The harvest season for Soapberries is so short that if you turn around twice you might miss it. There are just three or four weeks when the fruit is ripe enough to collect before the heavy rains come and ruin it. Unlike last year, there was an abundant harvest in the Santa Barbara region where we live. The fruits are small, perhaps because of the lack of rain, but at least there was a harvest. The allspice trees that are a major source of income in our region had practically no crop at all. In some areas people didn’t even harvest beans.
Now we are in the midst of drying and removing the seeds. It is quite an adventure. John built a solar dryer in time for the harvest, but it isn’t big enough for everything we need to dry, so we have trays that we set out in the sun. Selvin keeps one eye to the sky to try to give us enough time to collect everything before the daily rains start but sometimes they come suddenly and we really have to scurry to get all the fruit under roof. We are getting faster. If they ever turn tray collecting into an Olympic sport, we’ll be ready.
Once the fruit is dry, we have to remove the seeds. Some of it we can do with a machine we adapted for the purpose, but, like I said, a lot of the fruits this year are small. Removing soapberry seeds by hand is very and I mean very tedious work. There are different ways of doing it and we each have our preference. Oliverio, who has removed seed from a lot of fruit for us, made a special wooden hammer that he whops the fruit with to get out the seed. John prefers cutting the seed out with pruning scissors. Either of those methods actually leaves a nice looking fruit that we can sell whole. I prefer pliers. If you squeeze the fruit at just the right place, that little hard seed pops right out. It also tends to mash the fruit, so it only works when the fruit is going to be made into powder.
Little did we imagine when we started working with soap berries that every step along the way would have its learning curve. There is still a lot more to learn, and we are enjoying the adventure.