Macaxeira, the queen of Brazil
The macaxeira can receive several names depending on the region of Brazil. Regardless of how it is called, it is evident the presence of this food or some derivative of the macaxeira in the diet of the Brazilian people.
The indigenous legend
In a certain Indian tribe the chief's daughter became pregnant. When the cacique learned of this fact, he was very sad, because his biggest dream was for his daughter to marry a strong and illustrious warrior. However, now she was expecting a child from a stranger. At night, the cacique dreamed that a white man appeared before him and told him not to be sad because his daughter had not deceived him and that she was still pure. From that day on, the cacique returned to be cheerful and to treat his daughter well. A few moons passed and India gave birth to a beautiful girl with very delicate white skin, named Mani. Mani was a very intelligent and cheerful child, being very dear to all of the tribe. One day, on a sunny morning, Mani did not wake up early as usual. His mother went to wake her and found her dead. Desperate India decided to bury her inside the hut. Every day Mani's grave was watered by her mother's longing tears. One day, when Mani's mother had gone to the grave to water her again with her tears, she realized that a beautiful plant had been born there. It was a plant totally different from the others and unknown to all the Indians of the forest. Mani's mother began to take care of this plant with care, until one day realized that the earth around him presented cracks. India imagined that her daughter was coming back to life and, full of hope, began to dig the earth. In place of his beloved little daughter found very thick roots, white as milk, which became the main food of all Indian tribes. In their honor they gave the name of MANDIOCA, that means House of Mani.
The macaxeira can receive several names depending on the region of Brazil. Regardless of how it is called, it is evident the presence of this food or some derivative of the macaxeira in the diet of the Brazilian people. Food also present at important moments in the history and formation of the Brazilian nation. It serves as a base for many sweet and savory dishes that make up our gastronomic identity.
Macaxeira is the third largest source of carbohydrates in the tropics, trailing only rice and maize. It is one of the main staple foods in the developing world, existing in the diet of over half a billion people.
The name given to the stalk of the foot of cassava is maniva, which, cut into pieces, is used in planting.
It is a shrub that would have had its origin more remote in the southwest of the Amazon and that even before the arrival of the Europeans, already was cultivated like food.
Macaxeira, cassava, cassava, cassava, sweet manioc, mandioca-mansa, maniva, maniveira, gingerbread, mandioca-brava and manioc-bitter are Brazilian terms for the species Manihot esculenta.
The most common names such as "aipim" and "macaxeira", among others already mentioned, are used for the types with low toxicity and that can be consumed in natura. Both cassava for industrial use that are toxic, and those for domestic use are included in this speciation.
Few know that cassava is poisonous (manioc brava) and that in this sense is very different from the macaxeira. Poison cassava contains an acidic substance called cyanide.
This acid has an ion that, combined with iron, in human and animal blood blocks the reception of oxygen causing choking.
Cassava has a content above 50 parts per million of hydrocyanic, while cassava has a much lower index.
For cassava to be consumed without causing death it must undergo several processes that eliminate the hydrocyanic acid.
From the manioc we can obtain the flour, the gum, the tapioca, etc.
Manioc should not be cooked as we do with cassava. Therefore it is necessary to know how to identify the plant that has very similar physical characteristics.
What sells in sales and markets is macaxeira, suitable for direct consumption, but if you go to a plantation of cassava and cassava, you can hardly distinguish one plant from another.
The regular production of flour in Brazil began with the Jesuits, when they built the first settlements for the descent of Indians. With the flying missionaries being replaced by sedentary missions, the settlements begin to be situated a little distance from the colonial settlements to support them when necessary; prioritize coastal areas near mangroves and river embankments to protect the coastline from foreign attacks; to train the Indians militarily to join the armed war troops against internal enemies (brave Indians) and external (the piracy of the European nations). Very quickly, flour consumption became widespread even in the real mills and in the rich houses.
There is a variety of cassava-based flours, including ground (or stick) flour, war flour (the same drier stick flour used on travel because it is more durable), and flour puba (made from the macaxeira and suitable for the making of beijus, type of biscuit also more durable than the wafer of wheat flour).
The supplies, which held the inhabitants of Brazil in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, whites, Indians and slaves of Guinea, were diverse, but what became one of the main and best: cassava. The root of a stick, which is planted in a stake, which, in a year's time, is in perfect condition to be eaten, and for this purpose it is made from the root of a stick, it was called Madeira flour in Portugal.
The importation of African slaves into the labor force of sugar production increased demand for food and especially the demand for flour which, more than any other product, was easily stored and transported, and still resisted by the clutter of weather and climate. Cane and manioc crops coexisted many times on the same property. The production of sugar depended on the production of flour to feed slaves and the entire mill population.
Over time, with the end of the so-called sugarcane cycle in Brazilian history, flour houses continued to be part of the day-to-day life of villages and rural or coastal villages of the Northeast, and the commercial structure of these regions until the modern day.
The process of flour production is complex and requires a lot of physical labor. Beginning with the preparation of the brush, where the lowest vegetation of the trays is cut the sickle, technique also known as "drill". In the brocaded terrain there are a few heaps of branches, wood stumps and pruning leaves that are then dried, burned. The ash itself enriches the soil and the coal is also reused. This rooting technique is known by the natives as "mandiotuba" and was already used before the arrival of the Europeans.
Unfortunately, this technique also depletes the soil quickly and causes the expansion of new clearings and consequently more deforested area.
In our region is in September that begins the preparation of the land for only in January, with the arrival of the first "cashew rains", the beginning of the planting of cassava. Green beans and corn share space in manioc farms that have a longer life and require more complex processing.
Hence the great importance of flour houses that are nothing more than areas of cassava processing for consumption.
After the roots are harvested, they go to the flour house, where they are peeled, moistened in water to soften and ferment, pounded or grated, processed into dough, pressed, drained, toasted and sifted.
Besides the flour, the starch, starch or manioc flour is also extracted.
This process formerly involved men, women, and children and could last day and night when the farrowed calls took place. They appeared the accordionists, violinists, zambê coconut jokers and between sips of cachaça, coffee with frevilhado and much joy, the work yielded the whole night.
In the 1930s, Chico Amara had the idea of mixing a large portion of grated dry coconut with the gum, which he used to make the "grude", unintentionally creating the Frevilhado, which became the main delicacy of our land. The frevilhado is a kind of tapioca with grated dry coconut that is approximately 8cm in diameter and authentic taste, much appreciated by natives and the first vacationers of the Pipa Beach. Dona Maria Alves, daughter of the inventor of Frevilhado, created the whole family with the sale of products derived from cassava, especially the frevilhado.
Pipa flour houses
There were several flour houses in Praia da Pipa of old. The first of the late Old Castle, father of the late Domitila Castelo da Silva. Other flour houses that also served all the corners of Pipa Beach were those of João Pegado, Chico Marcelina, Tereza Castelo, Zé Gago and Manoel Lopes. Many of them were along the Bay of Dolphins Avenue where today there are shops and shops.
Farmers who did not own a house of flour, rented the flour house from other owners to process the crop. The rent was paid in "conga" that is nothing more than a percentage of the production. Every thirty gourds of flour, six were for the owner of the flour-house.
The last flour house in Praia de Pipa was that of Manoel Lopes, which was demolished in 1982.
Flour houses nowadays
Today the flour houses process is much less manual and counts on a certain modernization and machinery that helps and potentiates the production.
In the state of Rio Grande do Norte, cassava gained relevance, mainly due to its tolerance to the severe climatic conditions of the semi-arid region, which covers about 85% of the territory of the state of Rio Grande do Norte (SEBRAE, 2006). Cultivating this root for the feeding of man or herd becomes one of the few economic options for many small-scale farmers.
The production chain of cassava, with an agricultural base in 99 municipalities and sheltering hundreds of flour-houses in Rio Grande do Norte, opens new perspectives for job creation, providing basic food for the population and producing starch for strategic industrial markets in expansion.
- Simonetti, Ormuz Barbalho (2012). The Pipa Beach of the Time of My Grandfathers. 1 edition. Natal, RN.
- SEBRAE - Brazilian Service to Support Small and Medium Enterprises. Cassava in Rio Grande do Norte: root of Development. Christmas, 2006.
By Isaac Ache. Text originally published in the Bora Magazine - issue 14 - Nov / Dec 2015