We met at Theresa’s dad’s house for this meeting with Kathryn, Vicky, Gini, Anna and Trudy attending. We were all a bit weary when we first arrived but then it was the end of the first week of the school holidays. After spending a bit of time seeking solace in shared experiences of tantrums and minor traumas, we got down to the book and chocolate choices and all livened up considerably…must have been the Maya Angelou effect!
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
This is the first of seven volumes of autobiography written by Maya Angelou. It tells of her childhood growing up with her brother and grandmother in the American South in the 1930s; details the discrimination and racism she and her family experience; and describes how she suffered the terrible trauma of rape by her mother’s lover.
We found this book, recommended by Trudy, to be an extremely evocative and descriptive book which reads like a novel. Anna felt Angelou effectively evokes the “cruelly strict environment and disciplinary society” she experienced when with her Grandma; which contrasts with the relative freedom she had when with her mother. We all reflected on the incredibly honest telling of her rape and the thoughts, feelings and confusion she felt as a child.
Whilst the book follows our recent theme of dark and/or disturbing books, because it is an autobiography and reflects real life and experiences, there is the potential for it to be even more ‘depressing’. The cruelty Angelou and her family experience from other people is indeed astonishing – we found the telling and imagining of the white dentist’s refusal to treat Angelou’s abscess and his lack of human concern particularly shocking.
Nevertheless, Angelou’s incredible self-belief and independence come through strongly throughout the book and Trudy commented that this reflects the uplifting feel to her poetry. It is quite extraordinary that given what she has experienced, she was able to build on the positive influences in her life (such as her stalwart Grandma, the great gift of reading given by her neighbour) as well as her independent spirit born from her having always been on her own (except for her brother). Her amazing strength is evident – she picks herself up from a traumatic fight with her father’s girlfriend, lives on the streets for a month learning to dance and drive; then returning to her mother, follows her education, and with considerable determination and success becomes the first black girl to work on the trams.
Whilst Kathryn wasn’t sure she would have the patience to read all 7 volumes of the autobiography she was keen to read the last one which discusses why Angelou’s mother sent her away and ‘unearths the well of emotions [Angelou] experienced long afterwards’. I am also keen to understand this aspect of Angelou’s early childhood – her mother’s actions were unexplained in this first volume and her description of both parents felt like characters rather than real people, reflecting Angelou’s early and distant relationship with them.
This is a moving and captivating read which our group would definitely recommend.
Maya Angelou: acclaimed African American writer, civil rights activist and in the words of Barrack Obama ‘a truly phenomenal woman’. To match the story of her formative years I chose bars that celebrated the strength of the women who use cacao farming to improve the lives of their families and their communities. I then chose bars highlighting the flavour possibilities of African origin beans and how exciting and uplifting chocolate can be when combined with American craftsmanship.
All bars this time were sourced from Cocoa Runners.
Original Beans, Femmes de Virunga 55%
This bar, crafted by Original Beans supports women cacao farmers in Eastern Congo – inspiring women who do all they can to provide for their families and protect their environment in the face of hardship and brutality. It seemed like a perfect match.
We took in the deep, dark and chocolatey aroma. It smelt promising. It had a smooth, creamy melt. We detected nutty notes, but roasted, even slightly burnt but not unpleasant and with a caramel finish. It wasn’t too sweet, just rich and dark like the aroma. We all really enjoyed it and were slightly relieved that Original Beans had delivered such an interesting bar and done justice to the strong women they were championing. A good start!
Lucocoa, Belize 73%
The next bar I came across in a Cocoa Runners promotion for International Women’s Day. It was one of three bars Lucocoa have produced to celebrate their women farmers. I bought all three, how could I not?…but this was my favourite. A Central American origin this time but the emphasis on women was the same. It is dedicated to the work of Minni Forman, who, after being educated in the US, returned to Belize and became Managing Director of Maya Mountain Cacao and a cacao farmer herself. When linking chocolate to inspirational women, it would be remiss of me not to mention Amarachi Uzowuru who set up Lucocoa in partnership with Andy Clark. I would like to think that Maya Angelou would have wholeheartedly approved of her support for women growers, her previous work for the National Union of Students and Comic Relief and for using all her talents and determination to succeed in the extremely difficult business of chocolate making.
But anyway, back to the chocolate. We thought this had a sweet, fruity, tropical aroma. We immediately commented on the distinct taste, a banana sweetness. It had a nice slow melt and quite a rough, grainy mouth feel. I was worried that they wouldn’t like the texture but everyone loved it. Trudy picked up peaty and tobacco notes coming through the sweetness and we all found tropical fruits. Sweet, strong and well-balanced was the conclusion with a slightly astringent finish.
Anna particularly enjoyed it because it was just so different and still tasted good!
Askinosie, Mababu Tanzania 72%
So we moved onto my African American choices. There are so many good American makers to choose from but in the end, I chose Askinosie because just like Maya Angelou they are from Missouri. Askinosie is run by Shawn Askinosie a former defence lawyer and this bar is made from cacao beans sourced directly from a female-led farmer group in Tanzania.
The aroma promised red fruits. It had a long slow melt with a lovely thick and creamy mouth feel. The red fruits dominated initially. George tasted cherries. Strawberries and honey were mentioned too. Theresa picked up her favourite treacle and caramel notes and Trudy thought it had a smokey feel which I thought was similar to burnt treacle. We all felt a distinctive astringent kick at the back of the mouth on the finish. I could tell by Theresa’s face that this was going to be her favourite. Trudy liked it too but Anna wasn’t so sure. I thought it was fascinating and just wanted to eat more! A really successful combination.
Ritual, Madagascar 75%
My second African American combination used beans from Madagascar this time and I hoped it would deliver a completely different taste experience. This bar contains no added cocoa butter just cacao and cane sugar.
The aroma was sharper and drier. It had a slow, smooth melt and gave an immediate burst of citrus and pineapple. For Theresa, this developed into more earthy notes but then the citrus kept coming back. Gini was nodding approvingly. I thought there were sharper raspberry notes and then chocolatey notes and we all experienced a sharp acidity on the finish, just in balance, although Vicky wasn’t quite sure about the sensation in the back of her throat! It was citrusy, complex and long-lasting. Theresa liked this one too but not as much as the last one. As expected, two quite different flavour profiles but both quite striking.
The book had been a great choice and we thoroughly enjoyed the focus on strong women and African cacao in our chocolate choices. An uplifting evening all round!
The bars we would most like to take home this time were:
Anna, Vicky – Lucocoa, Belize 73%
Theresa, Trudy – Askinosie, Mababu Tanzania 72%
Gini – Ritual, Madagascar 75%
Kathryn – Original Beans, Femmes de Virunga 55%
For next time, we are reading The Shack by Canadian Author Wm Paul Young