I now know the full process of making farinha, and have participated in almost all of it.
It all begins with a field, a tractor, a plow, and some manioc seeds. The plantation process I have not witnessed or been part of yet, but word has it that I will get the opportunity before I leave. The manioc is planted with about two square feet of space around each root, and though I do not know how long it takes to mature, I can attest that harvesting the root is a lot easier if the field is kept well-manicured. When harvest time arrives, it’s simply a matter of digging around the root a little with a hoe, and then pulling. After that, twist, pull, or cut the big brown chunks off the roots (this is your mandioc) and collect for peeling. Repeat many, many times, until the field is finished.
I’ve already described the peeling process in another blog—but I’ve learned that this fantastic get-together occurs very frequently around here. Long story short, scrape the brown skin (it’s almost like bark) off of the root to reveal the white underneath, and place on the piles for collection.
From here, the mandioc goes to the casa de farinha. The casa that I know of is in Sitio Camacari, the community next door to Nova Suica. The building has an area for peeling as well, but the main event occurs in a room whose walls and rafters are splattered white with ground manioc. This room contains two grinders, a press, about 4 different tiled tub-type structures, and a mixer/toaster which is warmed by a fire underneath, built around the side of the building. The manioc goes through the grinder and then is put into sacks, which are piled into the press to remove the water from the mandioc mush. After a couple of hours and a few strong-willed twists of a huge cog, the sacks are hauled into one of the tubs and the now semi-solid mandioc is broken apart with hands and sticks—somewhat like play dough. These chunks are then passed through the grinder again, and dumped into the mixer/toaster, where what is now a fine powder gets swished around for a couple hours. The final step of the process, once this “farinha quentinha” (nice hot farinha) is in the final tub, is to sift it and run the residual chunks through one last grinder before everything is ready to be distributed. And thus, you have your sacks of farinha, ready to sell—or dump on your beans.