The cacao is a native of South America, where it was not only used for food, but the seeds served as money. The tree is not unlike that of the cherry in form, and seldom exceeds twenty feet in height. The leaves are oblong, and pointed at the end, and when young are of a pale red. The flowers, which generally spring from the wood of the large branches of the tree, are small, and of a light red color, mixed with yellow; the pods which succeed them are oval, and are green when young, but as they ripen they become yellow or red. They are filled with a sweet, white pulp, which surrounds the many seeds contained in each of the five cells, or divisions. When traveling, the native Indians eat this pulp, and find it very refreshing. The seeds are steepedin water previous to their being sown, and lose the power of reproduction in a few days after they are taken from the pod. As the plant grows up, the shade of the coral-tree is considered so essential, that it is called by the Spaniards the Madre del cacao, or mother of the cocoa. When this tree is covered with its bright scarlet blossoms, it presents a splendid appearance.
It appears that there are two varieties of the cocoa in Trinidad, to which colony, and that of Grenada, the English plantations are now chiefly confined; the one variety is called the Creole cocoa, which is by far the best, but not so productive as the other sort, which has nearly superseded it, and bears the name of Forastero, or foreign. The former suits the Spanish market best, the latter having a somewhat bitter taste. The Creole begins to bear after about five years’ growth, but does not reach perfection till the eighth year; it, however, yields good fruit for twenty years. The Foraslero produces fruit at three years, and both, probably, come from the Spanish Main. It was formerly the practice in Trinidad to grant manumission to every slave who could at any time deliver up to his master one thousand cocoa-trees, planted by himself, in a space expressly allotted to them, in a state of bearing. Many instances of freedom obtained in this way might be cited, as the cultivation of them at any time did not infringe too much upon the daily tasks, and where nature had already provided shade and moisture, was comparatively trifling. In Grenada the plantations are beautifully situated among the mountains, and the laborers can work at all hours in the shade, but the cocoa walks are now chiefly cultivated by free colored people, most of whom are settlers from the Spanish Main Leaf, flower, and fruit of the Cacao, with a pod opened.
The seeds of the cocoa-tree are gathered twice every year, but the largest crop is yielded in the month of December; the other is ready in June. When picked, and extracted from the pods, they are placed in heaps, on platforms of clay, where they are suffered to ferment for forty-eight hours or move; they are then dried in the sun, exactly imitating the process used with coffee. When required for use, they are roasted till the husks may be readily taken off; and if to be converted into chocolate, they are bruised and worked with the hand into a paste, which is afterwards made still finer by a smooth iron. This is afterwards flavored with various ingredients, the principal of which are cinnamon and vanilla; the latter is a climbing plant, indigenous to Trinidad, and bears long slender pods. A great consumption of chocolate takes place in Spain, where it is considered as a necessary of life. In France it is also much used, and is fashioned into an endless variety of forms.
When the seeds are to be made into cocoa they are ground to a fine powder. The husks, boiled in milk, make a thin and delicious beverage, and are in great request in France, for delicate persons who find the paste or powder too rich for them.