Traditionally Prepared Cassava
What is Cassava?
You may have heard of cassava and some of you may have tried it in various ways. I would like to show you how this is processed here in rural Brazil. It is still made the traditional way locally and my husband and I were lucky enough to be told that this was taking place at a friend's house. He was quite pleased to have us take photos of the procedure. Below you will see photos taken by my husband, unless otherwise credited, these are of course are copyrighted.
Here in Brazil the cassava is called mandioca. The plant is grown locally by families for their own consumption and to sell if they have had a good harvest. It is also available to buy in the stores here.
This week my husband and I went to our friend, Antonio's house. I first would like to tell you about Antonio and his family. Antonio is a local businessman. He doesn't have any premises but knows everyone and will buy and sell anything. If we want to buy goats, have a well dug, or buy a car, he knows just the person we need to speak to.
Where Antonio lives, there are 8 houses. These are all extended family members. This is common practice here in this area of Brazil. Everyone lives together or near by and works for the betterment of the family.
When we arrived, there was already much activity going on. A group of women, all family members, were sitting around a pile of cassava roots.They were sitting on the floor amongst the peelings, chatting away. They all deftly wielded their peeling knives, scraping the brown surface away from the white tuber. I asked them if I could 'give it a go'. The lady of the house, Antonio's mother, pulled up a chair for me, gave me a knife and a half peeled root. Having never peeled one before it was difficult at first. The skin wasn't smooth like or potato or thin like a carrot. It required a bit more 'oomph'. Once I got the hang of it, I was peeling away listening to the ladies chatting. As I glanced around at all the ladies, they all had their own style of peeling. Some used short sharp scraping motions and others removed more peel in long graceful movements. Some of the women sat crossed legged and others sat with their legs curved round their work. The young girls, came and plopped themselves atop the pile of tubers, grabbed a knife and began peeling. I asked why some of them peeled half and passed it to someone else. They said,' because that is how it's always been done'. Some women would start one, peel halfway, and then pick up another that had already been started.
Grating the Cassava
After the peeling, the cassava was put into a machine that would grate it. This was heavy work and during the time I was there, it was only the father who used the machine. This was the only electrical part of the process. Everything else is done by hand.
The roots were poured into the holder at the top and the contents were pushed back and forth allowing the grated cassava to fall below. The cassava roots bounced around inside the hopper until all were grated and ready for the next step.
In this photo below, the woman is scooping the grated cassava root to put it onto the mesh for the water to be removed. On this day, it was scooped by one lady and then another family member would pushed it back and forth. The process of passing it through the mesh is extracting some of the the liquid . The motion used is similar to kneading bread. As all the family helps, they will all rotate and do the jobs that need doing.
Using the Press
Once enough liquid was pressed out by hand through the mesh fabric, was then wrapped in bags and stacked with others to be pressed in this vice, extracting even more liquid. The equipment they use is basic but this is the way their parents would have done this and they too continue to do so.
I asked the father how long it took to grow. He said, “two years”. Upon hearing this, the women in the circle, looked at each other and one said, “one year”. The father was counting winter and summer as a year each. The woman, not wanting to contradict her father-in-law , said, “18 months”. I have looked on the internet and it is in fact a year long growing process.
Checking the cassava
With an expert eye, the father checks the moisture level in the cassava. He has determined that it is ready to move to the next procedure. This will be passing it through a fine metal sieve.
Sieving the Cassava Flour
It is passed through a metal sieve to remove any bits of peel or anything that would degrade a smooth flour.Rubbing it back and forth allowing it to fall through. Anything that is too large, gets tossed onto the ground for the chickens. This is one of the jobs that the younger kids or women do.
It is then put onto the large slab that has a fire below. The gentleman then pushes it back and forth ensuring it doesn't burn. This is the cassava (mandioca) flour. After this has cooled, it will be bagged and is ready for their family's use or to sell.
In the photo to the right is a young girl about four years old. She sat next to her mother and was learning the skill of preparing the cassava. She was also learning about being part of a larger family. In the group were her cousins and aunts. They were all peeling using the same type of knife. The young girl was using one as well. She would place the end of the root on the floor and scrape the skin until she had removed it all. She was young but had been taught to use a knife correctly as a tool.
I find this amazing that in other 'more advanced' countries, we put locks on the draws to keep the children from coming to harm. Perhaps we should show them how to use them and that they are a tool and not a toy. There were women and girls of all ages sitting on chairs, the floor and some even on the pile of the manioca which somehow never seemed to decrease in size no matter how many we peeled.
Facts About Cassava
This process has to be completed within 3 days of harvesting or the tubers will go bad. Some we saw had gone black on the inside these were discarded.
The cassava needs to be prepared correctly otherwise it can be toxic. This process removes the toxins that can lead to goiters or paralysis. There are two types of cassava, sweet or bitter. The bitter variety is the one that was photographed above. Many farmers prefer to grow the bitter variety because it deters animals and other pests from consuming it. Although it is more labor intensive to prepare it for consumption, as you have seen, but the chance of a good harvest is increased.
The cassava grows well in poor soil conditions and is grown as a staple food here in Brazil.
They will make this into tapioca which is eaten like bread here. On street corners, vendors sell tapioca and cafezinho. This is a round tapioca cake about the size of a donut, and a very sweet small coffee.
- Easy to Make Gluten Free Tortillas
If you love tortillas but don't like the gluten, try these easy to make gluten free tortillas. Using cassava flour you can once again enjoy your favorite Mexican foods.
Cassava and Twins
Recently much has been reported about the relation of cassava and having twins. It is thought that the chemicals in the root helps stimulate ovulation. If you are trying to become pregnant or wanting to have twins, consider incorporating cassava into your diet.
© 2012 Mary Wickison