Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Project Cashew

by guest slogger, sculptor Dimitri Gerakaris

While wending our way up the torturous but tropically gorgeous east coast of St Lucia, our driver slowed down for a moment to point out a local man alongside the road. Over a bed of coals, as if panning for gold, the fellow was frantically swirling a large wok-type pan which spit a mass of flames over two feet high. "He's roastin' cashews," the driver exclaimed. I eagerly asked whether we could buy some, but, unfortunately, it was still too early in the season.

After a couple of weeks had passed, I asked another driver whether cashews had appeared in the market, and he responded that it was still too early, but a moment later he suddenly stopped his vehicle right in the middle of the road under a large tree and climbed up the hood to the car's roof to pull something off a pendulous overhanging branch. He handed me what looked like a small "Sheepsnose" apple with a little ornament attached, and explained that the cashew is unusual in that the seed (i.e. cashew nut) grows on top of the fruit and not inside it.

Each fruit grows but one nut. You pull it off, let it sit under the hot sun to pull its oils to the surface, and then patiently roast it on all sides until the oils begin to smoke and then flame. Then you keep working it around until the entire surface is black, and crack it open to produce one single roasted cashew. No wonder cashews are expensive!

I couldn't resist. Armed with my cashew, I followed the prescribed method and shared the final product with my wife. The taste was heavenly, though I'd failed to let the shell cool enough, making mincemeat of our one warm cashew as I cracked it open (I also gained new respect for those cans full of Planters cashews!).

I showed the photos of my cashew roasting sequence to a guide at a traditional Lucian farm which produces cashews, pineapples, mangos, guavas, vanilla, cocoa, six varieties of bay leaves (including one that's lemon-like), tumeric, almonds, coconuts etc. She laughed, convulsing so hard she could barely draw breath to call her colleagues to come have a look at how this crazyman had roasted one solitary cashew. Hey, you've got to start somewhere!

Here are some photos:

St. Lucia: Land of cashews and much, much more.

After sitting in the strong Caribbean sun, which brings
volatile oils to the surface, the nut's transfered to a pan for roasting.

The magic moment when nut oils ignite (don't try this at home!).
The shell must be blackened evenly all around.

Next time I'll let the shell cool so the nut doesn't break!

Shawna at the farm of B.J. and Mother Anthony. We're standing under a "Julie" mango tree.
Of the 150+ kinds of mangos grown in the Caribbean, this is just about everybody's favorite.
It's a smallish, yellow fruit with an intense flavor and luscious texture.
We haven't sampled all 150 yet, but the Julie is our hands-down favorite.

Checking out Mother Anthony's fish cakes with breadfruit and crab balls...yum!
I will eat anything she prepares! If you're down there, you can take a guided tour of her farm.

Photos by Dimitri and Mary Gerakaris and Bill Borton


Pat said...

It's adventures like this that can make a whole trip memorable. By any chance, did you taste the fruit? I've read that the nut end of it is poisonous, but the rest is delicious.

my rustic bajan garden said...

I love your experience with the cashew. I love the islands in the Caribbean and the food. I will check out mother Anthony's farm when am in St. Lucia.

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