In my garden, the cashew trees are bustling with activity. There are buds to bloom, bees to invite, fruit to grow ...
Ol' ma'am Cashew is one busy tree !
It all begins in the lazy, wet monsoon days in June - July. Ol' ma'am Cashew stretches her limbs and relaxes. (Look carefully at this photo... can you see her 'face'? ) This is the first time in months that she's really free to do so, after all. So she tries on some new mossy clothes, rearranges her hair, drinks more than she should, maybe, and just ... vegetates !
Then comes the early December mornings with the first hint of chill in distant lands and Ol' ma'am Cashew steps out of her spa.
"Look at me ! I feel so fresh, " she seems to preen. And it's true, she and her sisters are sporting new leaves and buds.
With the masses of tiny flowers opening up, the Cashews become the most sought-after trees in my garden. Bees, butterflies, ants , they're all over the Cashew trees.
They're the oldest trees in my garden and I have no idea who planted them here. Most probably, they were self-propagated. I'm told that the Portuguese traders brought these trees from Brazil way back in the 16th century and planted them along the coast to prevent soil erosion. Cashew trees are perfectly okay with a bit of roughing it out and ran wild all along the coast. So my trees are probably the offspring of these Brazilians-turned-Mumbaikars !
The Cashew tree's ample girth is one of her most attractive features. Earth mother-like, she spreads her branches to cover as much area as possible. Just one of my cashew trees is almost as big as a tennis-court ! Short, squat and expansive she may be, but all the migratory birds flock to her as if they can sense her comforting shelter.
As for me, I love sitting in her shade on the blazing-hot, sunny Indian summer days. More often than not, I find myself running out bare-foot, following a pretty bird or butterfly, only to realise too late that while they can fly, I can not and the ground beneath my feet is like one huge bed of burning coals. I sprint to the blessed shade of the Cashew tree and have to call out to someone to rescue me with some footwear. And if there's no one around, I'll just have to take the long way around, following the shade of one tree to the next.
The flowers give way to tiny little fruits called cashew apple ( I haven't the faintest idea why ... it doesnt look, smell or even remotely taste like apples! ) and nuts which strangely grow outside the fruits. Did Ma Nature make a freakish mistake here? I can't think of any other fruit which has this odd arrangement.
Just as odd, perhaps, is the fact that the nut develops first before the fruit starts to fill out. At first, the nut and fruit, both have this liver-red colour. At this stage, the nut is just a hollow promise... there is no tasty kernel inside.
The next stage is the 'greening' of the nut where the kernel forms inside. At this stage (slightly bigger than that in the photo above), the tender nut is often harvested and sliced up. The pale white kernel is cooked into one of the most delicious dishes of coastal India. It's murder on the hands because the shell oil leaves a waxy coat that stains the hands for days and then starts peeling off in ugly strips. But oh, the taste ... ! It's the stuff that sweet memories , if not legends, are made of.
This stage also sees hordes of flying robbers invading my garden ! Flocks of parrots descend on my Cashew trees at all hours of the day, fighting over the delicious kernels. In the morning when I step out, I find chewed open shells and carelessly discarded cashew fruit carpeting the ground under each cashew tree. Very annoying when I consider that those nuts were to be eaten by my family and friends but the parrots are so entertaining that I really dont mind all that much. After all, there is more than enough for all of us.
This is the stage that my Cashew trees are at now. Soon, in a month or so, the trees will fill up with the big fruits. My trees are all of the yellow-fruit kind but some of my neighbours have the red-fruit cashews which look much prettier. But both varieties look fantastic when loaded with fruit... like a summer-time Christmas tree loaded with decorative yellow ornaments!