pointed out various pods until she found one she declared mature. It was dark red, definitely older looking, and took a light hack with her machete to take off the tree. Then she found a convenient bare spot on the soil, cut the pod in half, and revealed all the seeds inside. Trading the machete for a knife, she carved out a seed, one already cut it in half by the machete strike, and showed them the parts.

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“Each one of these pods contains thirty to fifty beans. They are these white things shaped almost like an almost surrounded by a sweet pulp. The beans are what we make cocoa power and chocolate from. They are also what we make cacao or cocoa butter from… we press it from the beans. These pods are ripe about five to six weeks from when they flower….” Uta mused, glancing at both her students, organizing her own thoughts on how to proceed.

Tazrae kept taking notes and making sketches.

Then she held up the large white pod that was already cut in half and began pointing out the various parts. “This white meat is sweet and tart. You can definitely eat it. It has a sort of ‘off’ lemony flavor that can be really amazingly good and cooling on a hot day. We often add it to the water we drink to give it a tart bite that’s quite good. It might be one of those Syka acquired tastes, but it is really enjoyable.” She added.

Tazrae fought with the sketch of the seed. It looked terrible. But she dutifully tried to add in what Uta talked about in terms of the seeds. Uta was rattling off so much information that she wasn’t sure she was keeping track of what the botanist was talking about as she labeled the diagram.

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Uta clawed at the sliced in half bean, and pointed out the germ, kernel, and seed coat. Taz wrote furiously as Uta continued the lecture on the Cacao trees. “These beans are what we ultimately make cocoa powder and chocolate out of. So we wait for them to ripen, like I said, and we cut them down from the tree. We open them up carefully, not damaging the beans inside by splitting them in half and peeling away the tough warty exterior. Then we scoop the beans and pulp out. We lay them out on banana leaves and cover them with more leaves. They begin to ferment which brings out incredible flavor. IF they can’t ferment, they stay very very bitter and almost inedible. We let them ferment from between five and seven days…. the beans turn from white to brown. We remove them from the banana leaves and lay them out in the sun – usually on canvas – and let the sun dry them out. We need to turn them or rake them constantly so they dry evenly. Drying takes about a ten day. When folks are drying Cacao beans, you’ll see them laying out on tarps, mats and covering patios. We protect them from the rain but want them in direct sun…. so it can be a labor intensive process.” She added.

“The dried beans are then washed used for various things. If we are making chocolate or cocoa butter, you roast them. If you do indeed dry them, you can store them for years in jars out of the sun. Dried cacao beans are roasted, then winnowed. Winnowed is a way to remove the fibrous husk. Here we lightly hammer the cocoa bean to remove the inner nib – the part of the cacao bean that is inside the shell. It takes about 22 lbs of dried beans to make 1 quart of cocoa butter.” She said, then gestured at the trees all around them. “That’s a lot of cacao pods. Get to harvesting.” She said with a laugh, gesturing at their mesh bags and hoping they had their machete or knives handy.

“I’ll teach you the actual process hands-on when we get back.” Tazrae nodded in response, put her sketchbook back in her bag, and set her backpack down. She took the mesh bag and her machete. Slipping on gloves, she approached the nearest tree and began hacking off the pods to fill her mesh bag.

“How many pods apiece do we need?” She asked, curious, after she started to fill the bag. The pods were huge, as big if not bigger than her fist, and she didn’t think that 22 pounds of dried beams would come from one sack, let alone all three. How many trips would it take? Questions filled her mind and she glanced at Marino as she worked, wondering what he thought of all this. Tazrae was careful as she cut the pods off, looking for the brightest red ones with deep color tones but skipping the ones that weren’t quite red yet or looked overripe.

“Now… when you are harvesting things in the jungle… if you are harvesting natural things that aren’t grown like these are…. in crop formations… I wanted to point out that you should act like a grazer. Take a bite here and a bite there, move a few steps, harvest more. Don’t kill the plants. Don’t take too many stems or leaves. Take one of every three… so if a plant has ten stems, your allowed three of those. It helps to naturally thin a plant without harming it so it will be there to harvest again later. In this situation, since the Cacao trees constantly bloom and fruit… just take everything that is currently ripe. It won’t hurt a thing….” Uta said, then stepped forward and began expertly harvesting more pods from a nearby tree herself. The young soon-to-be Innkeeper sighed thoughtfully. Tazrae figured they’d be at this a while, and she wasn’t wrong.

Uta kept pipping up with what Tazrae thought of as fun facts, entertaining them with small stories of snake and spider encounters and what was at risk harvesting plants in the jungle.

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Delve Deep (Tazrae)

Postby Marino Oceangem on June 7th, 2020, 8:50 am

A flicker of movement caught his eye, and he looked over at Tazrae to see her bring out a small book. Curious he watched as she started to jot something down. Marino smiled slightly, looking back at Uta. It was a smart idea, writing things down. He’d been fixated on putting things to song, but for something like this, writing it down would be more understandable. How did Uta keep all of these things in her head anyways? Maybe it was from all the practice she’s gotten from living here, like how he learned how to swim and sail through years of experience.

Following Uta along, he was surprised to see what the cacao tree actually looked like. He didn’t know what he had been expecting but it certainly wasn’t this colorful fruit. It had big flat leaves, and best of all was low enough to the ground that it didn’t look like he would have to do any climbing. Maybe some reaching, but that wouldn’t be too much trouble. He wondered how difficult the stems would be to break as he watched Uta describe the plant.

Marino knelt beside Tazrae, not sure what to do with himself while Uta talked about the cacao trees. He was learning so much that he found it hard to focus on any one thing. From how this grove had been groomed to cultivate the plants here, to what he was looking for when trying to figure out what a plant produced. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that it could be used to make chocolate. “I’d like that very much” He said with a broad grin.

As Uta continued to explain, he stood up and leaned in close. He wasn’t sure where the flowers would come from on the plant, though he imagined it would be spectacular. Uta hadn’t steered him wrong yet, and she was offering them some very useful advice. Idly, he wondered what it must be like taking care of a grove this side, and wondered if Uta did that, or if it took care of itself. He kept that to himself though as he moved in closer to examine the inside of the pod Uta cut. It seemed pretty simple the way she explained it, but he wondered how they first came to this idea. After all, he’d never have come up with that looking at this bean, but the way Uta put it together, it made perfect sense.

Pensive, he considered that and how he himself would keep them dry for an extended period. It would have to be on land, that was for certain. They’d blow off the boat in a heart beat. What did they do with them at night? Cover them up made the most sense, though perhaps there was still something he was missing about the process. Marino snapped to attention as Uta gestured for them to get started.

Looking briefly wide eyed, he glanced at Tazrae and giving her a nervous grin before he brought out his eating knife. “I hope I do this right.” He said to her as he approached his own tree like she was. Only he was to busy paying attention to her so when he started trying to find pods, he realized it was the banana tree Uta had pointed out earlier, and chuckling at himself, found a more appropriate tree. “I guess I’m a bit more nervous out here than I thought.” He said as he grabbed one of the pods, holding it up to the light to look at its color. It seemed about right, close enough to Uta’s example that he didn’t feel bad about cutting it off and popping it in his mesh bag.

He did a few like that till he grew a little more comfortable, but before he moved on from the tree, he did look over at Tazrae to show her one of his latest grabs. “Never imagined I’d be out here collecting these things.” Grinning, and a little more comfortable now, he listened to Uta explain harvesting in the jungle before he moved on to the next tree. The part where she explained not to harvest too much made sense to him. From what she’d explained so far, there seemed to be a complicated balance in the jungle wilds that he was only just starting to scratch the surface at. To think he might one day be exploring that rugged terrain both excited and terrified him. Uta’s amusing anecdotes did help move him to the more excited camp though. If there was this much to learn about the cacao plant then the same could be said for the creatures here surely. An he was interested in learning about all of it, after pacing himself of course. He didn’t want to forget any of it after all.

Once he had both of his bag’s filled, which took quite a long time working with his little knife, he moved to join Uta and Tazrae. Having seen how effective her machete had been so far, her resolved himself to pick on up soon as it was so obviously needed in these dense jungle. He smiled as he looked from Tazrae to Uta. “I hope I got enough.
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