21 May 2010

Treats of Nature (Part 2)

In August, exert caution with wild fig trees; probable rejects from a nearby cultivated fig tree, their fruit can cause stomach upset and it is therefore wisest to resist temptation. Semi-wild fruit trees, allegedly abandoned gardens and neglected fields may be an invitation for a quick snoop but bear in mind that in most cases there will be a land-owner somewhere down the line. In the adjacent piece of land to my parents' house is a lemon tree whose fruit is literally left to rot... It also happens to have an owner who shows no interest in it, although being involved on the land to some degree. We wouldn't dream of tiptoeing across the field to steal (hmm yes that is the right verb!) the unwanted fruit. Unwanted fruit also happens to be trespassers' forbidden fruit!

Meanwhile nature has enabled a wide array of cultures that defy imagination, some of which verging on the obscure to the non-initiated. Mémé's family used to have a mulberry tree, originally from the Far East, whose fruit provided for jams. Nearby was a carob tree (carob pods are used in baking as a substitute for cocoa and as a thickener; and in medicine for their constipative virtues). My family also relied on the fruit from the medlar trees (another exotic import onto the island) and the jujubiers (ziziphus, what a funny name!).

On the heights of the hamlet I just about remember a graceful almond tree (which by the way we didn't own) - that graced the scenery like some Japanese estampe. My ancestors also cultivated (organically, which was the norm back in the day for the local peasantry) pears, tangerines, cédrats (variety of lemony citrus that goes by the name of Citrus medica and that is either crystallised or distilled into a liqueur), figs, vineyard, olives, capers, broad beans, tomatoes, early Jersey-like potatoes and much more. Some of our ancestors who emigrated to Puerto Rico took the cultivation gene with them and set up a coffee plantation.

Elsewhere on the island, cultures include pretty much everything under the sun (except for the more exotic produce): leeks, artichokes, courgettes, aubergines, cucumbers, onions, basil, lettuce, Swiss chard, melon, watermelon, apricots, plums, cherries, nectarines, kiwis, apples, grapes, oranges, Sharon fruit, walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, etc.

As for humble me, my green possessions on the island are so far limited to a peach tree - that I have grown from a stone and whose fruit - deep orange flesh with ruby red splatters - is so incredibly fragrant and tasty, no other peach tree compares - of course I happen to be biased! I do plan to increase my cultivated stock, at this stage still contemplating as whether to embrace the wild flower and ancient fruit and veg variety conservation route, or take the more travelled - mainstream - road. Time will tell and I will tell you.

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