GOA: Cashew Trail

Cashew nut hanging from the still unripe cashew apple.
Cashew nut hanging from the still unripe cashew apple.

April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land.” Poet TS Eliot opened his famous poem The Wasteland. Had Eliot spent a summer in Goa, he would have never called April cruel. It is in April that the Goan air gets laden with the whiff of all-things cashew. Tall cashew trees burdened with red, orange, yellow cashew apples. Apples with a sole nut hanging precariously at the end of the swollen stalk. Raw cashew nuts sun dried, drum roasted, oil bath roasted or steamed and graded as scorched wholes, white wholes, dessert wholes, butts, splits, baby bits. Cashew juice simmering in copper vats to metamorphose into the heady feni and urak. Cashew in the kitchen. Cashew in the spa. There’s cashew everywhere. Everything else is redundant. Obsolete.

Iconic cartoonist Mario Miranda drew the sketch for the Lembranca feni bottle — this is the only one he did for a feni bottle.
Iconic cartoonist Mario Miranda drew the sketch for the Lembranca feni bottle — this is the only one he did for a feni bottle.

One balmy April day, I decided to find the legend of cashew. A tree that was brought into Goa by the Portuguese nearly 500 years ago. A tree that originated in Brazil and has pistachio and poison ivy as distant cousins. That day in Goa, I decided to don a million cashew roles — a cashew picker, an apple stomper, a feni distiller, a nut cracker, cashew chef… I sure could not scour the country’s smallest State for cashew narrative. So, I signed up for Cashew Trail, an annual tell-all, know-all one-of-its-kind cashew event hosted — and trademarked — by Park Hyatt Goa Resort & Spa.

That day in Goa, I donned a million cashew roles — a cashew picker, an apple stomper, a feni distiller, a nut cracker and a cashew chef.

First, the cashew apples. In the cashew farm of Cedric and Mac Vaz, I first picked the apple-picking rule. Never pluck the fruit off the bough. Always pick the fallen cashew apples. I took a stick with a nail end and fumbled with the apples that get easily bruised. Cashew apples are considered a delicacy in Brazil. To know that cashew-craziness, I chewed into a fresh red fruit. It is gooey, juicy, sweet with an alluring hint of wooziness. The next step: de-seed the apple, set the nuts aside and throw the fruits in a rock pit and stomp on them barefoot to get the juices flowing. Not daunted by the idea of an impromptu cashew juice pedicure, I rolled up my dungaree, jumped into the pit, held a rope and stomped and stomped; the juice trickling into an earthen pot.

Virgin cashew nut oil is used for cracked heels.
Virgin cashew nut oil is used for cracked heels.

Under the April Goan sun, with my feet glistening with cashew apple juice, I sat by colossal copper stills sealed with anthill clay in which cashew apple juice is simmered. As the cashew apple juice vapour swirled out of a thick hose, Cedric Vaz of Madame Rosa Distillery explained the feni-making process. Exactly 90 litres of cashew apple juice can produce 30 litres of urak. Ferment more. Do mathematics. Divide by 3. That’s feni, an alcoholic drink that was listed by Time magazine as one of the world’s Top 10 Ridiculously Strong Drinks. Time might describe feni as ridiculously strong but Goans swear by feni as the antidote to all ailments — fever, worms, common cold, tooth ache, sore gums. For the Goans, feni is an apothecary.

Interestingly, the Cashew Trail is not a dreary jaunt into history. During the eight-day event, a lot happens around cashew. I stepped into the kitchen with Chef Franco Canzano who roasts, braises, breaks, tosses, dresses the cashew nuts to turn them into scrumptious things. All with the twirl of a ladle. Cashew Alle Belle parfait. Cashew and curry leaf pesto for linguini pasta. Mongolian cashew curry. Cashew stuffed in filo served with feni anglaise. Cashew jam. Cashew/mango chutney. Cashew marinade for a chicken dish. Cashew dip made of cashew paste, cream cheese and condiments.

Cashew_13

To partake in the cashew-themed brunch, we walked into the forest where on a wooden palanquin sat a stout Big Boss. A glass bottle full to the gill with 45 litres of Big Boss feni ready to be auctioned for a charitable cause. There we saw a deft rendering of a Goan tavern etched in ink on a bottle of feni, the first and only sketch iconic cartoonist Mario Miranda has ever done for a feni label. Drawn more than a decade ago, Miranda’s drawing now adorns the bottle of Lembranca, Madame Rosa Distillery’s feni brand which is a traditional copper-pot distilled feni charcoal filtered for smoothness and blended with oak barrel-aged feni.

The cashew was everywhere; basting on my skin, loaded on the meal plate, toe nails gleaming with fresh cashew apple stomping pedicure, and cashew twig caught in the seams
of my dungaree.

Next I had a cashew kernel scrub to scrape off dead skin and grime; after this pure cashew nut paste was slathered over the entire body and then cling-wrapped for 20 minutes. After a steam bath, a gentle massage with cashew nut virgin oil. That’s 120 minutes of cashew overload ending with a glass of cashew nectar.

Cashew fruit crushing by feet.
Cashew fruit crushing by feet.

At the Cashew Trail, cashew was everywhere. Basting on my skin, loaded on the meal plate, toe nails gleaming with fresh cashew apple stomping pedicure, and cashew twig caught in the seams of my dungaree. Even though a teetotaller, I came away tipsy with the whiff of cashew apple.

Pictures by Preeti Verma Lal

The goodness of cashew

— Cashew nut is certainly not fat-less but it contains ‘good’ and not ‘bad’ fat.

— It is a useful source of proteins and minerals such as iron, copper, manganese and phosphorous.

— The presence of copper in cashew makes it a popular antioxidant.

— Cashew apple helps reduce blood sugar and hypertension.

— The cashew nut oil is the perfect antidote for cracked heels and fungal infections as it contains iron and phosphorus that help in healing.

— You can make a cashew nut face mask at home by blending dry cashew nuts with a few almonds.

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