Thursday, January 28, 2010

March 9, 2009 - Mandioc Starch Making Day

03/09/2009 – Mandioc Starch Making Day
It started with my father wanting to extract starch from mandioc roots he had planted among coffee bushes. He was mostly interested in making some kind of Okinawan crackers (Okinawa Sembei). He said, “you fry them in hot oil. The little piece of dry starch becomes big and then sticks to your tongue!”. I discuss with him about the small price of supermarket startch and the huge amount of work and cost in producing something like a potfull of fried crackers. He didn’t care about my observation and went on to dig several loads of mandioc roots and hauled with a tractor. He took two men and all afternoon for the job. It was Friday and end of afternoon. He too tired to do something else.
Next day, my father giving up on the project, asked me to go to our neighbors house to offer them mandioc roots to feed the pigs. Dona Rosa, quickly thinking, told me that even though she didn’t have any pigs, she would accept them to make mandioc startch. I, even quicker, told her to come to the farm to help my father, and she could take her share. I dropped her off our farm, and I headed to my Rural Enterprising class.
When I came back in the afternoon, she had brought her daughter and the startch was in its final processing. Next day, they brought two men and a younger one to continue doing the work. Skinning the roots, washing, grinding, soaking in water, resting, then, pouring water from the big tin, drying, straining, and voila, the tapioca flour was ready. The sundrying of tapioca makes the starch.
I got the first handful of tapioca flour, overheated the pan to make biju (or tapioca) and it got burned, scortching the pan. I switched to a teflon covered pan and re-started the process. Everytime it came out better. I finally mastered it.
First, take the teflon covered pan and heat it. Spread a handful of tapioca flour like would a pancake. Even though it is a coarse flour but wet, in a few seconds, the sides start to pull, it’s time to turn over the cake. Another few seconds. As soon as it looks glued together, it is ready to spread butter, or sweet condensed milk or even dulce the leche. Fold once in the middle. Eat using hands. It can be used as a wrap to cooked cured meat or melted cheese. The filling depends on your taste. The tradicional one asks for plain butter or shredded coconut with condensed milk.
My father told me he is going to do it on his own next time, for dona Rosa did it in her way. He had rather gun washed the roots, then skinned them. Ground, strainned in cotton cloths using some mechanical way (wouldn’t twist the cotton sack by hand to expel the water). After the startchy water was left to rest, he would take the cakes out and let them dry naturally. It was not necessary to dry using the cloths. It would strain the cake into coarse meal, leave it to sun dry, and then, sieve it again to fine powder.
The most ingenious part of all processing was my father’s tinkering with an old saw mill. He used the engine, but replaced the handmade grinder (using a tin from a can) for a saw. The pulp fell directly into a pot. This is a big improvement over dona Rosa’s method of handgrinding the roots, which are sometimes tough and woody. Sure she was happy. She even asked my father to, whenever he is to give up farming, to sell her the tool. I can imagine my father grinning and mentally responding “no” to her.At the end of two day process, I got the tapioca flour, which is a wet coarse meal; mandioc startch which is still put to dry; and a fermented startch which is still in water in the middle of the process. Some recipes ask for sour flour instead of a “sweet”, non-fermented one. I used these two flours to make pao de queijo, a famous cheese bread from Central part of Brazil. With sweet flour, I can make tradition

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