How to harvest cinnamon
Our lopsided cinnamon tree after pruning(It was more lopsided before) We have a big cinnamon tree that we planted about 9 years ago. It was about 12 inches tall (30 cm) and cost around a dollar when we planted it. Cinnamomom zeylanicum (Ceylon cinnamon or true cinnamon) is a beautiful shade tree with small, dark, glossy leaves. See the little berries towards the bottomIt blooms once a year with white flower clusters, followed by small, acorn-shaped 'berries' (terrible tasting – don't try them!). Tender new growth sometimes has a pinkish hue.Even if you aren't interested in harvesting the spice, I highly recommend this attractive tree as an ornamental shade tree in your tropical garden. CURLA (north coast Honduran agricultural university) recommends that it be grown below 500 meters altitude, though it can be grown up to 1,000 meters (3,200 feet). Cinnamon trees can grow to 10-15 meters in height (~30-45 feet). Tree at about 1 1/2 years (Nov. 2006)Cinnamon needs to be grown in tropical climates where temperatures are mostly in the 27-30°C (80°-86°F) range and the rainfall is heavy, 1,500-4,500 mm per year (~60-180 inches). It does not like prolonged dry periods. Be careful where you purchase the tree, though, as my CURLA tropical fruit book mentions that the trees grown from seed in the Lancetilla botanical garden are subject to fungal problems. CURLA propagates from cuttings of a Puerto Rican variety which doesn't have problems with fungus or insects on the north coast. We've trimmed the tree several times to remove low hanging branches and to try to correct its lopsidedness. This was caused by dog damage, overcrowding, and rainy season neglect when it was young. The tree generally has a very nice shape which doesn't require much, if any, pruning. Trimming emits the most wonderful smell of cinnamon (canela in Spanish), as does crunching up a leaf. I always wanted to harvest the cinnamon but didn't know how. (We didn't have internet for several years.) This time I searched until I found some information that made it clearer how it was done so we decided to give it a go.How the professionals do itOn cinnamon plantations, I've read that they allow the young tree to grow for 3-6 years until it is 2-3 meters tall (~6-10 feet) and then cut it back a few inches above the ground. This allows multiple new stems to shoot up. The cinnamon can be harvested from this first cutting. The new stems are allowed to grow for 2-3 more years and then the cinnamon is harvested by cutting the stems almost to the ground again. In this manner, the individual plantings can be kept going for many years. There is the added benefit of having long, straight, mostly branchless stems from which to harvest the cinnamon. I may try that with some of the many seedlings that pop up under the tree every year.The best time for harvesting cinnamon is right after the rainy season, but not while the ground is saturated. Unfortunately, we trimmed this tree right before the rainy season, so we soaked the wood overnight. This supposedly is to make the bark easier to remove, though we aren't sure if it made much difference. I'll skip this step next time unless the bark proves hard to remove.The recommended sizes for harvesting the cinnamon are branches or stems with diameters from 1.2 to 5 cm (about 1/2 to 2 inches). Smaller diameter branches don't have a thick enough layer of cinnamon and larger branches are used for making cinnamon oil because the cinnamon will be bitter. The harvesting processFirst, any leaves and small twiggy branches shooting off the branch that you are going to use should be removed. Unless you are a pro, you'll probably want to cut the branch into shorter, easier to handle pieces. Around 60 cm (24 inches) worked well for us. Then the dark outer bark is scraped off being careful to remove it all but not to scrape into the thin orange cinnamon layer. A paint scraper worked well for this. Initially, the cinnamon may appear yellow, but after exposed to the air for awhile, it will be more orange. Next the branch is firmly rubbed all over to loosen the cinnamon layer from the wood. We just used a short piece of wood to rub the cinnamon layer but in Ceylon they apparently use a special tool, a brass rod. It was mentioned that you shouldn't use any other type metal for the rubbing as it can darken the cinnamon.A long lengthwise cut is made through the cinnamon layer with a sharp stainless steel knife and one or more cuts are scored around the circumference of the branch, depending upon the section length you feel comfortable working with. Ceylon professionals cut the entire length of 1-2 meter branches into one piece of cinnamon, but being beginners, and not having long straight twigless branches like they grow specifically for this purpose, we had better luck sectioning the cinnamon into about 4-5 inch cinnamon stick-sized pieces. 'Knots' from side branches make it more difficult to remove the cinnamon in large sections.After scoring the sections, begin to carefully pry up the cinnamon layer in as big a piece as you can with a knife or metal spatula. With practice, you'll be able to remove most sections in one piece. The cinnamon will quickly start curling up into a cinnamon stick as it dries. A few pieces can be rolled together or a big piece can be filled with the smaller scraps of cinnamon to make cinnamon sticks. The sticks needs to thoroughly dry in the shade for about a week. Sun will leach out the flavor. I also put the cinnamon sticks in a barely warm, turned off oven to help them along since we have such high humidity here. Wow! Did my kitchen smell good!After it was dried, I ground some cinnamon in a coffee grinder. I had to do it several times to get all the chunks out, but eventually I ended up with a jar of finely ground cinnamon. I put the rest of the sticks in a glass jar. I use the sticks for cinnamon tea, a new favorite of mine.It's a lot easier to show than tell, so here is a video that our part time garden helper Ever helped me to make. He did a great job explaining.This turned into quite a popular project, with some neighborhood kids coming to learn how and Yamileth, my housekeeper, getting enthused about helping, too. She told me that her neighborhood pulperia charges three lempiras for a very tiny piece of canela about two inches long. The boys told me their mom was going to make arroz con leche (rice with milk, sort of a rice pudding) with some of their cinnamon. We all have enough cinnamon to last a long time. The boys have since come back to get some of the seedlings to try to grow their own cinnamon trees.This was also a very 'green' project. We accomplished trimming the tree, used the small twigs and leaves in the compost, harvested enough cinnamon for workers and friends, and gave the left over wood to a poor man who sells leña (firewood) to those who still cook with wood stoves. No waste at all.Soaking the branches might have removed some of the cinnamon flavor. The soaking water certainly turned into cinnamon tea. But my sister-in-law says that it takes much less of our cinnamon to make tea than it does the cinnamon she's bought in La Ceiba before, so I'm not sure. We have some more trimming to do where the tree is hanging over the fence but I'm going to wait until after rainy season next spring as recommended. It will be interesting to see if the flavor is any different next time. UsesThis cinnamon is very sweet and mild, which was really good in iced coffee and made a great flavored cinnamon ice cream. I've used it in cinnamon bread, cookies, and a few other recipes. I used a little more than I do with store bought cinnamon, which has a harsher flavor. Besides a cooking spice, cinnamon tea has been used in home remedies for thousands of years but has recently become very popular as a means to aid weight loss, blood sugar control, stomach upsets, and other health concerns. Scientific studies sometimes disagree, but users swear by it. Two varieties of cinnamonLess expensive Cassia cinnamon is more often found in US grocery stores, though you can get Ceylon cinnamon (true cinnamon) in specialty stores and online. Cassia is stronger flavored and is considered a less desirable cinnamon. Some people even consider it unhealthy because it has much higher levels of coumarin, which can cause liver damage. Image from Cinnamon VogueGround cinnamon will generally be labeled as to the type but other ways you can tell which type you have is that Ceylon cinnamon is lighter colored, more of a golden or oranish brown, while Cassia cinnamon is dark, reddish brown. In stick form, Cassia is much thicker and the stick usually consists of one layer, hollow inside. Ceylon sticks may consist of several thinner layers or small pieces rolled up inside like a cigar. You can break the Ceylon cinnamon sticks and cannot break the Cassia. 80% of the world's Ceylon cinnamon still comes from Sri Lanka, formerly called Ceylon. Indonesian, Vietnamese, and Chinese cinnamon are all forms of the cheaper Cassia cinnamon.If you buy a tree, make sure that you get true cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum. I believe it is still sold at CURLA here in La Ceiba. You might consider buying two, one for growing a shade tree and one for harvesting the spice. That way you can have the best of both worlds: a beautiful shade tree and your own small cinnamon plantation.More cinnamon infoTo see how Ceylon professionals harvest cinnamon, check out this beautiful video, The Cinnamon Story. They are amazing! This man was getting cinnamon pieces at least 1-2 meters long. In the last part of this video, they are making cinnamon oil. There is no 'cooking' involved in harvesting the spice, though drying ovens or rooms are used to speed the drying process on cinnamon plantations.For everything you ever wanted to know about cinnamon, check out Cinnamon Vogue.... Blog contents copyright © 2006-2014 La Gringa. All rights reserved. ...
Extorting the lifeblood out of Honduras
"For not wanting to give up his house"Photo: El Tiempo, HondurasExtortion is a massive problem in Honduras. It's sucking the life out of businesses, transportation providers, entrepreneurs, neighborhoods, even schools and churches. Yes, even schools and churches in some areas have to pay extortion. Teachers and children are extorted daily in some schools. One 11-year-old was killed recently after his young extortioners graduated from charging him 10 lempiras a day at school to kidnapping him. Lots of kids quit school because it's too dangerous for them to go. Gangs pressure boys as young as 10 years old to join and girls are pressured to become 'girlfriends' or prostitutes. If you are like I was, you probably have a hard time understanding what this extortion is. I used to think of extortion like blackmail – person-A did something and person-B extorts money to keep the secret – or protection payments – business owner pays a gang to protect his business against robberies by the same gangs that are doing the extortion. Especially confusing was how anyone could be extorted by telephone. This extortion is different; it boils down to 'You have something; I want it. Pay or die'. Anyone who has anything may be required to give up part or all of it to the extortionists. The extortion demand may be made in person, by someone hired to carry a note, or by telephone.I was in a doctor's office when the doctor left to take a telephone call. She was very upset when she came back and I asked what was wrong. "Extortionists!", she said. "They've been calling me for weeks, saying I have to pay or they will kill my sons. They know their names and where they go to school! We want to get out of this damn country! We are trying to emigrate to Europe. We have friends there." "Did you report it to the police?", I asked. "Yes. The police do nothing." Many people, right after filing a complaint with the police, report that they and/or their families have been threatened by phone. Who is calling, how do they have their phone number, and how would they know the person filed a complaint unless the police were involved? A few months ago, an entire extended family who were running a day care center was wiped out just two days after one of the women filed an extortion complaint with the police. It's not unusual that children, even babies, are killed in these massacres.In La Ceiba, so many people were being threatened by telephone that many gave up their landline phones. After decades of no phone lines being available from the government monopoly – we were on the Hondutel waiting list beginning in 2002 and never were able to get a phone line! – Hondutel was so desperate that they began sending employees door-to-door to solicit customers for the estimated 20,000 excess lines they now had available. However, we were warned by several neighbors not to get a Hondutel line as many of their friends were reporting extortion attempts right after their new line was installed. They believed that Hondutel employees were selling the personal information of new customers.Honduran police have captured some of the 'collectors' carrying as much as L.170,000, presumably a day's collections, but they rarely or never arrest the bosses behind these criminal enterprises. Based on what comes out in the news, a lot of the collectors are women and minors and I don't know if police even look for the bosses. In some cases the police are the bosses behind this. I can tell you this without a doubt, anyone who is making L.100,000 a day or a week or even a month, is not going to spend his days beating the streets around town in the hot sun to collect money. He would play the executive and hire other people to do it for him. It's just like with the paid assassinations: the assassins (who are a dime a dozen and easily replaced) are sometimes captured and prosecuted, but the persons who paid for the assassinations are never, ever prosecuted in Honduras.In some areas, you pay to live there, you pay to work there, you pay to drive a taxi there, you pay to operate a corner store or restaurant, you pay to go to school. Many small and medium Honduran businesses have closed due to extortion – the 'tariff' imposed is greater than any profit made. Many others have had to cut jobs to compensate for the money lost to extortion.A frail old lady had a small stand on the street in La Ceiba where she sold backpacks and purses. Finding a job in Honduras when you are over 35 is very difficult. When you are in your 60's, forget about it! But guess what, people in the "third age", tercera edad as it's called in Spanish, still have to live, they have to eat, and they still need a roof over their heads, so this enterprising woman started her own little business where she was eking out a very modest living. That was until the extortionists latched on to her. Initially she paid what they asked out of fear, but when they increased her weekly payment to L.1,000, she said that left nothing for her. She decided to close her stand. What will she do now?People have abandoned their homes to the gangs in the most dangerous areas. They can't sell their houses because who would buy a house in such an area, and even if there was a buyer, guess what? You have to pay the gangs $20,000 or whatever they decide you owe to sell your home, too. What is the penalty for not paying? Death. Enough bus owners, taxistas, business owners, and other extortion victims have been killed to prove that this isn't an empty threat.Why don't people stand up to this extortion?Many people have stood up to the extortionists. Emilio Sánchez did.Emilio Sánchez Rodríguez (40) ran a small business out of his home in Comayagüela. On July 23, he commented to his mother that he was living in fear and that it was better that he sell his house and go somewhere else to rent. The next day he was abducted by gang members who took him to a 'casa loca' where he was tied up, tortured and burned. After hours of torture and mutilation, he was taken, still alive, to a street near his home where he was shot 40 times in broad daylight at 1 pm in the afternoon. A note was left on his body: "For not wanting to give up his house, sincerely, the diec18cho" (signifying the gang taking responsibility). The police have no suspects. 'Casas locas' are houses that have been taken over by gangs and are used for gang activities. Emilio Sánchez left behind a wife and five children who now have the choice of living every day in fear that they will be next or abandoning their home. The day after Sánchez was killed, a young person was killed and his body was left with a sign that said that the rival MS gang "put him down because he didn't do what we said". The woman with the day care center mentioned above reported it to the police. That cost, if I remember correctly, five lives and it would have been more except that four children escaped through a back window when they heard the gunshots and ran to the neighbors. More and more frequently, people aren't just being killed, they are being tortured and horribly mutilated. Their bodies aren't being hidden in empty fields, they are being transported back to the areas where they lived and dumped in open areas to further terrorize the people. Many recent murder victims have been dumped in big sacks and have written signs placed on their bodies as a warning to others.Some of the taxi associations in La Ceiba stood up to the extortioners and refused to pay. One by one, those taxi drivers were killed until the others relented. A lot of bus owners and their helpers have been assassinated and/or their buses burned, most likely because they refused to pay. Extortionists often threaten to kill employees, wives or children in order to coerce cooperation. It's not an empty threat.In one La Ceiba neighborhood where the gangs were trying to take control, one man was leading the neighbors to stand up to them. He had seen what happened in a nearby area and didn't want that to happen in his colonia. He was murdered after being tortured and his body mutilated. But it wasn't only him. His university student son was also tortured and murdered as was the man's brother who was only visiting at the time. The son was a friend of El Jefe's and he wasn't "involved in anything" except going to school to try to make a better life for himself. What are the effects of extortion in Honduras?With only an estimated 9% of homicides in Honduras even investigated by the police, there is no way to know how many people have been killed due to extortion. In some cases, relatives or friends know and say publicly that the victim was being extorted. But it's dangerous to even talk about it. Though there is no way to accurately quantify the effects of extortion, various studies have reported that gross income from extortion is more than a billion lempiras per year in Honduras and that 40% of the population is affected by extortion. One congressman said that he personally knows at least 100 people who are paying extortion and are afraid to go to the police. He flatly states that the police have no credibility, especially when they lie to the people about crime, and admits that victims have valid fears.An estimated 18,000 small and medium Honduran businesses have closed during the past year due to extortion. In La Ceiba alone, an estimated 200-250 businesses closed due to extortion in the first nine months of 2013, where extorsionistas may demand L.10,000-25,000 per month and even up to L.50,000-100,000 for large businesses. Based on those local figures, I would guess that the national effect is much larger than a billion lempiras.One Walmart-owned grocery store in La Ceiba ignored extortionists and shortly thereafter was robbed by a pickup truck load of heavily armed robbers. A cashier was killed in the robbery. A few weeks later, a second robbery resulted in the death of a customer in the parking lot. Amazingly, to the best of my knowledge, neither of these robberies made the national news. What is the government doing?In Decreto 16-2012, Congress changed the law to provide for more severe sentences for those convicted of extortion. The penalty now is 15 to 20 years in prison. If a death is involved, the penalty is a life sentence.After more than a decade of serious extortion problems, in 2012 the police set up anti-extortion units (Fuerza Nacional Antiextorsión de Honduras [FNA]) initially in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, later in La Ceiba, and possibly other towns, as well a dedicated telephone tip line. It's hard to know what effect the FNA has had, but 2013 statistics released by them indicate that they received almost 2,000 complaints, captured 452 persons of which 242 have been prosecuted, and saved the victims payments of about L.36 million. So far in 2014, FNA has arrested 274 extorsionistas, including 74 minors. However, after creative police math, the previous official reports of 158 arrests in 2012, 452 in 2013, and 274 in the first six months of 2014 now somehow total 1,003 extortion arrests. The police blame the population for not reporting extortion. FNA also says that the majority of cases have nothing to do with gangs. They say, in fact, that the transportation associations themselves are involved with some of the extortions of transportistas. Every now and then there is a show of taking back a neighborhood, but the fact is that these neighborhoods were lost long ago and the police were perfectly aware of that and did virtually nothing for years. A former police commissioner denounced that one high level police official receives L.950,000 per month as a result of his cut of the impuesta de guerra (war tax). Other police have been captured in the act of extortion but its likely that they don't even lose their job for that until and if they are prosecuted and convicted.~~~~~~~~Have you or anyone you know been threatened by extortion in Honduras? Please leave a comment.... Blog contents copyright © 2006-2012 La Gringa. All rights reserved. ...
Passiflora edulis – Passionfruit vineThat is my passionfruit vine. Here's another photo of it growing around a banana plant.Click any of the photos to view largerHere the vine is continuing its journey over some other plants.And here climbing over my macadamia nut tree.Here is another vine climbing up to the top of my crepe myrtle tree.And here it is reaching for the roof on top of my variegated hibiscus. When it takes hold, it does not want to let go!I should have paid more attention to my CURLA tropical fruit book. I read about passiflora edulis when I first planted the seeds but then my part in the project (severe pruning) was quickly forgotten and I left the vine to do its own thing. According to CURLA, in this area the vines can reach a kudzu-like 80 meters (~260 feet) in length if left untrimmed. Did you see the fruits? No? Me neither. Not a one! I've only seen about five flowers, one at a time, which promptly fell off instead of producing fruit. I think we planted them about a year and a half ago so maybe it is too soon. The vines were almost completely defoliated by butterfly larvae last year so that setback might have something to do with the lack of fruit, too. Since I don't have a flower to show you, this is a photo from Wikipedia.I bought some passionfruit recently from Axel, a little boy who comes around every now and then selling lemons, mangos or other fruit. When he found out I like maracuyá, he came back again a couple of days later with a bigger bag for me. Enterprising little boy! I told him that I have plants but not any fruit and got him to inspect my plantings. He was impressed with the size and said that if his plant was that big, it would have 100 fruit on it. Thanks a lot! Rub it in. He and his brother Juan also pointed out that someone was macheteing my plants and probably cutting off all the potential flowers and fruit. Hmmmm.If you aren't familiar with passionfruit (maracuyá in Spanish), there isn't much fruit inside – it's mostly brown/black seeds covered with a sort of gelatinous yellowish covering, a little juice, and a couple of small blobs of soft orange pulp. It's like the inside of a juicy, seedy tomato, except that the juice is yellow and the tiny seeds are crunchy. The flavor reminds me of grapefruit with a bit of a tropical twist and the crunch of the seeds is really nice. Yellow PassionfruitThe first time I ever opened a passionfruit, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with the seeds. How could you separate the seeds from the fruit? The recipes that I found called for passionfruit pulp. What pulp? Well, it's simple: you use the bit of pulp, the juice, and the seeds, too. In this photo, I'm cutting into Axel's fruits and scooping out the insides. The rinds are thrown away. The edible part inside easily scoops out with a spoon.The most common way maracuyá are used in Honduras (that I'm aware of) is to make juice or licuados (smoothies). You can blend the fruit, seeds and all, with sugar and water (about 3-4 parts water to one part fruit, sugar to taste) and strain it, or just mix it all together and serve the juice with seeds. I prefer it with seeds. Passionfruit goes really well with yogurt, but my absolute favorite is passionfruit ice cream, with seeds, of course. Those crunchy seeds give you a burst of flavor when you bite into them. Passionfruit is also used in jams, cocktails, as toppings for cheesecake and flan, and in other desserts. A nice thing about passionfruit is that if you get a super harvest, you can freeze the excess pulp and seeds with no loss of flavor or texture and it doesn't take up much space at all.Passionfruit is sometimes available in the grocery stores here in La Ceiba and probably more often in the market. The smaller purple variety is more orange inside and less acidic but the plant is more susceptible to problems. Maracuyá keeps for a relatively long time and is still good even after it gets all wrinkly. The attractive vines are easy to grow from seeds. Axel suggested I plant some seeds from his fruit to see if they do any better. I'm going to do that and if I get a bumper crop, I'll share the fruit with him.~~~~~~~~~~~~Below are some links if you'd like to know more about passionfruit:Tropical Permaculture: Growing Passionfruit VinesWikipedia: Passiflora edulisHow to (Select and) Eat PassionfruitOne of my favorite sources of tropic fruit information is Fruits of Warm Climates by Julia F. Morton. The book is available online at Purdue University. I enjoy reading about the history of the fruits and the various uses in different countries. Here is the page on passionfruit.Frutales y Condimentarias del Trópico Húmedo (Fruits and Spices of the Humid Tropics) covers well over 100 tropical fruits with photos of the fruit, flower, leaf, and the plant at various stages of growth. The book includes some information from Julia F. Morton's book, as well as specific local information (best varieties, growing and harvesting conditions, as well as common pests) based on trials done by CURLA and the Lancetilla botanical garden and consultations with local experts. The book is available for about $20 at CURLA University here in La Ceiba. It's in Spanish, of course.... Blog contents copyright © 2006-2012 La Gringa. All rights reserved. ...
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