Friday, March 07, 2008
I have tried to gather some photos to share the process of making cassava bread with my readers. I have recently received a scanner and am in the process of scanning a lot of our old photos. This has not left me much time for writing but has given me an opportunity to share some glimpses into to me!
Most South American indians survive on cassava bread. It takes a lot of work to have enough to keep a family fed. An old Ye'kwana grandfather told me once that ,"We work very hard all our life, just to starve to death a little slower."
Making cassava bread is very labor intensive and for that reason is not popular outside of the tribal peoples. It takes time and patience.
The first step is of course, making the garden. This is the work of the men as it requires cutting down virgin rain forest. It is very dangerous when they cut down the big trees. All cutting is done by ax! Some of the trees are several feet in diameter. Nearly every year someone is hurt or killed while cutting down new gardens.
The gardens have to be cut each year to have enough food. Each dry season, the entire village will work together on cutting the gardens. It takes a lot of people. The garden, called a conuco, is then cared for by each individual family. The daily care is mostly done by the women.
Cassava is made from the yucca plant. There are two basic yuccas, sweet yucca, which is eaten as a tuber and cassava yucca which is poisonous until properly processed. It takes up to seven months for the plant to mature, but the growing season is year round and so there is rarely a shortage, except in times of too much or too little rain.
Once the garden is cut by the village men, the area will cleared and then burned to enrichen the soil before planting. The cut wood will be carried back to the village and the family will use it for fire wood.
The planting is done by the women and young children. It is quite easy to do. All one does is poke the ground with a stick and place the yucca plant in the hole. About 7 months later, it will be ready to harvest. This is why each family has 3 or 4 conucos in various stages all at the same time. this allows them to have mature plants available to harvest year round.
When the women harvest the yucca, they will gather a large amount and make a few trips each day to the conuco to bring back enough to make cassava bread for the family.
Then they begin to peel the yucca which is much like a potato but with a thicker, rougher skin that has to be removed. It is also larger than a potato and has a white, slimy under skin. then the peeled cassava must be washed off completely.
The next step is the hardest and most back breaking job ever! One begins to grate all the yucca. This is done with a hand made grater held close to the body as one bends over and grates for hours at a time.
I have an old grater which was made by pounding rocks into an old board. Now days, the indians use metal which they cut into strips and hammer into the boards. this process of grating produces a very wet mush with the consistency of cream cheese. As it is grated it is collected in an old canoe or half barrel. At this point it is still poisonous and children must not touch or eat it. Depressed indian women often do eat it as a means of committing suicide.
The next step is to push the grated yucca into a long woven basket and then hang this from a rafter built for this purpose. This basket making is a highly prized skill of only a few men and is called a sebucan.
The straining is a slow process using a lever. More and more weight is used as the squeezing goes on. It takes several hours. The juices are collected and cooked and used in hot sauces or thrown out. Once cooked, it is no longer poisonous.
The first day is spent in cutting and carrying the cassava to the village. The second day is spent peeling, grating and squeezing the yucca.
The next day begins the cooking process. The grated yucca is now dry and fine and resembles a flour. It is off white in color and smells a bit sour. This flour is scooped onto a round raised circular platform of cast iron. This is from Brazil and some are very old. They are passed down in the family and highly treasured! This platform is built up over a fire.
The flour is quickly spread on the platform and cooks. The woman will then need to flip it to cook the other side. The flipping is not easily done without experience! Now the cassava is firmer and stronger with no loose pieces. It is a very hot job!
Next, the cassava bread has to be put out to dry in the sun. Some people place it up on their roofs to dry. Some have built drying trays. It has to be high enough to keep the dogs away! This drying is very hard to accomplish in the rainy season!
Now it can be eaten! Cassava bread is mild in flavor but a bit tangy. It will only las for a few days, so the process will be repeated twice a week It is eaten with hot sauces and is eaten every single day.