In our March meeting of Louth Literary Coven we enjoyed an evening in the company of friends old and new, of nature, motherhood and art with a pairing of Where the Crawdads Sing by bestselling author Delia Owens and chocolate crafted by Crow and Moss, Hummingbird Chocolate, Jasper +Myrtle, Original Beans and Sirene.
Where the Crawdad’s Sing is so beautifully written and Owens certainly knows her wildlife. The marshes of the North Carolina coast came completely alive through the cruelty and beauty of its inhabitants. Written from the perspective of Kya who, abandoned by her mother and left alone after her father’s death, learns her life lessons from nature, in particular, how to manage the males of the species.
It is Kya’s terroir that creates her character. The natural biodiversity of the lagoons, swamps and forests, teaming with birds, insects, amphibians and mammals all highlight to Kya, the differences between human relationships and those of the natural world:
“Nothing seemed too indecorous as long as the tick and the tock of life carried on. She knew this was not a dark side to nature, just inventive ways to endure against all odds, Surely, for humans there was more.” (Owens, 2019)
Terroir and character…what an inspiration for discovering the cacao from wild wetlands, nature reserves, havens for biodiversity and the character of chocolate they produce. All bars were sourced from Chocolate Seekers with the exception of the Original Beans from Cocoa Runners.
Original Beans Esmeraldas Milk & Hummingbird Chocolate – Zorzal 70%
The cacao for the Original Beans bar comes from Mache Chindul, the last coastal cloud forest of Ecuador in Esmeraldas Province. It celebrates amphibians: the tree frogs of Esmeraldas and those of Kya’s home, including the white tree frog present at Kya’s and Tate’s first meaningful encounter and its reference to difference and purity. (Original Beans, 2021)
The taste was pure pleasure too. A straightforward chocolate aroma, beautifully smooth melt and mouthfeel, the chocolate flavours accompanied by caramel and hazelnut notes for extra warmth, comfort and reassurance. The mother bar, or the mother figure bar in Kya’s case – Mabel, Jodie, and nature itself.
From the silky tree frogs of the rainforests of Ecuador we turn our attention to the songbirds of the Zorzal Reserve, the 1019 acre bird sanctuary in the northern mountains of the Dominican Republic where the growing of cacao helps to safeguard the bird’s habitat.
Would the Hummingbird Zorzal bar make our hearts sing just as the birds had done for Kya in the novel? The aroma was certainly exciting. Honied dried fruit with a coffee edge. Our hearts melted with the chocolate as it released sweet honey with a splash of rum for some, treacle, a fruitiness starting with fresh apricots but then intensifying into deeper darker dried fruit with a touch of spirits again. The finish brought us back down to earth. This was a big-hearted chocolate, honest and smooth and we were thinking of the characters of Jumpin, Mabel and Tate and how they opened their arms and hearts to Kya.
Crow and Moss, Wampusirpi 70% & Sirene Anamalai, 73%
It takes two days by canoe to reach Wampusirpi, a village right next to the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site in Honduras, a place Kya would have been in her element. The Crow and Moss bar paid homage to the ‘breathing, wet earth’ itself. The marsh personified. The taste experience was earthy and deep with distant wisps of smoke, creamy – almost wet, bringing forth sweet bananas and macadamia nuts. Then, when it had given so much, its character became a little tannic and dry, (Owens, 2019, p. 34). We saw the marsh itself in this bar but also the remains of Pa’s life in the finish.
From earth to trees, and coconut palms intercropped with cacao and nutmeg, maintaining the diversity and health of the Anamalai farm in the southernmost foothills of India’s Western Ghats.
The Sirene bar greeted us with citrusy high notes, blood oranges or pink grapefruit, peppered with spice, a real punch upfront. It then descended into warm mango, coated in yoghurt. It was wild, with spice, warmth and zing. Was this Chase, the man who returned to the Marsh again and again to seek Kya’s companionship? Or was this Kya, wild, enticing and primitive up front but desperately seeking the sweetness and warmth of human contact? Or was it both of them and the reason for such an unconventional coupling?
Jasper + Myrtle, Nunu Black Opal- Bougainville 80%
The cacao for the final bar comes from the rainforest of Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea where sadly the majority of cocoa growers face the real-life scenario of living with limited resources: little access to healthcare, sanitation, education and nutrition (Walton, et al., 2020). But on the Nunu cacao farm, things are looking a little brighter as they now grow cacao for the premium market and their beans are crafted by Jasper +Myrtle whose studio looks out onto the Jerrabombera Wetlands in Canberra, a nature reserve referred to as the waterbird wonderland.
This bar combined gritty reality with sweetness and light. A vegetal, tomato plant aroma with a slightly gritty and textured mouthfeel with notes of smoke, tobacco, walnuts and wild garlic all with a lightness that danced on the tongue, certainly not what we expected from an 80%. but another good match for Kya.
Our pairings had given us an insight into some of the ecosystems enhanced and protected by the growing of cacao. We had also enjoyed evaluating the character of the cacao expressed by the makers, just as eloquently as the Marsh and Kya are revealed by Delia Owens in the novel.
Owens, D., 2019. Where the Crawdads sing. London: Corsair.
Original Beans, 2021. Original Beans: Esmeraldas – Ecuador. [Online]
Available at: https://originalbeans.com/esmeraldas-ecuador/
[Accessed March 2021].
Walton, M. et al., 2020. The extent to which the domestic conditions of cocoa farmers in Bougainville impede livelihoods. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7264716/