Finding truth in bakes and cocoa

“When you learn from your elders you learn the truth.” My host mother, Ms. Toney, imparted these words of wisdom to me during my first weeks in St. Vincent. We had been having a discussion about love, life, and the universal pursuit of happiness. I listened as she shared her stories of raising a family in Chateaubelair, her feelings about how Vincentian culture has evolved, and warnings about getting caught up in the local “comess,” or rumor mill. “If a lady nah know who de fadduh of she baby, ask dem lady on de street. Dey gwan tell yuh who de fadduh be. Ask ‘em what de Queen of England eatin’ tonight for suppah, dey gwan tell you dah too.”

Our elders are a source of an incredible amount of knowledge and insight.  If experience is the best teacher, then surely our parents and grandparents have racked up quite a few of their own lessons in this crazy little thing called life.

Last Friday, I joined a group of art students to spend the day collecting what we could of the endless pearls of wisdom pouring down on the hills of the Buccament Valley on that rainy day. The source of our teachings was the incredible Captain Guy, a village elder in Top Village Vermont. At 90 years old, the Captain spends his days tending to his garden, experimenting with different recipes using his own naturally homegrown ingredients, and inspiring college youth in cultivating a creative outlook on life with nature and nourishment in mind.

Upon entering his home, one sees that Captain Guy is a man who lives simply and with humility. His space is devoid of unnecessary clutter and many of his belongings are personally handmade, having studied craftsmanship in his younger days. Look around and you’ll find evidence that his creative mind is still highly active. On a wooden drying rack next to the window is a collection of trays holding fragments of arrowroot, cassava, orange peels, and breadfruit ready to be ground into flour using one of his handmade metal graters. And lined neatly in rows on his mini-fridge is an array of samples resulting from his various experiments with the harvests from his land.

When we arrived, Captain Guy had already been preparing ingredients for a cooking lesson he had planned for us. Later on with his guidance and supervision we took part in the production of sweet potato bakes in the morning, and in the afternoon made a batch of arrowroot and coconut bakes. As the bakes … well, baked… in freshly cut tapioca leaves on a stovetop copper slab, we migrated to the Captain’s workshop to help process cocoa.

Our hands became tools as we shelled sand-parched cocoa beans and reflected together on how carrying out this particular task required such manual dexterity. How refreshing that machines and robots haven’t yet been able to replace our human touch…

The shelled beans were put into the mill, and again we used our body’s energy to bring the cocoa closer to its final consumable state. Once all the cocoa had been milled, it would sit out to dry until ready to be sifted. The final product would be Captain Guy’s Homemade Naturally Grown Cocoa Powder.

The art room is currently helping to package, market, and distribute Captain Guy’s products in their ongoing efforts to promote creative production and their national heritage. What better way to appreciate such important values than to enjoy a fresh pot of delicious cocoa or another one of the Captain’s amazing products?

Munching on the last few bakes was a well-deserved treat to round off the day we spent working, learning, and connecting… different generations and cultures, finding unity in this shared experience. Absorbing the nutrients of the earth in food made in friendship, while also soaking up the experiences of heritage, nature, and peace making in St. Vincent.

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