Thursday, November 11, 2010

Authentic Goan Caju Feni

Mogall Goyemkaranno,

Cajumcho soro mhunnlear amkam ek vodvik, tor kitle zan zannat to koso zata to ? Havem tacher ho lek bhoroila thantunt kosli-i sozmonni zai zaler au kitem-i chuklam zalear, upkar korun maka kolloun diat.

This article was written before I had the health scare, found it while browsing through my documents, if you’ll have anything to add or differ on, please let me know.
Freddy Agnello Fernandes.

Authentic Goan Caju Feni

I am sure a very large section of Goans must have tasted this authentic Goan intoxicating drink called Caju Feni. The people of North Goa seem to have it throughout the year whereas in South Goa it is mostly had during the rainy season, but all Goans are proud of this authentic Goan drink. It’s name like it’s strong nostrils tickling aura has reached far and wide, but how many of you know how it is brewed ?

In my article “Has the Goan Render gone into oblivion”? I had explained how coconut feni is distilled and all the related details and the ancillaries used in the process, here I will explain the process by which our famous Cashew Feni is distilled.

At it’s inception itself, there is a big difference between Coconut and Cashew distillation process. In case of Coconut Feni the land lord or the taper has to get a license from the Excise Department and registers the number of trees to be tapped and those are marked by the Excise Dept. Tapping more than the registered or other than the registered is a criminal offense but in case of Cashew, all the cashew plantations in Goa are divided into zones and each zone irrespective of the private ownership is put up for public auction, which are mostly held in January. The auction dates for different zones are published in local dailies and displayed on notice boards in every Excise Dept. Office.

Here, one has to note that the auctions are as per zones and not as per each one’s plantation, at the auction the successful bidder has to deposit 20% percent of the value of the bid, soon after the bid in the auction hall itself and the remaining at a given date at the Excise Treasury office of the respective district or the bid is cancelled and taken up for auction again without a refund of the 20%. Here too, one must note that even if the entire zone belongs to a single party, he still has to take it through the bidding process.

When the season starts, mostly end February, the owners of private plantations are left with the choice of extracting juice or not and the successful bidder can do nothing if one refrains from extracting cashew juice, but if juice is extracted it has to be sold only to the successful bidder at a price fixed by the Excise Dept. If sold to any other bidder of other zones or if distilled by himself it’s a criminal offense punishable with a prison term along with a fine.

Just before the season starts, in December or January the entire cashew plantations are cleared of small bushes and thorns for clear and easy excess under the cashew trees to collect of the fallen fruits. A shallow hollowed rock is prepared to crush the fruit, the size depending on the size of the plantation.

Here is the right way to extract juice; It should be extracted from fallen fruits only and not from fruits still hanging on trees. Here let me be a little more specific, cashews like most fruits are attached to the branch by a very small stem (demmon) there is a sort of oil (dik) that holds the fruit to the stem (demmon) and only when this “dik” dries up the fruit falls to the ground, so when the juice is extracted there won’t be any “dik” in it, but if the fruit is collected from the tree and crushed the “dik” will also get collected along with the juice, and we know the boiling point of oils is always very low so the “dik” too will be distilled and condensed in the process, the drink will taste harsh depending on the amount of “dik” present.

The cashew fruits are crushed in a pile and this is done in two different ways, some crush it with feet or a wooden log, which is the easiest and the cheapest way and others have a stone crusher pulled by bulls in a circular motion, after crushing the juice in drained out and collected in tins, the residue is collected together put in a heap, tied tightly and heavy weight is placed on this crushed residue and mostly left over night, this juice is collected drop by drop and which is known as “neero” and tastes very sweet. All the juice is then transported to where the distillery is, which is mostly installed in very close proximity of the plantation, where availability of water is a must, in standard size tins, the price of juice is fixed by the Excise Dept as per then size of the tin. The juice is then stored in barrels mostly oil barrels, which are well cleaned before use, with the top side open, this juice is then kept for fermentation for not less than two days and not more than four days, as the quality and quantity of Fenni produced will be affected if the juice is kept for fermentation for less than three day or more than four days. Some people add water to the juice to increase production, which is wrong and is difficult to assimilate but sometimes when dead fresh water fish is seen floating then you know, what exactly has happened and deal with them accordingly.

For the extraction of cashew feni, like coconut feni, the principal of distillation and condensation is followed. Distillation is done mostly using oil barrels as boilers, which are well cleaned prior to use, very few people use copper boilers, here too one has to get license for the number of boilers to be installed and using boilers without license is a criminal offense, the boiler is placed on a circular pads made of stones and mud plastered on both sides to keep fire and heat from escaping with only one opening, to put the fire in, this pad is called “Honn”, the boiler is then placed horizontally on the “honn”, prior to this two circular hole are made on the top side of the barrel the big one to pour juice into the barrel and to clean it after distillation and the smaller one to connect to the condensation coil in the small water tank or a barrel, open at one end kept vertical. The barrel is placed on the “honn” in such a way that it’s slightly tilted on one side where there is an out let at the bottom side for the boiled juice to flow out after distillation.

The “juice” after fermenting for about three days is poured in to the boiler and the mouth sealed with a circular piece of softwood called “morannem” which is further fastened to the boiler with strips of cotton cloth mixed in anthill mud paste so that no steam escapes, at the other end of the condensation coil, the precious drops of liquid fall in to a special utensil called “buianv”. This process lasts for around 4 hours. This first distill is called “Urak” which should have a strength of 14 to16 degrees on the alco-meter (grav), redistilled “urak” gives the actual Cashew Feni which should have an average strength of 19 to 21 degrees on the alco-meter (grav). This process also takes about around 4 hours. It is tedious work, the fire has to be monitored and kept under control all the time. The water in the tank too should be kept on changing to maintain a low temperature ideal for condensation or else the steam will escape in to air without condensing. If these two are maintained properly, the end produce will be more and better. As, if the fire is more then there is chance of the juice entering into the distillation coil and into the Urak or Feni, and if the fire dies out the distillation will take longer to finish. That’s “cashew Feni”. Log has to be maintained of the number of units produced, in Goa wholesale liquor is sold in “colxe”, one “colxo” being 18 bottles, each bottle being 750 ml, so I colxo will be 13500 ml, 13.5 liters.

Five tins approximately 75 ltrs of juice is first distilled to get around 35 ltrs of Urak (14-16 degrees on the alco-meter ) and then 60 ltrs of urak plus 10 to 15 lts of water when distilled will give 30 ltrs of pure Cashew Feni (19-21 degrees on the alco-meter), Urak and Feni both should be stored in earthen or glass vessels for good taste and maturing. Some people may ask why add water to Urak to distill Feni, it’s not scientifically proved but people with experience in distilling and drinking have confirmed that the Cashew Feni is much more smoother and soothing to drink when water is added. I for one, have never had the cause to argue. The quality of “Feni” depends a lot on how the boilers are cleaned at the start of the day and at the end of the day.

The residue of the distill is usually released in pits and covered with mud at the end of the season or released in to the streams where it’s distilled, it could cause pollution, but people believe rains wash away all the inequities and the impurities, this could indeed be questioned scientifically !

The above is the most common way of distilling Cashew Feni, some people use chemicals to enhance production, which can be a serious health hazard. Things do not end here. To transport Urak or Feni from the distillery, unlike coconut Feni, one has to take a license to transport this liquor for storage or for sale from the excise Dept. and when the season is finished one has to declare the quantity produced as per the log maintained, depending on quantity sold and unsold quantity in stock, one has to pay sale tax on the quantity sold, so you all know what huge revenue can be generated by the Excise Dept. in one cashew season.

To distill a lot of firewood is required and that too has to be bought through licensed sources. The laws are there in place but weather they are followed is altogether a different question, the Excise and Forest Officials do make their regular rounds at the distilleries but the purpose of their visits of course is mostly of a different nature. I am sure you all understand what I am getting at. Cashew season for the officials is a time to make hay while there is plenty of sunshine.

Cheers to the authentic Goan Cashew Feni, it has to be had plain and raw, is anyone’s mouth watering ? As a kid, I remember Mom putting sugar in Cashew Feni and lighting fire to it and after a while putting it off and giving us to drink only half a spoon, every time we had a bad cold, at that time I hated the strong smell and the burning sensation right up to the pit of my stomach, but now I do enjoy the drink once in a while, though one can smell it a mile away, so people mostly have it only at home at night.

I would like to share a little secret with you all especially with people who know nothing about Cashew Feni and want to buy from retailers or wholesalers, first take the sealed bottle and hold it slightly inclined and give it a light shake, not a strong shake, if you get big bubbles that last a while, then you know it almost pure and good Cashew Feni, if you have small bubbles, disappearing fast then leave it alone, it’s not worth it. If it is an opened bottle, the same process should be used but since you have the option, open it, the smell itself will tell you the rest.

Cheers ! Enjoy your Cashew Feni

Freddy Agnelo Fernandes
Nuem, Cabo-de-Rama
Dubai - UAE

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