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The bountiful cashew tree

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

In an earlier essay I wrote about Raya Parulekar, the official shooter of stray dogs in the village of Saligao in Goa during the Portuguese era.

Apart from this gruesome job, Raya had other occupations too. During the cashew season, Raya and his wife also occupied themselves with cashew plucking on the comunidade hills of Saligao. Raya allowed us youngsters to eat as many cashew fruit as we wanted, but we were not allowed to carry the cashew seeds home with us.

Botanically, cashew is Anacardium Occidentale. There is a single carpel, which yields a kidney-shaped nut with a hard, resistant pericarp (shell) containing an oily, edible kernel. The fleshy fruit forms around the nut when it ripens, and is used to make Goa’s most loved liquor — feni.

The oil obtained from the shell and kernel of the cashew nut is used in the manufacture of varnishes, gums, inks, oilcloth and laminating resins. The oil is also used for treating cracks on the sole of the foot. Before setting out to work barefoot, weeding the rice fields in July, kamerim (labourers) apply the oil on their feet and toes as a protective salve.

The cashew nut industry in Goa is a large revenue-earner, and extracting and processing the cashew nuts for the mass market is today largely an automated process. But in the old days, for us children, roasting the fokam (unprocessed cashew nuts) on wood fires was a joyful exercise. The delightful aroma would attract an audience that would invariably advise us on the proper method of husking and roasting the cashew nuts. And we all used to love to crack open the shell, firmly knocking it with a sharp stone or prying it open with two sharply pointed sticks. Those who were able to do this without breaking the cashew nut kernel within, proudly displayed their spoils; while the rest of us had to be content with broken cashew nuts and black marks on our hands and clothes that would remain indelible for days on end.

The fokam marks would eventually get washed away of course. But the quaint services provided by people like Raya Parulekar have made, on the history of the village, a mark that will last forever.

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