Thursday, June 7, 2012

Aw, Nuts!

Dailass follows Cilla and the dogs to go see the macadamia nut trees for herself.
Now that you've met Dailass, who placed 1st for the Zambia National Barista Competition and 3rd in the Africa competition and is headed to the World Barista championship this week, let's see what she's up to.  Because her 'signature' drink for the competition is 'Proudly Zambia' -- an iced espresso made from Marika's/Munali Arabica beans served with macadamia nut milk and a touch of honey from Western Province, she decided she'd better find out where these nuts came from.  "They don't come from the ground?!" was her first reaction when she learned about these nuts.  Zambians know plenty about ground nuts, but tree nuts? not so much.

We drove an hour or so out Great North Road to Chisamba and over to the family farm of Priscilla D'Elbee, to meet with the proprietor (Priscilla) of Cilla's Nuts and learn about how this delicious nut makes it way to our shops.  Cilla owns a 6 hectare Macadamia nut plantation with around 3,000 trees. She imported them beginning in 1996 from Australia and runs a completely organic, self sufficient farm with the help of 7 other families.  

The farmhouse where she lives and bases her business is one her grandfather built in 1907.  The land has been passed down and sold off over the years but she has held onto this parcel and is growing a thriving and exclusive plantation.

The farm grows three varieties, all on hearty and reliable Beaumont root stock.  The reason for the variety is that each have slightly different characteristics, the most important of which is that they are ready for harvest at three different times of the year.  The farm is always busy and the nuts they sell are always the freshest and highest quality.  Because their 10 ton yield is relatively small, the operation is quite literally "hands on" and there is very little in the harvest and processing that is mechanised. 

The trees can grow to a height of 12 meters but to keep things simple, they are pruned in the shape of a cone/christmas tree which means they get the best light and the nuts are easy to harvest.  Harvesting is hand-work and done with ladders.  The trees produce sprays of tiny flowers -- each flower has the potential to grow into a nut.  

A spray of mature nuts looks a bit like a cluster of grapes -- really hard, big, grapes.  When they are ripe and ready to harvest they outer husk starts to split and either they are picked off the tree or they fall to the ground and are collected.
Wheelbarrows of nuts are collected in the 'Factory' and run through this machine which agitates them and the husk falls away leaving the nut in it's hard hard shell. The husk is used for mulch and nothing in the farm goes to waste.  

The remaining shell is incredibly strong and can only be cracked after the nuts are dried.  Cilla has worked on a machine which was pieced together from an old pool pump and a bouncy castle blower that keeps the nuts at about 60 degrees C for 3 days.  This dries the shell out just enough to where they can be run through a nut cracker.  The nuts are shelled either in this machine or finished by hand.  They are dried further in another Cilla-made device and are then packed or go to the kitchen.  

The farm is unique in that they are one of the few that not only works 'by hand' but that does everything from planting of the seedlings to the preparing of the finished products and packing them for sale.  They mainly produce nuts but they also make speciality biscotti, chocolate sweets and macadamia nut oil.

This week, Cilla's nuts will travel to Vienna as Dailass prepares to wow the judges.  Best of luck, Dailass!  Watch her performance as competitor #40

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