This particular square plot of land had been planted with various varieties of cashew trees lining the external periphery of the land, which provided shade and shelter for the village boys who found the place good for playing, not disturbing the inner plots which used to be cultivated with annual crops. The land also had a few coconut trees , jackfruit trees and Areca nut trees here and there. The tuber crops such as the elephant foot yam, the climber yam, tapioca (cassava) used to be harvested mostly for our own consumption where as some other occasional tubers like ginger and turmeric provided some cash gains. There were many other crops which used to be cultivated, but those were not so common. Some of the trees in the plot had pepper vines on it which yielded a few kilograms of black pepper annually.
Steamed pieces of the yams and cassava with fish curry used to be the tastiest food we enjoyed those days.
Now the most neglected trees and the most liked ones were the large cashew trees that dotted the periphery of our plot. I remember learning tree climbing in some of these trees which had conveniently placed branches and slopping which helped even a novice like me to climb up a tree !
Every year these trees numbering a score or so flowered and used to be fully covered with young green cashew nuts with green bulges on their upper ends developing as the pseudo fruits. These raw green nuts provided a good source for making a tasty tender cashew nut curry, provided some one could venture in to the task of cutting those into pieces and taking out those tender kernels from their insides. The cashew nut was naturally protected with their offensive 'phenolic' sap which could make a person's skin severely 'burnt' if ever it happens to be in contact with the skin. So lot of care was needed to take out the tender kernels to prepare the tasty dish, which the ladies of the house normally would not attempt.
So the fruits were left to grow and ripen out to become the cashew apples later with their ripened cashew nuts attached to the end of the pseudo fruits.
The cashew apples used to be in yellow, red, orange and pink colors. Some used to be elongated while some used to be fatty but all having the typical inverted cone shapes. When the fruits ripen for the first time in the season, we used to pluck a few and eat it enjoying their sweet juices fully, later to be repented for the itching that the small amounts of tannin that the fruits gifted to out throats.
Soon, the fruits would become a thing to be discarded as a waste with no takers for them. Even the cattle used to be fed up with these fruits refusing to eat them as they become plentifully available in the ripening season.
Our attention would be to collect the cashew nuts to be stored for use later in the year. If the collections are good, it used to be sold out to local vendors who collected them to be sold later to the cashew factories. Though the processed nuts were a delicacy which got marketed in the international markets at a premium, the local small growers like us never used to make any money out of these by selling these nuts in the local market. So occassionally we took out the kernels in our own improvised manner, getting the half burnt cashew kernels for satisfying our taste buds, our only way of enjoying the rich man's food.
No wonder, the small cashew tree owners of our region soon resorted to the wise decision of cutting these trees for fire wood, making those cashew factories to resort to importing the nuts from Africa for keeping them fed with the essential raw material !
The Keralites have never been good entrepreneurs in their own land, in general. Many of them could be good employees outside their own land. But in their native place , which is blessed with God's own blessings, they lacked the creativity and enthusiasm to utilize the potentials of the natural blessings of their land which is now promoted world wide as 'God's Own Country' ! I being a 'Marunadan Malayali' ( non-resident Keralite) have got the opportunity to compare the attitudes of Keralites while residents at home land and otherwise!
In those days, I remember an attempt made by me to make use of the cashew apples for some useful purpose instead of wasting them to be scattered all below the trees and rotten , attracting swarms of house flies!
I remember devising a method by which the cashew apples can be used by converting their rich juices to a very tasty liquor, smelling and tasting like the toddy (palm wine ) but was not an intoxicant like it. Incidentally, Kerala is dotted with hundreds of toddy shops which sell this country liquor under government licence. Palm wine or toddy is a very tasty liquor with a pleasant sweet but a little pungent if fermented for a while. The palm wine produced from coconut tree is the best of its kind but its availability is always less than its demand, creating a situation in which the licenced country liquor bars of the state selling spurious toddy to its customers quite often.
Coming back to my recipe of making the cashew fruit toddy. The cashew apples' main problem is its tannin content which causes some kind of itching sensation in the mouth and throat. So this has to be removed. The best and efficient way of removing it from the cashew fruit juice is to add a few ounces of starch solution to it. The starch solution is the one you discard after boiling rice ! The moment the starch solution is added to the cashew fruit juice, which is made by squeezing cut pieces of the cashew apples, the juice coagulates the unwanted tannin gum and the gum settles down quickly to the bottom of the container.
The gum free juice is then added with a little sugar and a handful of black pepper seeds and kept closed in a jar for about twenty four hours for it to ferment lightly. Then filter out the pepper and serve the liquor after chilling it. I used to make this and enjoy drinking it in the summer days. Fantastic taste !
The squeezed out apples can be dried as a good cattle feed.
The cashew apples provided a good opportunity to Kerala to make and market a fine drink, not necessary the hard fenny that Goa has been brewing from cashew apples for decades.
Unfortunately, cashew trees almost vanished from Kerala by the time entrepreneurship developed in Keralites! Kerala also faces an acute shortage of working labor !
But the problems are potential opportunities. There exists many such opportunities in Kerala. Opportunities for Kerala to develop as a model state of prosperity !