The indigenous tribes of the Pando Plateau, a Bolivian region bordering Brazil, depend on harvesting Brazil nuts for their livelihood. The kidney-shaped nuts they harvest, ivory inside and covered with reddish-brown skin, have woody shells and are enclosed in a coconut-like fruit, or coccus. The Brazil nut tree, Bertholletia excelsa, is a magnificent native species of the Amazon forest that reaches 40 meters in height and its thick canopy shields forest understory from the sun and rain. It can only grow in the primary forest, where an indigenous species of bee has evolved to pass through successive layers of foliage to pollinate the flowers on the highest branches. The nuts ripen during the months of November to February, and can be gathered once they fall from the tree. Native families enter the forest carrying handmade hooked sticks, which they use to pick up the nuts from the ground so as to avoid hidden snakes. The men have the job of opening the husks containing the Pando Brazil Nuts with a few well-directed blows of a machete. After opening the coccus, they tip the nuts into the large hand-woven baskets carried on each gatherer’s back (each coccus yields 15 to 20). Processing, which is mainly done by hand, involves basic equipment: a homemade drier where nuts are selected depending on their dimension, and dried for about two weeks. After they are shelled with a mechanical nutcracker, the locals separate and package them according to size, or they use them to cook cakes and biscuits. Brazil nuts are eaten raw, but are also used as a base for traditional nut bars and brigadeiros, nuts covered in cocoa and sugar, or covered in cupuaçu, the sweet flesh of another fruit from the Amazon rainforest.
Image: Archivio Slow Food