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Welcome to delicious Destinations, a GourmetStation blog. Through the charater of T.Alexander and occasional real-life guests, our aim is to share with you light-hearted fun ideas about food, gift giving, entertaining and culture. At the same time we would love you hear from you. Please share your experiences from home or abroad.

Belizean Back Country - In search of a Taste of Cassava - hot peppers and a bit of history


Posted: October 20, 2010
by: Mark Stine

After arriving in Dangriga, a small coastal town north of Punta Gorda, our group headed out into the back country to learn about cassava, a staple food grown around the tropical world.

This was a commercial production facility, but on a personal Belizean scale. The Sabal facility grows the cassava, which is a root based product, from small tree-like bushes.  We received a demonstration from start to finish and the venture was such an interesting experience that I felt it would be fun to take you through it step by step, as it was historical and colorful.

The roots are harvested traditionally by hand, as only about 1,000 pounds of root are dug at a time, which is too small to employ large tractors. Once the roots are collected they are soaked and cleaned and the roots are then peeled by hand with a sharp knife. It was stressed very little was wasted in this process and pigs and goats are the beneficiaries of leftovers.

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Because the root of cassava contains a small amount of naturally occurring cyanide, various techniques have been employed over the millennia to extract the toxin out through a soaking and press process. The Sabal facility has “updated” this and utilizes a press that is tightened and compresses all of the fluid out, taking the toxin with it.

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What do you do with this liquid one wonders? Pigs and goats are no fonder of the liquid than we would be. Well, It was discovered that it makes a great ant poison and is poured on ant mounds to keep the aggressive insects out of the gardens. I think this is a perfect demonstration of utilizing every aspect of a manufacturing process.

The remaining product is then allowed to dry and put through a refining process to essentially make it as fine as regular baking flour. Cassava being a starch, lends its self well to baking and after refining it is ready for the next phase.

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It was amazing to watch this low tech process operating off of a simple motor, produce well refined, light and fluffy cassava flour.

In this Belizean family business, the cassava is baked traditionally over a fire heated griddle. We watched a true artisan spread and nurture the product on the griddle and then when fully baked on one side, effortlessly flip the entire cassava bread in one flip. She repeated this numerous times and never once lost control. The experience reminded me of a skilled pizza maker who can twirl and toss pizza dough.

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Once the cassava bread is baked thoroughly, so no moisture remains, it is allowed to cool and then packaged for delivery to local markets and hotels. It also makes a tasty chip with dip in addition to using as a larger flatbread.

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Weighing and Packaging

You can also mix the cassava flour with water and make a thick beverage or porridge, seasoned with cinnamon and sugar.  We each had a glass and truly were full.

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Not to be outdone during the preparation and baking process, Ridley, a three year old accompanied us on each step and posed for pictures. He was cute as a button and provided much amusement. 

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Ridley steals the show

Next stop…a pepper processing plant.  Marie Sharp’s is a well know manufacturer and processor of locally grown hot peppers and hot sauces. Due to carry- on luggage liquid restrictions, I was limited to buy the small less than 3 ounces bottles, but still managed to snag three small bottles for personal seasoning. I tried some of the sauce at a few local restaurants and it is a staple seasoning sauce at many locations.

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 That is the one thing about Belizean cuisine; it is flavorful and spicy, blending cultures and tropical spices. As imagined, the flavors ranged from mild to “Beware.” Marie Sharps’ also produces well know US brands under private label names. 

Overall, the setting of the pepper plant was serene, with squat green pepper bushes located in the surrounding fields, with tropical jungle and hills as a backdrop. If you head to this part of Belize, check ahead and make sure you make it to Marie Sharps when you can tour the production facility and see peppers converted to amazing sauce sensations. (Located just outside Dangriga)

 

On the way back to the little town of Dangriga, we stopped for an historical perspective at the Garifuna Museum. The Garifuna people are an indigenous group that settled in the area in the 1820’s to 1830’s and are a cultural mix of Carib and Arawak Indians and African blacks who married and mixed cultures to form the Garifuna. They are extremely proud of their culture and as a historical group fought back against colonialists who wanted to enslave e and dominate them.

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It is well worth your time to learn more about this particular group of Belizeans and their historical contributions as well as current culinary trends.

Lastly, one of our meals consisted of a true Garifuna dish, which was plantain and fish in a coconut based sauce. The fish was snapper, caught locally and always fresh each day. It is traditionally cooked with the head on, so those less exploratory- be advised!

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Traditional Garifuna Dish

I have a good friend Luciana, who lives in Los Angeles and is originally from Belize. I called her before embarking on this trip and asked her what stood out from a cuisine perspective. She immediately mentioned coconut as a staple ingredient and also the sauce with the baked fish and rice. I can see why this remained strong in her memory, even though she moved away when she was nine.  ( and gee Luciana that was only 10 years ago –right! Wink!!)

Luciana%202 
 

My Belizean friend from Los Angeles- Luciana

 

 

Anyway..make your own memories like Luciana did as a child…and head down to Belize!

 

 

 


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Your Comments

Verna, the head cook at Pelican Beach Resort was thrilled to see the picture of the serre and hudut in your post!

Come back and see us soon!

Posted by: Therese at Oct 29, 2010 7:32:55 PM