Friday, February 6, 2009

Cashewnut Days


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!


68 comments:

  1. It is so cool! I have to smile at you running after the birds-barefoot no less. Very nice words. I would love to see the parrots on the tree and oh she is regal with all her mossy glory.

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  2. Sunita cashews bring back nostalgic days from my childhood. My great grandfather who owned a nutmeg and cocoa estate in Grenada, also had cashews growing in the hills. When we visit in summer they had piles of cashew nuts drying in the sun. I remember eating the juicy fruit and getting my clothing badly stained. My hands and fingers were also blistered by the oil from the nuts. My cousins would light a wood fire in the yard, when the fire was blazing they would then throw the nuts into the flames. There would be much hissing and spitting coming from the flames when the heat and the oily nuts meet. I couldn't wait to taste those delicious nuts. We would pick out a nut from the burning embers and check to see if it is done. When ready we would douse the fire with water and remove the nuts that now look like charcoal bits. We would then get some stones and crack them open, pick out the kernel eat away. Oh the delicious aroma and taste was to die for. We also ate a lot of charcoal too LOL because we were too anxious to taste the nut kernel. When we were finished we were even darker around the mouth and our hands were the colour of charcoal. LOL When I see a bottle of cashew nuts on the supermarket shelf, I sometime wonder if the supplier roasted the nuts like we used to LOL. I have never had them green and cooked and never thought that was possible due to the oil. I would love to know how to prepare them green. I even purchased a young tree but it did not make it. In Barbados we have them growing in the driest areas on the east coast accessible only by foot. I have just finished eating a handful of planters cashews but it just doesn't taste the same. Love your post

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  3. That is one fascinating tree! Beautiful photographs and descriptions. Love that mossy look too. She knows she's special, doesn't she? I did see many of them at Auroville this year. I thought they were gorgeous!

    Cashewnuts from your own trees?! Lucky, lucky you!!

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  4. very informative post, and the pictures are great!

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  5. Wonderful Sunita, I've seen a huge Cashew tree once in Mexico many years ago and it was so very beautiful. It is so very interesting now to see yours, it looks really old and big. It is certainly an amazing tree, fruit and nut. I was holding a packet of Cashew nuts in my hand today in the store but it was too expensive, I just love them.

    Take care my friend/ Tyra

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  6. How fascinating your story is of the cashews! We eat them from the can and never think of where they originate. Thank you for these wonderful pictures and the educational commentary. You teach and entertain us at the same time, Sunita. You'd make an excellent teacher :)

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  7. Wow, I had NO idea this was how cashews grew - and I'm rather embarrassed to have to admit that. Here in the UK cashews come in packets!
    I loved your photos and your wonderful descriptions. I've learnt so much today, thank you.

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  8. Fascinating! Flocks of parrots must be quite a sight to see. And to taste fresh cashews? My goodness, I bet they are wonderful.
    Thanks for sharing this with us!

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  9. Tina, I suppose it IS quite a funny picture ! The fact is, I love walking barefoot when I'm indoors. The natural stone that we have used as flooring is very cool on the feet and its just heavenly on a hot day (which is just about every day!) So when I'm gazing out of the window and spot a Paradise Flycatcher or Golden Oriole, I'm not going to look around for footwear first. I just run ... and yeah, it IS quite funny *blush*

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  10. How fascinating! Cashews are my favorite nut...how wonderful that you have trees of them! I suppose they wouldn't do well here in San Francisco, but perhaps I could grow one for fun indoors...

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  11. Helen! I loved reading all those memories of yours. You must've had such an idyllic childhood. I hope my children remember their cashewnut days the same way.
    We dont throw the nuts into the fire but roast them over an iron pan. The oil in the shell combusts and the pan of nuts is immediately tipped onto sand to put out the fire. Luckily for me, one of the ladies who helps me out knows how to roast the nuts so I dont have to work too hard at it. I'll post about it when its nut-roasting time in a couple of months time.
    I'll dig up the recipe that I use to cook the green nuts and mail it to you. But be warned,it takes a lot of work, slicing up the nuts and living with the stains, etc. (but its really, really worth it!)
    Maybe you would have better luck with your plant if you planted it when it is bigger.

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  12. Kanak, that tree is really old. I was surprised when I took a photo and noticed what could be interpreted as a face on that knot above the big limbs. Can you see it too or am I being too fanciful?
    I'd love to see the trees at Auroville. They tend their plants so well.

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  13. Hello Sunita !
    I so enjoyed your story of the cashew tree in your garden. I had no idea what amazing trees these are (I love the nuts too ! : )
    I haven't been visiting lately .. so much on the go right now. But I'm so glad to come back here and read this post on a cold snowy day here in Kingston .. I was almost transported to your lovely garden !
    Thank you : )
    Joy

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  14. I enjoyed your very interesting story of the Cashew trees, especially your personal touches to the story. You definately have your own paradise there Sunita!

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  15. Hi Tatyana ! I'm so glad you liked this post and the pictures. By the way, the photo on the masthead of your blog really made me smile.

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  16. Tyra, I'm surprised you didnt see more on your trip to Kerala. Kerala is one of the biggest producers / exporters of cashewnut in the world.
    Yes, my trees are very big. The photo of the Cashew tree was taken from inside its canopy so you dont really get to see how big it is.
    There is a reason why those nuts are so expensive, believe me ! It is so tough to roast them without burning them, then cracking the shell without breaking the nut, then removing the yucky-tasting inner shell from the kernel. Long process!

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  17. Hi Sunita,
    Love your tree... you were talking about nurseries...honey you have it all to give any nursery a run for their money.
    Wow, I can practically taste those cashews... have to say ...LUCKY YOU...I am really curious to see the whole of your garden now... give me more...give me more... :D
    Love your post...

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  18. LOL! Oh Kerri, that is so nice of you to say so but much as I would like to agree, I think I'm a very impatient teacher. Especially when I'm teaching my children :P
    But if you enjoyed this post, maybe I'm mellowing! ;D

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  19. Dont worry, Nutty Gnome. I didnt know much about it myself until I landed in a garden with so many cashew trees. Luckily, there were people who knew how to roast the nuts or I would've been totally lost! :D
    By the way, I enjoyed your snow angel post so much. That is something I never get to see here!

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  20. Aerie-el, those parrots are so entertaining! Real clowns! Yeah, they do have a weakness for nuts... if its not cashewnuts, they're after the wild almonds which grow all over. I'll post a photo sometime.

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  21. Ronnie, I dont know much about the climate in San Francisco but I suppose you could always try growing a cashew tree. Indoors? Maybe a bonsai. These trees are humongous! Not tall but they just spread and keep spreading out.

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  22. Joy, on snowy days you could always come over to Mumbai (or to my blog) and get a dose of tropical sunshine :D
    By the way, you havent heard all of it... the cashew has amazing medicinal properties. But that's for another post.

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  23. LOL! You're so right, Kim ... its paradise alright, complete with more than a fair quota of serpents! ;D
    But seriously, we do love being in our garden.

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  24. Rajee, you nearly had me spewing coffee all over the keyboard ! :D
    I'm afraid I'm one of those insatiable plant collectors. Everywhere I go I hunt out the nurseries and go overboard buying up everything in sight.
    About the cashew ... there's nothing to beat the flavour of freshly-roasted cashewnuts....mmmm-hmmm!

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  25. Hi Sunita, How clever and lucky you are to have a cashew nut tree in your garden. Your information about the nut is very interesting. I wonder if such a tree would grow in my garden, I don't get frosts. I have made the picture large to see "madame's face; Most of the cashews sold here come from Vietnam. I don't buy them because of the indiscrimanately use of pesticides.This is a wonderful old tree. i have a pecan tree but also have a battle with the sulphur crested cockatoos. They do not only eat the nuts they destroy everything also the ones which are not ripe. Perhaps when the tree is mature and bears more nuts we willl be able to harvest some!

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  26. I also collect plants, but not in our
    pathetic nurseries.. Until then..

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  27. Trudi, I'm sure the cashew will do great in your garden. If dendrobiums grow outdoors for you, then so will the cashew. It needs a lot of sunshine though. Cashews will grow on really poor soil too.They're also growing on rocky land in my garden . There're places where the soil extends to just a couple of inches and the rest is all rock but thats exactly where I have some really old cashew trees thriving.
    I remember your sulphur crested cockatoos! They're so beautiful that I think they can be forgiven almost anything :)
    Would you believe that I've never seen pecans, let alone eaten them? How old is your tree?

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  28. Antigonum Cajan, with all those spectacular plants native to Puerto Rico? If I were you, I would've thought I had died and gone to plant heaven!
    No but seriously, is the nursery scene as bad there as it is in India? Here it is more of a hit-or-miss.

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  29. What a quaint story about the metamorphis of your cashew tree as it progresses through the seasons. I love cashews but never knew they grew in this fruit outer shell. Thanks for sharing. I have to fight the squirrels for the pecans on my tree every fall so that is something we share. :)

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  30. Thank you again, Sunita ~ for the smiles. I love checking in your blogs on dreary, uninteresting days (which are abundant in Indiana). XOXOX

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  31. Wow...that was beautiful both the pictures and the narrative. I am from Malaysia and have just planted a cashew nut tree at my backyard. Wish me good luck....

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  32. Cool post! Like your banana piece - though we know the facts already, they have never been presented so interestingly.

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  33. Sunita,

    We have the same gardening problem.
    Pathetic nurseries! However, responsibility is on the commercial
    segment of the Green Industry, propagators/nurseries.

    Is a simple problem. Propagators are only interested in profits. In the plant world that means fast growing
    species, not to finicky about care/irrigation, beautiful or not.

    Attractive or not. People into landscape/installation maintenance in turn are into doing a garden
    as fast as possible since profits depend on doing as many yards/gardens as fast as possible.

    A lethal combination for the critical gardener. I bet in many countries, yours included,
    as in Puerto Rico, considering the thousand of tropical plants in existence, you can not find more than twenty species in any nursery at any time, anywhere. Almost forgot, forget about the always absent botanical names. For the reasons
    explained.

    Until next.

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  34. Racquel, for some reason the squirrels havent discovered the cashews yet. I dont know why , I'll just count my blessings instead! Maybe they've been scared off by our dogs prowling around all the time. There is such a surfeit of cashew trees in fruit all over that maybe they dont need to travel all the way here to fill up.

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  35. Aaah but Tracy with the absolute gorgeousness of where you live, what's dreary for you is eye-poppingly, heart-stoppingly spectacular for me !
    But if you still feel so, feel free to visit my garden anytime! (er... it comes with a cobra thrown in ... just to liven things up you know?) :D

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  36. Hey, thats fantastic, Naturalnightdew ! I'm sure it'll do really well in Malaysia. Which colour fruit does your tree have, do you know?

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  37. Thanks, Raji ! And thanks too for tipping off the Mysore Blog Park about The Urban Gardener :)

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  38. Antigonum Cajan, that lack of interesting plants in local nurseries is such a pity, isnt it? I'm sure you must feel the loss even more considering that Puerto Rico is home to so many of our most interesting plants. I for one am fascinated by the sheer variety that exists. And to think that the nurseries do not make them available is almost criminal!
    Here this problem is aggravated in Mumbai city. Mainly because of lack of space to display the plants. So the nursery owners prefer to sell the tried-and-tested favourites. But that can become so monotonous.

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  39. Hello!
    Please come and try my translator again :)
    Do you wanna buy some snow :)
    /The finnish girl with lots of snow

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  40. I had no clue and enjoyed this post very much. It's amazing to me how long it takes to produce a cashew. I can just imagine how unruly the parrots are when the cashews are ripe. It must be a feeding frenzy.

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  41. What amazing tree I haven ´t seen any before. Lovely photos.

    Here we have a lot of snow so Ì´m longing for the spring. Today it´s -17 C. sunny and a lots of snow.

    Greetings from a cold Sweden
    Gunilla

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  42. WOW...they look delicious. I m sure there should be a flurry of birds attracted to these fruits. Any luck with birds ?

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  43. I read this days ago and THOUGHT I left a comment for you but I guess not:( Sometimes I wonder if I'm losing my mind! Anyway, I was so struck by your post because never before have I seen cashews fresh on the vine...I mean, I LOVE to eat them out of the can! With salt or without salt, I love them any way I can get them. Thank you Sunita for showing us this really fascinating fact about cashews and how they grow. It is something I knew nothing about and now thanks to you, I've truly learned something wonderful. And now, I am CRAVING cashews!! Really, I am!!!

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  44. Min Eden, I revisited your blog and yes, this time the the Translator was behaving perfectly. Thanks!
    Oh, and I did leave a note for you asking if you could hold delivery of all that snow till April or even better, May . What do you think?

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  45. Anna, this is just the first (and pleasant) part. Wait till you read the sequel when the fruits ripen ... you'll really appreciate why that can of cashewnuts is so expensive !
    Actually, the parrots are only interested in the nuts when they're tender and easily cracked open. Once the fruit ripens, the nuts are too hard for even a sledgehammer, I think.
    But yes, there is a feeding frenzy on the fruits (the nuts are safe this time) by crows and bats . This lasts for the first couple of weeks, then even the crows get choosy because the whole area is filled with ripe cashew apples plopping down all over the place.

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  46. Yes, Thomas, a whole lot of birds are attracted to the cashew tree for various reasons. The Drongos and Paradise Flycatchers love perching on it to snap up all the fruit flies and other winged insects that hover around the tree at this time. I keep seeing Golden Orioles zipping in and out of it too. A whole lot of other more common birds too, coucals, tailor-birds, magpie-robins, etc. I think they're mainly there for the insects and other benefits, not so much for the fruits or nuts.
    But wouldnt you believe it, I have the most rotten luck with photographing them. Mainly because I'm so excited at spotting the more unusual ones that my hand gets a bad case of the shakes. And also because there is so much of dense shade under the cashew tree that my point-and-shoot doesnt seem to be able to get clear photos.

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  47. Dont worry Jan, it happens to all of us. I've been known to leave saucepans of water on the stove for tea and forgotten to switch it on, and oh too many other instances. Its called "leading a full life" in my book!
    And Jan, wait for the sequels ... Cashewnut Days II & III (I hope you can help me think of a snappier title for them).

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  48. Thomas, I forgot to add ... the cashew apples taste yuck

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  49. Sunita lovely pictures and you have a cashew tree in your garden! Lucky you.

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  50. Gunilla, the cashew tree is found all over the coastal areas of India. Believe me, it looks even nicer when you actually see it.
    We're just a step away from summer. We dont get an actual winter-spring season in tropical India. Winter is just a cooling down from the heat and humidity. Spring is just a slightly warmer version of the same. But summer! Oh boy ! Your -17*C is going to seem so attractive to me by April - May :p

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  51. Thanks, Mridula. Good to see you here.
    Er... I have more than one cashew tree. Which means that roasting of nuts being the tedious process that it is, I have an ever-growing pile of dried cashewnuts ready to be roasted. The lady who helps me can only roast so much in one day.
    Dried cashewnuts anyone? Sorry, you've got to roast them yourself!

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  52. hallo! Its my second visit here, and im in love with your blog already...you seem to have a magical garden! Anyway, wanted to welcome you to our blogging MBP community (Mysore Blog park)!! Happy blogging!!! Will keep coming back!

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  53. Gorgeous pictures, and very nicely written.

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  54. Ha ha .. i can imagine you running after those birds and butterflies. This is a nice post on cashew. Hope to see your new post soon.

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  55. Cashew nut trees, Exotic flowers, fabulous skylines....

    Are you in Mumbai or a fairy tale world you call Mumbai.

    Just Kidding! Great pictures and a wondeful accomp[anying script as usual

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  56. Funny you posted this Sunita....a couple of weeks ago someone told me that cashews grew with the nut outside the fruit and I couldn't for the life of me figure that out. Now, mind you, I am still unclear as exactly how this thing grows, but after your post, I understand a lot more than I did before. thanks. And yes...I've finally done it. :)

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  57. Lakshmi, good to see you here again.
    Magical? I wish ! Then I wouldnt need to weed or wrestle with pests. Just one wave of magic wand or two clicks of my ruby shoes and ... aaaah! wishful thinking.
    Thanks for the welcome. The invitation to be linked was a bit of a surprise but a thoroughly nice one.

    Thanks, Mona. I'm glad you liked the photos and my posts. By the way, I hopped over to your blog and I think I've put on a couple of kgs. just browsing through it! Lovely! Cant wait to go through it in more detail.

    Blossom, yes, its a real sight! Sorry about the delay on my next post. Soon, I promise! I've been having a lot of visitors... human, this time.

    Soul Searcher, I assure you both my gardens are in Mumbai. So, no fairytale world here. Just another view of Mumbai the multi-faceted city :)

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  58. Sunita, the cashew tree looks so good. You just make me pine for some garden space, don't you! I remember having the cashew fruit as when I visited my grandmom's hometown in Belgaum. Was a lot of fun - that place was huge they had all sorts of trees. Esp lots of alphanso mango trees. Now I'm feeling nostalgic.

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  59. Lisa, congrats! Or rather, about time! ;D I had a quick peek and its definitely something I'm going to have to read leisurely, with a cup of coffee in my hand. Way to go!
    I can understand how perplexing it must have been to understand what the cashewfruit looks like. It is so odd, dont you think ?

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  60. Shaheen, I've just mailed you. I made some tender cashewnut curry yesterday and my fingers are sore from cutting up the nuts. You should have seen me ... with surgical gloves on so my hands wouldnt stain and the oil of the nuts made it so slippery that halfway through I felt I should have just dumped the whole thing in the bin!
    Belgaum? We drive past it on the way to Goa and its a lovely place, perfect for gardening. And growing up.

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  61. Hi Sunita, this was a fabulous post! I love Ma'am's branching and lovely fruits and the fact of the size of her and her sisters. What a sight that must be in person. I had no idea how the cashews were grown, and now feel smugly smarter as I throw a delicious nut into my mouth! :-)
    Frances

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  62. Frances, I think you're smarter in more ways than you think. For instance, you got your cashewnut out of a can... smart girl! I get my hands stained picking the tender nuts and now they're blistered all over after trying to slice up a full bag of them for curry (and got just a measly cupful of the kernel). You'll be even smarter at nut-roasting time when I have to go through a torturous process to get some broken cashewnuts and all you need to do is flip a can open!
    (Dont mind me ... I'm in a grouchy mood because my fingers are sore and blistered)

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  63. Hello Sunita,

    Every post of yours has a surprise in it. Not everyone gets to have their own Cashew tree that too in the City. You are lucky :). I have only seen cashew trees and they tend to spread wider. How is yours?. It feels so good to be with very old trees. They have a special warmth....


    keep up the good work.
    gg

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  64. All the better to lure you back, GG ;D
    My trees are B-I-G ! You could have a party under its canopy (what an idea!) and I'm tempted to build a tree-house on one of them.

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  65. Your photos are absolutely stunning, and it's so great to see and read about such interesting elements of the outdoors all the way from where I am in NYC!
    http://www.greenspacenyc.com/

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  66. Hi Carissa! Thanks for dropping by.
    You worked on a green-roofs project ? Wow! I'm totally intrigued by the concept. I keep imagining Mumbai transformed with greenery on every building (and I'm not talking about moss here!) You and I must have a long talk sometime. Is it okay if I e-mail you?

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  67. Wow! How great to see my favorite nut and learn how it develops! Lovely photos - what a pleasure to discover your beautiful site!

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  68. Hi Genevieve, thanks for dropping by. The cashewnut is amazing, isnt it? It really makes me wonder at the first people who thought of roasting this nut and not get put off by the thoroughly horrible taste of its outer skin (which is removed before it gets canned)! There has to be a moral in there somewhere ;)
    Hope to see you here again soon!

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