Monday, June 18, 2012

A cashew acquaintance from the past

I WAS jogging at Lake Titiwangsa in Jalan Kuantan last week when I spotted an elderly chap trying to pluck a fruit from a tree.

Although it was already sunset, the chap, who was dressed in sports attire, paid no heed to the failing daylight. He was trying to reach some fruits on a broad-leafed tree using a bamboo pole.

As I got nearer, I saw that he was trying to hit the ripe fruit of a cashew tree. He finally succeeded but the fruit was reduced to pulp upon hitting the ground. Letting out a sigh, he sought out another fruit.

Curious, I asked the man if he knew what the fruit was. Happily, he replied that he didn't know but it had tasted nice the first time he ate it, and he had been plucking them every time he was at the park since.

Another chap who happened to be around that evening was amused. "City people," he said to me under his breath. "They don't even know a cashew tree when they see one."

"It's not surprising," I replied. "There are not many places in the city these days that you can find cashew trees growing wild."

In the early 1970s, there were quite a number of them in Gombak and Sentul. Today, I can only find one near Kampung Puah. The tree grows in the compound of a Malay house but I don't recall ever seeing it fruit.

If you want to see a cashew tree today, I suppose you will have to go to Lake Titiwangsa's pony riding track.

The cashew trees are planted near the stables, but I doubt you will recognise the tree unless you have previously seen one.

You may have tried the cashew shoots though, as ulam (Malay raw herb and vegetable salad), perhaps. And you may even have mistaken them for something else as cashew shoots exude a sharp, citrusy fragrance when bitten into.

There were plenty of cashew trees in Terengganu where I grew up. The trees grew well along the beach. Folk collected the seeds when the fruits ripened. In fact, it is the only fruit which seeds develop outside the flesh. It is this peculiarity that gave birth to a "pantun teka-teki" (quatrain riddle), which goes like this:

"Anak kera naik keldai
Keldai pula memakai seluar
Kalau tuan bijak pandai,
Buah apa bijinya di luar?"

The riddle asks if you know which fruit bears its seed on the outside. Pupils used to recite the poem to test the general knowledge of their peers during my schooldays.

As far as I know, cashew fruits are seldom eaten because they taste "kelat" - a Malay term which English equivalent I have yet to find.

The sap is believed to cause lip ulcers on sensitive skin.

Only the seeds are sought after, roasted and eaten like nuts.

These days, electric ovens are used to roast the cashew nuts. In the past, we fried them in heated "pasir garam" or fine sand along the beach.

According to an online report I recently read, cashew nuts are rich in fatty acids that can lower the bad and raise the good cholesterol.

They are also good stores of minerals and essential vitamins, including zeaxanthin, an antioxidant that protects the eye.

An old wives' tale, however, has it that eating cashew nuts can cause newly-closed wounds to re-open and existing ones harder to heal.

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