The Malabar Chestnut

Nuts, start to Finish. Image by Rebecca Lea McCarthy.  CC
Nuts, Start to Finish. Image by Rebecca Lea McCarthy. Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA

Sustainability is a serious theme in my life. When it comes to living the life of a modern druid, it is important, I think, to rediscover sustainability as we have lost that skill.  Maybe not everyone, but most of us walking the modern streets of our cities and towns, and even the country. We purchase food from far out places, eat fruits that are not in season, we are rich with such gifts.  But as lovely as it is to have grapes in the Summer, Winter, Fall and Spring it is not sustainable. Consider the costs of transporting foods across country or nations, storage of the food before it can be sold in stores, and what we need to do to keep the food fresh can compromise the nutrients in the food. Further, by eating foods grown on farms from other states and countries, we are not helping to sustain our local economies. I am not suggesting that we should not support interstate and international trade, but I am suggesting it is helpful for our local economies and our health that we start to find more sustainable ways to feed ourselves.

With this in mind, I have been learning how to look to my own backyard to feed myself, both metaphorically and literally.  Since moving to Hawai’i, I have been exposed to many different foods and I have found that many grow in my literal backyard.  We are renting an apartment on an old hog farm in Waimanalo, Hi.  The owner of the property maintains several fruit trees, an aquapodic system, many flowers, and she keeps bees.  She has been kind enough to let us share in her bounty, if we help keep the land.  So, we are learning a thing or two about living off the land in Hawai’i.

One of my most recent discoveries is the Malabar Chestnut!

By Rebecca Lea McCarthy. Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA
By Rebecca Lea McCarthy. Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA

The Malabar Chestnut (botanical name is Pachira aquatic, the family of Bombaceae) is native to Northern Brazil, and southern Mexico.  But this tree is very comfortable in other tropical areas such as Hawai’i and Southern Florida, two of my favorite places! With a dark green bark and leaves, the tree produces lovely nuts inside a wooden green pod (some pods are brown, as there are several different varieties of this tree) that splits into four parts when ripe.  I thought it was because of the pods that this tree is also called a money tree. But apparently it was for more pragmatic reasons. According to Green Deane in the article “Tropical Chestnuts: Pachira aquatic,” the tree earned this name relatively late in life, around 1986, when

“a Taiwanese truck driver put five small seedlings into one pot and weaved them together as they grew. He inadvertently invented the next hot ornamental plant and business took off in Taiwan, Japan and most of eastern Asia. The braided tree is viewed as associated with profit and is a common plant found in businesses, often with red ribbons or other ornaments attached. By 2005, export of the braided tree was a $7 million business in Taiwan” (Deane, Green).

Talk about a money tree!

But I was interested in the nut 🙂 The chestnuts are edible raw or roasted and they taste a bit like a mild peanut raw, and toasted a bit like a peanut crossed with a filbert (hazelnut), in my humble opinion.  According to “Nutrition and You,” the only place I could find nutritional information for this nut, the article was mostly targeted to chestnuts in general, they are low in calories, but are also rich in minerals, and vitamins. You can also make flour out of the nut, but this I did not try.

By Rebecca Lea McCarthy. Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA
By Rebecca Lea McCarthy. Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA

I enjoyed the nut raw, but toasted they are divine. First, you must shell the nut which is not an easy task.  To aid in the process, I soaked the nuts in water over night and let the shell split, making them easer to shell.  I tossed the nuts in some olive oil and a bit of salt, and roasted them on low, 350, until brown and crunchy.

I tell you what, they were so good that I could not keep up with the demand!  They made a lovely snack throughout the day when you start to get hungry pangs, or when you simply walked by them.

R~

Resources consulted for the article:

A Welcome …. An Offer of Hospitality

Champion des dames Vaudoises by Serein. Public Domain.

Welcome to Cailleach’s Chair, the meeting place for the Cult of Cailleach.

Why have I gathered us all here?

This is a complicated question, but let me start by saying this: I do not wish to grow old … not in our Western culture as it is today. To grow old today is to be forgotten, discarded, and marginalized. How sad it is to be old today; a lifetime of knowledge forgotten. A lifetime of know-how ignored. This is true for all of us, men and women, but it is especially true for women.

So, I stand here today and I declare proudly, I will not go “gently into that good night,” or “grow old gracefully.”  When I was younger, I used to announce such silliness out of my inexperience of life and lack of practical wisdom:

“I will grow old gracefully!” I proudly declared, drinking as I did from the cool-aid.  “I’m not going to be one of those old ladies who try to be twenty-one their entire life,” said I with my perky boobs standing tall and my taunt skin glistering with a new summer tan. “I will accept what was given to me, wrinkles and all.”

I was an idiot, and cool-aid is not nearly as tasty as mead.

Truthfully, parts of the above declaration is true: I do not want to be 21 again, goddess help me …. No. I do want to accept my place in the great cycle of life.  But in truth, our society has a different spin on the phrases: “go gently into that good night,” and “grow old gracefully,” and I find the spin offensive. These phrases, in practice, no longer mean accepting and honoring the great cycle of life; rather, in practice older people, middle age onward, are asked to disappear quietly, allowing the younger generation to stand tall, while the older generation is shuffled away from their jobs (old faces don’t sell), and hidden away into retirement communities or, for those of us with little money, state-run institutions. I’ve seen it, more often than not; and unlike dear Hamlet, I have no interest in shuffling off “this mortal coil.”   Besides, this model is not sustainable, nor is it helpful to our world, culture, species, or younger generations.

It is time to take back and to re-embrace a better way of doing things. What that better way is, I am not sure, which is one of the functions of this blog: to discover a more sustainable model. As I grow older, I have no desire to be the discarded “hag.”  Nope.  It is time to reclaim the magical, mystical, powerful crone/hag: the Cailleach.

Cailleach Bheare is the celtic image of the old mother, the hag, the magical crone, who is revered as a mythical being in Ireland (Caolainn or the Hag of Beare), Northern Ireland (Cailleach Bherri), Britain (Black Annis), Scotland (Cailleach Mor), and the Isle of Man (Cailleach my Groamagh).  In essence, she is known as a mountain mother, but is also given the title of the queen of the Limerick fairies, and is understood as the mother to the gods (she has the name Boi when she was the wife of Lugh – Irish god of Light).  And, as you might guess, she controls the weather in the winter months as she too is in her declining years.  Interesting enough, she is not always old, but passes yearly through the cycle of age, from youth to old age, representing both renewal and death, the journey from ignorance and deep wisdom.  She returns yearly on Samhain, October 31st to you and me, and will leave with the warming weather, placing her staff under a holly bush before turning to stone herself, hibernating and regenerating for the next round of life … the next year.

“Barley Saturday, Waiting for the Parade” by Ceridwen, From geograph.org.uk: CC BY-SA 2.0.

I will write more on this image as the blog progresses, but it is enough to point out her usefulness as an alternative image to age, especially female aging, compared to the one we have now: the quiet old woman complacently taking her place in a rocking chair, lap ready for brief visits from her grandchildren*. Not that there is anything wrong with having a grandchild on your lap, but surely the middle-aged and older generation has more to offer the world than a lap to rest in. Cailleach moved mountains because she had the knowledge, the wisdom to figure out how to do such a feat.  Let’s tap that wisdom … please!

This blog is about sustainability and wisdom. It’s about what we have to offer in the way of wisdom regarding these topics from an older persons point of view, middle-aged to the crone. And the focus is on women writers, but this does not mean that posts from guest male writers will not appear on these pages.  Although I would like to create a space for women to be able to share their understanding regarding sustainability, sustainability itself is not a one sided affair.  Feminism, in all its facets, must inherently include the masculine element, or the movement  is doomed before it begins.  But the voices of older women are easily lost in our world, and so I would like to make this space the space of Cailleach – in somewhat the tradition of the Cult of Cailleach, which has a long tradition in different parts of the Celtic world.  The cult consisted of older women who gathered together to under the cloak of nature, magic, and wisdom.

So, I welcome you to the 21st century Cult of Cailleach.  Take a seat, feel free to drape my yellow robe about you if you are cold, and stay a while for the magic about to unfold.

______

*I say this, but also offer a nod of homage to the great Golden Girls, who were not complacent!

Research based on the following:

  • Coulter, Charles Russell, and Patricia Turner. 2000. Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. Pp. 112-114.
  • Matthews, Caitlin, John Matthews, and Caitlin Matthews. 2003. Walkers between the worlds: the Western mysteries from Shaman to Magus. Rochester, Vt: Inner Traditions International.
  • O’Brien, Lora. 2005. Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books.

Yes! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!