THE KAOUJE ("KAO-KAO")

APPEARANCE - TERRITORY - USAGES - MYTH/LORE

The Kaouje plant is about a fore high, a modest but leafy little bush, with small round leaves about the size and colour of a silverbard. It is believed that the metallic hue helps to diffuse and refract harsh sunlight throughout the interior of the bush to help ripen the berries, or more accurately, Kao-Kao beans. Long tangled roots help it extract what water it needs, and cling to even dusty soil.

Appearance. The Kaouje plant is about a fore high, a modest but leafy little bush, with small round leaves about the size and colour of a silverbard. It is believed that the metallic hue helps to diffuse and refract harsh sunlight throughout the interior of the bush to help ripen the berries, or more accurately, Kao-Kao beans. Long tangled roots help it extract what water it needs, and cling to even dusty soil.

The Kaouje flowers discreetly in the early spring, as soon as it gets any moisture after the winter. Tiny yellow blooms emerge from the main stalk of the plant before the young leaves. After the leaves emerge, held out at all angles from the sub-branches, the flowers are usually not visible and begin to form the bean nugget at their base, dropping off after about three weeks.

The nuggets swell and change colour, from pale green to yellow, to a soft orange. If left till a red shade, the taste of the resultant Kao-Kao is likely to be affected, becoming very bitter as the natural sugars have broken down. Some purchasers prefer a slight bitterness and the aspiring Kaouje plantation owner should investigate his market before harvesting.
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Territory. A sun-loving, dry soil type of plant. Grows well in stony, sandy, or hilly conditions and may even be found cultivated on canyon walls. It is sometimes planted decoratively solely for the reflective quality of its leaves, to brighten up a shady corner by sending its sparkling sunspots dancing into it. Damp and dry cycles stimulate the bean growth.
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Usages. As noted, the Kaouje is the primary source for the rich, addictive confectionary known as Kao-Kao. The process is not complicated, but involves a number of steps which should be done carefully so as not to affect the taste negatively.

In warmer climates the Kaouje will produce two to three crops a year, if the owner can simulate the water/drought cycles it prefers effectively. The beans are harvested by hand when the preferred colour, and left to dessicate in the sun on long strips of cloth.

When dry and shrivelled, losing nearly 60% of their original weight, the beans are then ground between large sandstone mills, giving a fine, dusty powder. The powder is mixed with milk, or cream for the more expensive varieties, and if an additional flavour is desired it can also be added at this point. (Kaouje beans are naturally sweet, but if inadvertently harvested late sometimes foridus is mixed
in to disguise the bitterness. Mint, vanilla, orange, and wine tastes are popular, but the overwhelming favourite is plain Cream Kao-Kao, by far...)

The thick sludge of powdered bean, milk, and flavoring is then heated and kept at a high temperature (but not allowed to boil or burn) for over three days. It thickens and reduces, forming a fudgy mass which is then turned out into lightly buttered clay or metal molds to form the shapes; bars, chunks, drops, hearts, diamonds, leaves, flowers, or anything else the artisan has imagined.

The finished mold is then covered carefully and plunged into cold water to cool fast. One can tell poor manufacturing in this way, because careless confectioners will often get water droplets on or in the Kao-Kao at this time, which produces a sort of greyish 'bloom' on the exterior - harmless, but unattractive, and a clue to their slipshod work.
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Myth/Lore. The wandering masterbard Judith of Bardavos has collected a number of poems, songs, children's ditties and sayings which refer to the Kaouje and its product, Kao-Kao.
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Information provided by Bard Judith View Profile