The cashew is synonymous with summers in Goa. Ask any Goan about a food or drink to try in summer, and they will likely recommend the 'fruit of the season', which is the cashew'.
Or maybe, if you want to beat the heat, try sipping some cashew drinks like feni, urrak or niro.
WHERE IT'S FROM
Although Goa's cashews are famous, the fruit is certainly not native to the state, but travelled all the way to Goa from Brazil during the colonial rule, making this tiny paradise, Goa, it's home.
Today, over 55,000 hectares of land are under cashew cultivation in Goa. Besides being a commercial crop, the most popular product from cashew, feni, has a geographical indication (GI) tag and has reached far flung corners of the world.
And, let's not forget, the 'jungle juice' which has acquired fame on social media in recent times. Wondering what it is? It's urrak! Tell this to any local, and they will just shrug their shoulders and say that, to them, it's just urrak or niro.
These days, many people seek cashew trails and walks revolving around traditional distilleries so as to have a first hand experience of local life. That is exactly what made me wonder about how a simple element from our rich past is fading away, and fast!
HEADING FOR THE HILLS
During our childhood, summer holidays were all about having fun in the great outdoors -- the fields, springs or the sea. The best part was early mornings, when we would head for the cashew plantations to, either, find a few fallen cashew apples, or simply tag along with the villagers who would come to the orchards to pick up fallen cashews and take them to the local distillery.
While some of the people were kind enough to allow us, kids, to tag along, there were others who were rude and chase us away, assuming that we would destroy or steal cashew apples from the trees!
PLUCKING CASHEW APPLES
Back in those days, what really fascinated me was the long wooden stick with a nail at the end, which was used to pick up fallen cashew apples, and put them in baskets.
Recently, when I went on a cashew trail, I was quite amused at how this simple act was so important. Watching the other guest on the trail thoroughly enjoy this experience, I was tempted to tell them 'this is exactly what we did when we were little'. But today, on the trail, I failed to feel that same excitement! Perhaps because there were too many cameras around, snapping away as they recorded the whole process.
CRUSHING THE JUICE
There were times when we went to the distillery, and got a chance to see the traditional process of a man, wearing boots, stomping and squeezing out the juice.
At first, it seemed like an interesting and fun task -- crushing hundreds of cashew apples underfoot (with black boots on). However, nothing could be further from the truth, and I discovered that it was a tough activity and quite a balancing act, to boot!
Added to that, the floors were slippery and the surface of the cashew was smooth and slippery.
SLICE IT AND SPRINKLE SALT
I clearly remember that after we were done visiting the cashew plantations, we would take these to our mothers, who would slice them and add salt and serve them to all, and especially us, youngsters.
The taste was heavenly -- juicy, salty and sweet, all at once! There were times when we, kids, weren't 'rewarded' at all. Instead, we received quite a dressing down for plucking cashews from other people's trees!
Before stomping, the cashew fruit is separated from the nut. This might seem like a simple task, but is tedious task, as it involves hundreds of cashew apples. While performing this task, the women sit back and exchange the day's news and stories of the village.
Visitors on the cashew trials get the opportunity to try these experiences, and are educated on how every part of the cashew is utilized and how the cashew kernels are excellent nutritive supplements owing to their unique combination of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and dietary fibre. This is one of the reasons why dry nuts are commonly found in sweets and confectionary items.
NIRO, URRAK, FENI
As the cashew trail continued, it showed how boiling and fermention is done while preparing feni or urrak.
The first juice from the process is often niro, which is the juice of cashew apples. The process later leads to the production of urrak, followed by feni.
CRACKING THE NUT
Another activity that is part of the cashew trail is frying and crushing cashew kernels. Our parents would often warn us about going near the fire used for roasting cashews. But, they themselves, would throw cashew nuts into the fire and wait for these to make a popping sound, which was an indicator that the nuts were ready to be consumed.
They would carefully crush the external shell and remove the cashew seed, which they would give us to eat. The black colour on their hands and the smell of the wood fire on the roasted nuts is something that continues to be fresh and clear in my mind, till date.
If there is one thing that can take you close to Goa and its people, it is trails and cashew walks as they give a clear picture of Goa, and allow you to get up close and personal with the people and their culture.
TRY CASHEW TRAILS AT
1. NV ECO FARM
2. FLOATING FENI EXPERIENCE BY FAZENDA CAZULO