Thursday, July 21, 2011

{Costa Rica 2011} - Day 1 - Finca Corsicana Pineapple Tour

I'm pretty much obsessed with pineapples. I love them. I hate cutting them, but I love them. I used trusty Google to find a pineapple tour during my research for this trip and in our planning it sure looked close to Braulio Carrillo so we put it on the same day. As it turns out it's about 1-1.5 hours away but still not terrible. We got to see a much flatter area than the mountainous valley that we had been in previously. Once we were sure we were in the right area we stopped at a random restaurant called Restaurante Rancho Magallanes for lunch and it was awesome. We saw a whole chicken on a spit in the walk up bar area outside of the restaurant so I figured it was going to be tasty and simple. But then we walked into the actual restaurant, which was open air, and we found that it was located next to a pretty river!
There was a lemon tree next to our table and the breezes made little wind chimes tinkle while we ate. Tony's mom ordered me a frozen drink made with a fruit called a guanavana. OMG. Give me these every day. I had two.
The staff were super friendly and helped me decide what to get. I was in the mood for seafood and so I ordered a mixed seafood platter called Mariscada. It came with a whole crab, tilapia, shrimp, mussels, and some other kind of fish cooked in a garlic butter sauce. The sides were mixed veggies, rice, and a heart of palm salad. It was all delicious.
The seafood was so incredibly fresh and perfectly prepared. The sauce they prepared for it was simple and I know I should be able to make it at home but no garlic butter sauce I've ever made has tasted like that! Tony had fajitas and his mom and sister had kind of a mixed plate that's common to Costa Rica. It includes a little bit of everything and his mom said it was all very, very good. I tried a couple bites of hers and could do nothing but agree. So far this so-called "disappointing" typical Costa Rican food has been anything but disappointing!

After lunch we headed to the plantation which was only about 3km away. I was sure that I'd have amazing pineapples here but I got more than I bargained for on our tour of the Finca Corsicana pineapple plantation. It's actually owned by Collin Street Bakery in Texas, which is known for their pineapple cakes. They decided they were importing enough they should probably just grown their own.
Now, they have the largest organic pineapple plantation in the world. They used to be 100% organic but they had to decrease to 70% organic when demand for organic pineapples didn't meet supply. The place is really quite lovely. Considering the website looks like crap I wasn't sure what to expect! They really need to re-do it to match the quality of the operation.
The tour was cheap. For residents it was $12 and for the gringa it was $27. This included a tour of the packing operation first. We saw how the pineapples were washed and sorted on the line into keepers and rejects. The pineapples are also washed with a solution of water and chlorine and then rinsed with just water and then hit with high pressure air to make sure all the nooks and crannies are free of dirt and mosquitos.
The pineapples that are deemed imperfect are sold locally while the perfect ones are packaged for distribution by Dole, typically.
While we watched the process, our guide Michael chopped up some fresh pineapple for us with his handy machete.
We went through two pineapples during this part of the tour (keep count). Tony, who doesn't love pineapple, declared it to be "freaking delicious" and I agreed.
Tony's mom loves pineapple, too, and she had never been to a plantation so she was excited to take the tour as well. Also, when she was growing up her dad would buy the Collin Street Bakery cakes for her and her sisters and they all love them. So, when she found out that we got to have cake at the end of the tour and she could buy some to take with she was thrilled.
Anyway, back to the tour. After we saw the packaging operation which, by the way, is immaculate and runs like a well oiled machine, we got on our pineapple tour wagon and were off to the fields. Acres of pineapples with a mountain in the distance is a lovely sight.
Oh, and papayas! They're currently growing a test crop of a newly developed type of papaya that was developed in Costa Rica. They have been a success and are currently exporting only to Holland. We didn't get to try those. While we were in the field Michael grabbed another pineapple straight off the plant and explained how to tell when it had started to ferment and when it was at peak ripeness and then chopped it up for us to eat. The first pineapple we had was overripe (but still delicious) so when we'd eaten some of that he grabbed a perfect one off of a plant, sliced it up, and showed us the differences. The colors and texture of the fruit itself was noticeably different and tasted better than the first pineapple.
It was at that point he told us we could eat as much as we wanted until we bankrupt the place. :) Of course, pineapple will tear your mouth up if you eat a lot so there's only so much you can eat. I pushed those limits!
He then explained to us how to pick the perfect pineapple. Of course, the pineapples we were eating truly were perfect and were no older than 30 minutes off the plant, so nothing I get in Iowa will ever compare. In fact, the pineapples I get in Iowa will be at least 3 weeks old, possibly close to 40 days. Sadface. To pick the best pineapple you look for a round, symmetrical shape. Preferably green with just a touch of yellow at the very bottom. It should also have a healthy green colored crown. But most importantly it should have big eyes. Those "scale" type shapes in the skin of the pineapple should be big. The bigger the eyes the better the pineapple. So there you go, go forth and find the perfect pineapple. Oh! And store it in the fridge. :)
After we talked about the organic farming practices in the field and how the whole operation works we were taken back to the restaurant for pineapple treats. Keep in mind, we'd already shared four pineapples (of which I think I ate the most). He handed us two fresh pineapples to take home and then led us to a table with a pineapple spread for our enjoyment. Fresh pina coladas, sliced pineapple, and the famous Deluxe Fruit Cake awaited us. So amazing. Fruitcake has a bad rep and it's not this cake's fault. It was tasty! The pina colada out of the pineapple was delicious, and the fresh pineapple slices were just as tasty as the last ones we had. I pretty much ate half of the fresh pineapple at the table because I couldn't bear to waste it despite my tongue almost falling off by this point.
Obviously, I loved this tour. I can't say enough about it. It's not easy to get to but it's highly educational and above all else it's delicious! I'm certain I got my $27 dollars worth. :) Tony's mom walked away with three of the cakes. One that Tony bought her for her birthday (tomorrow) and two she bought for her sisters. I'm SO happy that I happened upon this tour on Google and that it worked out so well. With a website like they have and being so far away it could have really bombed.
I'm happy to report that I didn't get a sunburn on the first day. Yay for diligent sunscreen application. But considering we were in the shade for a good part of the time I can't be too proud of myself. :) I also took 242 photos on the first day. I'm sure I'm bound to have some good ones in there!
Tomorrow we leave bright and early for Monteverde. It's Tony's mom's favorite place and we'll be there for two days. Apparently we have some logistics challenges to get there since there are strikes closing some roads and limitations on vehicles with certain license plate numbers driving on certain days (to limit congestion). We'll figure it out. :) We had to rent a 4x4 for this trip or we wouldn't make it up the mountain. It should be absolutely beautiful. We'll be taking a Cloud Forest canopy tour with zip lining and a coffee tour there. More excellent experiences await me!

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