Never quibble about the price of your cashew nuts. NEVER. If you only knew how much time and effort is required to process these delicious morsels, you wouldn’t be so quick to drive a hard bargain, feeling smug that you had managed to claw back some 10 or 20 pesos from the vendor’s asking price. Abundant in Vietnam, India and other parts of the world, cashew nuts grown and processed in the Philippines are a dying industry. The season is short, the work to gather the nuts tedious, and the processing, as I describe in this post, is extremely labor-intensive. The more I learn about the food that I eat, the more I am in awe of the many folks who toil to produce it.
The cashew fruit season in Palawan had just reached its peak a week or two before we arrived in Coron. If you are curious about cashew fruit, check out this previous post. Once the cashew apple or fruit is removed, the greyish brown nuts are dried in the hot sun for a couple of days (photo above), partially to remove the effects of the painful acid that is contained in the fruit or nut casing. The cashew nuts for sale in Coron should have been amongst the freshest for sale in the Philippines, and we intended to bring home several kilos worth. So off to find one of the largest retailers in town, Lita Escarda’s store “Coron Harvest” on the main road, towards the large passenger pier. The store was relatively large, but stocks on display were limited and I think they were a bit surprised that we wanted to buy by the kilo, rather than the typical small 100g or so “snack packs”. After some pleasant conversation, Mrs. Marketman somehow obtained an invitation to the “back of the house” or the store’s factory, to see exactly how the nuts were processed. We were thrilled. Ms. Escarda explained that the last group she had allowed into the inner sanctum was a Taiwanese film crew a few years back. We felt privileged to be accorded the opportunity to observe…
The sun toasted nuts are split in half by hand, using this special contraption…
…notice how this lady does not wear gloves, and the sticky sap/tar/fluids from the fresh nuts stains her fingertips.
Each nut is carefully placed under the “knife” and quickly split…
…the two halves flying on either side of the knife…
…dropping below into a large can…
…as the lady reaches for another nut to begin the process all over again. An expert splitter, this lady was doing one nut every 3 or 4 seconds!
The nuts are then spread out on spacious tables and the nut meats are carefully extracted from the shells. This is a DELICATE process, as a premium is place on perfect half moons or half nuts. Damaged nuts fall into a less desirable nutty category.
This specialized tool is used to pry the half nuts out of the shells. And workers are paid PHP15 per KILO of peeled nuts. OMG, in one whole day, I do NOT think I would be able to extract one kilo of perfect half nuts.
And notice how their fingers are wrapped in bandages so that the acids in the nut shells don’t burn their fingers while they are extracting the cashews!
The cleaned nut meats are then sorted by size and perfection, and dried in shallow baskets under the intense summer sun. That’s Mrs. Escarda herself, showing us her wares.
The drying process removes some of the “itchiness” that some folks experience when eating cashew nuts, a result of residual acids from the shells. The dried nuts are then portioned by weight/volume in these nice woven baskets, ready to be fried in hot fat.
A huge kawali or pan sits over a raging wooden fire, and the nuts are deep fried for several minutes…
…constantly being stirred by a young man who watches carefully for any signs of overcooking the nuts. Sometimes the nuts are flavored with garlic and later salt, other times the fried nuts are treated to a coating of caramelized sugar…
Asked how long the cooking process took… they answered “until it looked right”. Don’t you love it?
The guy dons some gloves, effortlessly lifts the massive pan off the intense flames and strains the freshly cooked nuts through a special screen sieve. The fat is re-used for frying another batch of cashews.
The gleaming nuts are allowed to cool and sent to the front of the house to be weighed and packed.
Here, a batch of caramel coated cashews (the bits and pieces included) are carefully apportioned and weighed.
Ready for sale to all and sundry that drop by. We purchased several packs of adobo flavored nuts, garlic nuts, caramelized nuts and since I wanted several kilos of unflavored and unfried nuts, Mrs. Escarda asked us to return later that day while she set aside two kilos of simply sun-dried nuts. I wanted them in this form for baked goods. We picked up two kilos for PHP1,000 later the same day. Their normal asking price is PHP600 a kilo for fried and salted nuts. And now that you know what went into preparing them, don’t bargain. An amazing hour spent with a real gem of a person involved in food production.
National Road, Coron
Near the Passenger Ship Port