Black Gold

Greetings again from Tonga, where winter seems to be over. We haven’t had rain in more than a week and a half and the days grow hotter every day.

Finally my daily cold showers are actually a relief.

Friday, we processed a few tons of vanilla all in one day: we cooked the latest bean harvest, we sorted a several hundred kilos, we transferred the rest from container to sun to new container. Because vanilla is harvested so slowly—even beans from the same vine ripen at different speeds—all the beans are at different stages of curing.

Besides that, the large Gourmets cure more slowly than the smaller extract beans and splits.

It’s nearly seven on Monday morning, and the sky is getting light enough that I need to head back over there. The days start earlier and earlier, and end later and later.

We had one bean scare last week—some fat Gourmets (which means the water content was still too high)—were dumped into our already-cured container. When we did the daily check we discovered what happened, and had to bring the whole case out again to sort.

The work is meticulous—and this is only the curing. I’ll be able to post photos of the pollinating soon. Speaking of manual, you have to pollinate with a needle or small stick, transferring the pollen from one vanilla orchid into another and waiting to see if it will take.

We’re out in the sun, deep in the mines, but the work is such that anyone can see why vanilla is like gold.

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