Oh, Spit!

I was raised in a ‘walk it off’ household. Cut your finger? Walk it off. Got the wind knocked out of you? Walk it off. Fall out of a tree? Walk it off. Break your leg? Walk it off. Died in a horrible accident? Walk it off. That said, there are times when I am not sure how I feel about modern problems—those, that in my childhood home would not be allowed to be a problem—and how people currently cope with them. Hopefully, this will make sense as you continue reading. Hopefully, you continue reading.

At the middle school where I work, we have a room for students who become too stressed or something like that. They can come to this room and take a moment to reset themselves. In my opinion, some students’ rationale for their being there is ridiculous. Others are perfectly valid. For example(s): Test coming up next period. Not valid. Versus: Grandma just died. Valid. So, yeah. There are some children that, when I see them in that room, stabilizing themselves, I get supper pumped because I know that they are overcoming massive mental hurdles that some adults couldn’t handle. I like that. I like it a lot. Way to go, kiddo!

On one of these occasions—a few weeks ago—I was chatting with a student and they brought up the topic of almonds. In my effort to add to the student’s knowledge, I brought up cashews and a little tidbit info of oddness. I like to find snippets of trivia and little-known facts for students. It creates a conversational causeway for them to just chat. Their brain’s gears begin to spin and then, in future situations, they like to talk to the weird guy who knows strange stuff because, “Mr. Bagnall, you seem to know strange stuff. Do you know anything about…?” The students now know they can talk to me, and I will listen and help. So, yeah, I share stupid, strange trivia with students.

What’s my point? My point is that I lied. On accident. Don’t judge me.

Years ago, my oldest child shared some information about the cashew nut with me. She had done some research about the cashew nut—for what I don’t know, and how investigative I don’t know. Apparently, the cashew only has one nut per fruit. And, the fruit is toxic to humans. This is why people don’t eat them, and why you’ve never seen one. This is what I shared with the ‘almond student’. The staff member who was managing the room (I regularly pop in to help out—if needed) didn’t believe me. She’s like that.

“Um, no. It’s not.”

“What?” I was not only confused about who the staff was talking to, but what they were talking about.

“The cashew fruit is not toxic to people.”

I needed more information. My daughter is not an idiot. Also, she would not intentionally pass on false information. This “It’s not.” created a rabbit hole that I didn’t know I needed to follow, but, like Alice, I am sure glad I did.

Let’s now jump into the Way-back Machine: When I was little, my mother used to tell stories of her childhood in the jungle. These stories helped on more than one occasion. Now, I know the jungles of Central America are not the same as those of Hawaii…Regardless, when I was training in Hawaii with the Marine Corps, I found her advice on how to find trails and avoid danger 100% accurate. When asked how I knew so much about the jungle I simply replied, “My mother.” This led to many a query about how she knew. Yeah, my mom had some mad skills.

Again, what’s my point? There was a story that I had let rest, in the back of my mind. A mystery that I was not trying to solve because it couldn’t be. My mother had told me so. She told all of us. Multiple times. The story involved her, spitting, and something North America didn’t have. Okay then. Got it, mom. Us United States Americans will never know. Done.

The world was smaller then. No internet. To know something you either had to experience it yourself, know someone who had, or find a book written on the topic by someone who knew about it and had decided to publish said book—then, hope it landed in a public library that you would have to physically enter into. Whew! We used to have to work for information. Now, here I was, sitting on a sofa, with my smartphone in hand, and my co-worker was on her phone, while we both researched our little brains out.

Back to back in time: My mother would tell us of how, as a child, if she wanted fresh fruit, she could just climb a tree and get it. Something you can’t do in the middle of Billings, Montana. Nope. She also would tell of how, after a good rain, the children would take banana tree leaves and ‘sled’ down the wet and muddy slopes of nearby hills. Crazy. However, it is this fruit thing that is important. See, there was this fruit that was about the size of a fist. It was reddish (when ripe), delicious, and didn’t exist in The States. We (my father and siblings) would never see it or know its joys.

She would also tell of the game the children would play with this fruit of never-to-be-known. The juices would stain. It would leave a blackish mark on whatever it made contact with. Skin. Clothes. Whatever. The game? Spiting it on each other. Or—for the truly wicked childish prank—spitting it on adults that walked by (after they passed), when they weren’t looking. Extra points if they were in fancy dress. My mother was sinister…?!? I wasn’t even allowed to leave the toilet seat up and she’s ruining people’s clothes behind their backs, literally?!?!

Unfair.

“Marañón,” my mother would call this mysterious tropical treat. “There’s no word for it in English. You don’t have it here.”

As a six-year-old, I did not understand the complexities of global ecosystems, let alone the dynamic affairs of foreign trade and/or their economics. All I had was, “How come?” Why didn’t we have it? It made no sense.

“It doesn’t grow here.”

“Oh…” Done. There was no clarity of if it could grow but doesn’t, or it is unable to grow. Spoiler: It’s the latter.

Back to the present… I know, not as good as the 1985 feature film, Back to the Future, but still…

Here I am sitting in Utah, a whole world of information at my fingertips, solving a mystery that I never knew I could. I had never thought to even try. My six-year-old self had accepted that I would never know and had let the unknown spit-food remain unknown. But now, the rabbit hole kept getting deeper and deeper. And yet, it was also ever so educational along every. single. step.

Did you know that marañón is not the Spanish word for cashew? It’s not. Plus, the cashew is a nut. Not, I repeat, not a fruit. Marañón is Spanish for cashew apple (sort of). Something we do not have in North America, at all. My mother was right. It’s not here because it can’t grow here. Mind blown! Blown, I tell you!

In my layman linguistic studies I learned this one thing to be true, and taught it to be true—by experts: Not every word translates. The Spanish word for cashew is anacardo (the fruit & nut, not the apple). Again, the nut is not the same as the fruit. AND, the cashew apple (marañón) is not even the fruit! The fruit is around the nut. The marañón is the stem. You read that correctly: THE STEM! The whole thing—when oriented correctly—looks like a bell pepper! Crazy! My goodness… I was beginning to, no, needing to…, no, compelled to run down this pathway. I needed more! My phone was not enough! I needed more computing-internetness power-help! Fortunately, my co-worker was obliging.

The cashew. Fruit on the top. Stem on the bottom.
Image curated from specialtyproduce.com.

As the two of us delved deeper and deeper into the tropical world of the cashew and cashew apple, we each would take a topic and share what we learned. Frustratingly, with each new bit of knowledge we gained, a thousand new questions came up. We were almost drowning. Yet at the same time, it all came together. I was making mental connections. As snippets of knowledge floated to the surface, answers came forth. I was understanding it all. ALL of it.

Real quick, an apple is an odd generic term for many types of hanging fruit. Thus, the apple in the Garden of Eden. Yes, that’s right, if you believe that Adam and Eve were munching down on a golden delicious hand delivered by Satan, you’re probably wrong.

The fruit (the small portion around the nut), has toxins in it. My daughter was right. The apple, which is the stem, is what is safe to eat with little to no preparations. The nut is an anacardo, and the apple is the marañón. The anacardo has the yummy nut and its surrounding meat had things not fit for most human consumption. The marañón is the stem, bruises easily, rots pretty quickly, does not transport well, and had a chemical in the juices that when it comes in contact with clothing, skin, or whatever, leaves a dark red, or black stain…

My own mother, a ‘Miss Manners’ kinda person who would make Emily Post—the queen of pristine manners and etiquette—look like a slovenly filth-peddler, used to spit on people!

For more information on the cashew, feel free to visit specialtyproduce.com.

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