Where In the World Is Carmen Miranda?

Where In the World Is Carmen Miranda?

by Vivian Williamson-Bryan

Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries. Peaches, plums, nectarines. Yum and yum again. The sweetly succulent fruits of summer are a welcome respite from those plebeian stalwarts, apples and oranges. As healthy as that dreary duo may be, there’s not much lick smacking generated by them (except perhaps by a gloriously fresh apple pie, fresh from the oven, redolent of cinnamon, rivulets of caramelized apple juices trickling down the flaky, buttery crust – in case you haven’t guessed, I consider the pie to be the epitomal form of that fruit).

However. There’s a little Caribbean fruit fly in the ointment so to speak. Those luscious, seasonally abundant berries and other summertime treats, quite delectable all on their own but also star players in tempting tarts, sublime shortcakes, or even over ice cream (have you ever heard of anyone slicing an apple or sectioning an orange to top a scoop or two of sinfully rich vanilla?), command a sum akin to a minor princeling’s ransom at our local grocery stores. Strawberry prices that hover around $3.50 for an itty bitty half pint or raspberries that reach a staggering $5 for a minuscule container only half that size, make the average shopper pause to consider just how much that daily dose of fibre and vitamin c is worth.

OK, my astute but dazzled shopper. You’ve made the decision that it is worth its weight in a precious metal. So having bitten the bullet and forked over an obscene amount of cash, you anticipate a week of healthy snacks and possibly some indulgent – but still with that magical aura emparted by a fat-free, nutritious ingredient – desserts. Wrong. Don’t even consider saving and savouring these particular goodies for what would be considered a normal length of time anyplace other than the tropics. Once you have the bag in your hot little hand it’s home you go – no pit stops, no lollygagging, no passing Go to collect your $200 – and everything into the fridge.

At this point you can take a short break before facing the moment of truth. Then, resources gathered, it’s time to really inspect your purchases. Off with those handy-dandy polythene wrappers! So hygienic (no one groping the berries), so cost effective (no one popping free samples as they shop), and with the added benefit of concealing the penicillin rich depths lurking below the perky specimens on top! Oh well … maybe with some judicious paring ….

That minor disappointment dealt with, it’s snack time! Just a quick one to reward yourself for choosing such healthy alternatives instead of what you really wanted. How about a nice, juicy, vine-ripened, good-for-you peach, one bite sending its sweetness dribbling down your chin – almost as tempting as that bag of salty chips that has absolutely no redeeming dietary qualities (but so satisfying nevertheless). Feeling slightly saintly, you bite in, taste buds primed for the sun-kissed nectar so familiar from childhood. Good stuff, huh? What’s that word tumbling from your lips? Yum? Oh, sorry, that was yuuuuck. It smelled ok, it felt ok – not squishy or like a rock stone (the local terminology). The mealy, tasteless, dust dry reality was not at all what was anticipated.

Let’s face it, guys, travel doesn’t agree with most fruits that might be described as soft, plump or highly desirable (note that apples and oranges don’t fall into this category).

So, what are we semi health conscious but taste oriented islanders to do? Easy. First, take a big gulp and forget the tried and not so true. Next, be brave and plunge into the unknown realm of new, perhaps strange, local delights.

Many of our tropical fruits are at least slightly familiar to people nearly everywhere thanks to specialty shops and even some supermarkets. Pineapples, avocados (yes, it’s a fruit) and mangoes grow very happily in our gardens and are surely on a par with any strawberry out there. A mango tart, pie or jelly would be considered gourmet fare by most and as for mango chutney, it’s in a class by itself. Of course, you can always eat it without all the fancy folderol – just make sure there’s a bathtub near by (it wins hands down as the world’s messiest fruit to eat).(72k gif)

A little less familiar, perhaps, are 2 other happy growers – papaya and guava. The golden orange meat of the papaya is a favourite component in any tropical fruit salad and papaya extract is known to many cooks for its tenderizing properties. So, besides having the luxury of picking our breakfast fruit right from the tree we can buy cheap, tooth-defying cuts of meat and never have to worry (you wrap the meat in young leaves from the tree – those with the most milk – and round steak will resemble filet). The other of these, guava, is a wonderful treat, as is or baked into some wonderful creation like guava duff (sorry, I don’t have a recipe – I haven’t had it for years but I remember it well). A pale yellow soft shell covers the teasingly tart pink flesh and the whole thing is edible right down to the last drop.

Perchance you’re thinking that I must be a real ditz to think that these fruits are exotic or strange. I admit, they’re not – not if you live in an urban area with good air connections. And while I’m at it I’ll add 2 more to the list – our wonderful key limes (that most indispensable ingredient for an authentic pie and nothing like their huge but disappointing cousins) or our tiny, sweet fig bananas (Chiquita can only wish) since they too fit into this border line group.

But there are others. The next time you visit these sunny shores look for some of these Caribbean cuties:

(69k gif) Soursop. A truly ungainly looking fruit. It gets to be rather large – a few pounds is average. The hobnailed green skin protects a creamy white flesh that is usually made into a beverage or, best of all, a rich and different ice cream.

(78k gif) Sugar apple. Kind of reminds you of an artichoke – but only in looks. Eat the lobes one by one, spitting out the shiny, black seeds as you go. This is the sort of fruit everyone thinks of when they think of the tropics.

(84k gif) Genips. A hardish outer shell (actually popping them with your teeth is rather fun) with a slightly firmer than gelatinous apricot coloured interior. A big seed in the middle so eating just one only tempts the taste buds. Look for them at road side stands, a nice sized bunch for about a dollar. Try to taste one before buying, though, since they occasionally run to mouth puckering astringency.

(68k gif) Mespels. Or, as they’re known in the Bahamas, Sapodillas. Not particularly pretty – they could easily be confused for a kiwi if glanced at quickly. This one you probably won’t even find on a roadside stand since the window between not ripe and over the hill is a small one. Look for a tree and check for ones without a nub at the end. Break it in half and scrape out the flesh with your teeth. Apple pie without the fat and calories!(84k gif)

(69k gif) Guavaberries. In spite of the similar name there is absolutely no connection with the fruit described above. The guavaberry (there are 2 types, black and orange) is never nibbled in its pristine state – bitter is an understatement. Cooked, with sugar and spices, it makes a wonderful pastry filling. Of course, I really don’t know anyone who uses it that way. Guavaberries are the base for the traditional Christmas drink of the islands – Guavaberry liqueur. Smooth, mellow and with a kick like an ornery mule (it’s combined with rum and brandy among other things before being left to age – I’ve tasted some samples 60 years old and I would class it as worth writing home about). Sadly to say, the guavaberry tree has become almost an endangered species due to the ignorance of some homebuilders and therefore the fruit commands stellar prices – when you can get it (silly people – the yield from a few trees could pay their property tax!).

Two last fruits, which aren’t even flowering yet let alone bearing fruit, are the hog plum and the seagrape. Again, if you want to try these you better look for a tree (and in the case of seagrape that’s an easy task – Magens Bay has loads). Hog plums, bright orange and about the size of a jumbo grape, are tasty little morsels that kids love (and some adults). Well worth trying if you get the chance. And seagrapes. A dusty rich purple when they’re ripe, pea-sized and with a pit that takes up at least 80% of the whole. Extremely industrious and patient cooks turn them into a wonderful jelly but they’re great as a nibble. The tree’s huge, flat leaves are often used by the artsy types to create beautiful wreaths and potters like their unique shape as plate molds.

So, raspberries and strawberries, as truly wonderful as you are, don’t be too smug about your position at the top of the fresh fruit hierarchy – watch your rear for those upstarts from the Caribbean! And, hey, Carmen, what a hat we could make for you!