The 2014 Crooked Tree Cashew Festival
The twenty-ninth annual cashew festival was held over the weekend in Crooked Tree under the theme, “Highlight our Magical Fruit, the Cashew.” The village has been pushing to partner with the agricultural department, the B.T.B. and other public and private sector agencies to promote the economic viability of the cashew fruit and the industry. Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
The village of Crooked Tree is, for some, considered isolated from the rest of the country and is accessed by a three-mile long causeway that during the rainy season is often times flooded. With the network of lagoons streams and ponds in the area, the village is an environmentally protected island within the Belize District. But every May, the village comes to life with the annual Crooked Tree Cashew Festival, drawing visitors from across the Jewel to experience village life in Crooked Tree.
Dean Tillett, Organizer, Crooked Tree Cashew Festival
“This is our twenty-ninth annual cashew festival and we are hoping to highlight just about anything about the cashew; the many diverse things that we can do locally with the cashew product including the nut and of course the fruit. We want to display a very diverse cashew festival this year in terms of all the innovative things that we can do with the cashew in promoting economic stability within our community.”
In almost every yard, hanging upside down from the branches of the trees were the kidney-shaped fruits, with brown tops and yellow skins. For the villagers, the entire fruit is used: the tops are roasted and become the all time favorite cashew nuts, but the fruit itself is processed to make all kinds of condiments: from stew cashew and jams to cookies, buns and cakes. There was even fudge and cashew ice-cream for sampling and for purchase.
Verna Samuels, Bird’s Eye View Jams and Jellies
“I have been observing the cashew products and the cashew crop and I noticed that everything has been going to waste and I decided that I was gonna make a difference and try to do them. So each year I try to use cashew in a different way. So that was my passion. We have been making cashew products for a while now and we have now made a little bit of cashew vinegar, cashew jams, jellies, stew cashew, cashew cakes, cashew pie, cashew fudge and cashew buns. So far I have to apologize cause you can only get them at our place, but I used to sell them at Brodie’s, Save U and Romac’s.”
An all-time favorite at the festival is the cashew wine from Charlie’s Wines from Belize River Valley area. For sale at the booth were aged wines.
Mister Charlie, Owner, Charlie’s Wines
“I have about ten different wines on display and I am in the wine business about forty-one years, almost fifty years. I’ve won a lot of trophies right here in Crooked Tree, always the first prize. So far, I haven’t seen nobody cut me down. I bring out a small variety of about ten or eleven different products, but I usually do thirty-six different fruit wine products. I do still-purification; none of these wines pass through a purifier. I do not use purifier. I do it the old French way. It is made; it is taken out of the container and put into another container that sits there for a couple of years. I got wine up here fifteen years old. I got cashew wine here that you cannot buy; not even right now in Crooked Tree you cannot get cashew wine like that.”
Also present at the festival were representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture. The ministry along with the Belize Audubon Society and other environmental agencies have been partnering with the village to ensure sustainable development within the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary.
Clifford Martinez, Belize District Agriculture Coordinator
“We work with several villages and one of the most important cluster of farmers come from the Crooked Tree area and so we thought that it was an opportunity to be here today at a very popular annual event to showcase some of our work. These works include on a ministry perspective, we have four units here. Today we have a research unit that does a lot of promotion of urban agricultural work. We have the cooperative unit that does more rebuilding, revamping and supporting cooperative movement. We have the Apicultural movement which comes from a strong representation presently from the Orange Walk Agriculture Department through Mister Magarito Leiva. So we are promoting honey production, bee-rearing, bee-capturing and in extreme cases, extermination of bees. And then we also have, somewhat more specific to the Belize Department. which is promoting livestock-rearing and production and also some small agricultural production.”
The traditional event, which started back in 1985, has grown tremendously over the decades. While the cashew season is short-lived, residents exploit the fruit to the max. According to the festival’s organizer, Dean Tillett, the festival is an income generator that assists with the sustainability of the village and implementation of development projects.
“The financial implications Duane is huge—not only for Crooked Tree, but for other neighboring communities and for Belize as an industry in itself. I think when we look at the cashew festival since its inception back in 1985, how much it has grown. Before the cashew festival, all that we used to know about the cashew is the nut and probably the cashew wine and maybe the stew cashew—there were three main products. Now I know as you look around the show ground, there is so many variety of things that people are doing now—so many innovative things that they are doing with the cashew. And that’s one of the main things that the cashew festival is all about is promoting the innovative ways of using this fruit. As the theme of this year right says, “Highlighting our magical fruit, the Cashew.” It is something that Crooked Tree, as a community, we strive from. Locally the villagers, even though it is a seasonal crop, it is one of the main breadwinners here within the community.”
So whether it is a handful of the mouth-watering cashew nut, a glass of your favorite wine or a sumptuous treat, all made from the tart, but sweet cashew fruit; bear in mind that the season means so much more to Crooked Tree residents and is a part of our Belizean cultural heritage. Duane Moody for News Five.