Most of the ‘wild’ fruit in these pages have only, in the last few years, been relegated to “fruits dat sell”. Other non-wild fruit have also made their way to market stalls with style, as customers laud their superiority over those previously considered wild’. Today, wild fruit’ is big business in Barbados, as a trip into Swan Street in Bridgetown can assure you; for it is here that wild fruit’ vendors behind their neatly organised trays, little bags with salt ready for those who want to sample some before buying.
During a market day visit, one vendor had me in stitches with his chatter, “Forget de Nike, Adidas, St. Laurent, Gucci an’ de ress…I gots de bess’…designer fruits…Bajan designer fruits…yes! Come fuh yuh designer fruits now… yuh nice Bajan pretty fruits not expensive like Chanel an’ Rihanna’s perfume…buh smellin’ an tastin’ sweet.” Due to all this fruit fame, the collection of wild fruit gives an insight into the real food of the islands.
A native Caribbean shrub with a purple plum-like edible fruit (Chrysobalanus icaco), ‘fat pork’ has an inner white flesh that resembles pork fat but has a texture that “ties up ya mout”. Fat pork has one central seed with a smooth, cream-coloured flesh and maroon-purple outer skin. The Carib Indians used its wood to make torches and the French West Indians used the bark to make a tea that treats diarrhoea and dysentery. For reasons that elude me, the fat pork has not been allowed entrance into the hallowed halls of ‘fruit fame‘ as yet.
This little wild dunk (Ziziphus mauritiana) has many synonyms and is native to the Old World tropics. Common here in Barbados and generally found in most dry habitats across the world, the dunks is considered valuable for its many uses, including culinary and medicinal. With over 50 different common names such as Chinese apple, Coolie plum, petit pomme, tao and yuyubi, the flowers of the dunk smell to high heavens, especially when in bloom. A smooth berry with a single seed, dunks can go from acid to sweet, which all depends on the tree. Locals know this well and only pick from those that produce the best fattest, sweetest ones. ‘Dunks season’ is December through February and the fruit are yellow to orange when ripe.
Often called primrose, plumrose or malay fruit (Syzygium malaccense), this fruit is seen in mounds on street corners around the island. Certainly, as the new kid on the block in Barbados, the red carpet has been laid for ‘em. Called Otaheite apple in Jamaica, the name derived from Tahiti, from whence they came in the 16th and 17th century with Captain Bligh. Over in Trinidad, they call this fruit by a patois word, pommerac.
A prolific pollinator via bats which just love to munch on primrose, it also happens to be one of the prettiest in the fruit kingdom. With a bright red of different hues from light pink to a deepened burgandy, the primrose has a thin outer skin and a white flesh that surrounds one large seed. The fruit is sweet to eat “jess’ so”, though they also make fine preserves, jellies, jams, wines; and can even be used in sauces or marinades for savoury delights.
Perfect stewed down in light liqueur then served with cream when ripe, primrose is used in dessert pies such as crumbles or raw in salads. The unripe fruit of the primrose can make bar pickles, whereas the young leaves can be consumed raw with rice or even cooked as greens. The fruit and its leaves have shown to help regulate blood pressure levels.
Pomegranate (Punica granatum) crops up in the religious societies of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Noted as a symbol of prosperity and ambition amongst ancient Egyptians, fertility for Persians and Chinese, the pommegranate or anar, is used to this day in Ayurvedic medicine. A thorny shrub, the pomegranate possesses numerous seeds within the fruit that are spread by birds. Filled with vitamin C, low in calories, rich in phosphorus and potassium and difficult to juice, the fruit is worth the effort of eating even if just for its medicinal qualities. Tea made with the bark or the mature, but unripe fruits, relieves diarrhoea and removes intestinal parasites.
If you don’t like guava (psidium guajaba), you must be not too right in your head. A real local celebrity, the Arawaks named the guava guayabo, the Spanish, guayaba. With many species, some large and pink inside, others small and white, all guavas have seeds within. Guavas are rich in dietary fibres, with high levels of tannins, beta-carotene, phosphorus and niacin, and anti-oxidants such as vitamin C. Guavas are also delicious, healthy and pretty as punch especially when blended with honey and ice. My love of guavas is also shared with birds and monkeys (you have to try and outsmart them when it comes to getting to this fruit first). Guava leaves make a tea rich in essential oil, beneficial as an anti-amoebic and anti-diarrheal. The guava wood makes for great meat smoking, particularly with jerk meats. Guava’s high level of pectin makes it perfect for preserves, jams, jellies, marmalade, cheeses, puddings, candies, fruit bars, dried snacks. It makes a delicious wine, a wonderful coulis, and a refreshing juice. Melted guava jam or jelly mixed with a little butter makes a great baste for roast chicken and turkey.
According to Indian religious mythology, Lord Rama (the seventh avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu) kept himself alive on jamun during his 14-year exile in the forests. Lord Krishna’s blue hued skin is compared to the fruit in the Indian Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. In some parts of India, beautiful eyes are compared to jamun, and the leaves are used to decorate marriage pandals (pre- fabricated structures used in celebrations and festivals). Jamoon or Jamun (Syzygium cumini) is considered to the ‘Fruit of the Gods’, and is also revered by Buddhists.
Other names are Jambul, Indian Blackberry, Java, Portuguese, Black or Jambolan Plum, this large evergreen tree, a native of India and its bordering countries, lives for over a hundred years flowering between March and May. Its white sweet fragrant flowers are rich in nectar that yields high quality honey in apiculture. The single-seed is sweet, but tart and bears in June/July. The fruit does not ripen at the same, so they must be picked daily. Apart from its longevity, Jamoon is rich in vitamins C, A, riboflavin, natural acids, sodium, potassium, calcium, manganese, zinc, iron and other nutrients. It also contains natural glucose and fructose. The stem and bark contains tannin, gallic acid, resin, phytosterols (natural good steroids). The seed from which essential oils can be extracted contains glycoside, jamboline, gallic acid; the flower, terpenoids (good organic chemicals). The juice of jamoon is soothing and acts as a digestive as it activates the liver and spleen. This makes it a good remedy for urinary diseases, helps diabetes by purifying the blood, cures anaemia, stops skin eruptions, diarrhoea, relieves throat infections. Of note for farmers, the leaves are great as fodder for sheep, goats and cattle.
While there are perhaps a few more fruits that can be called ‘wild’, for this is how they grow in the Caribbean, such as mango, avocado, et al, I have tried to touch on the little-known ones. Last but not least, it would be remiss not to mention the Barbados cherry, for it is indeed almost the national fruit of the island because of its popularity. Generally speaking, the Bajan cherry is difficult to harvest, much to the delight of the birds which also enjoy the fruit. With a slightly acidic taste, the cherry has a tri-sectional pit which makes it difficult to process, either mechanically or by ones mouth. Filled to the max with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), this cherry is highly acclaimed worldwide for its anti-oxidant properties with the added value of being beneficial for coughs, colds, diarrhoea, liver ailments, relieving sore throats by gargling In Barbados, it is used widely in syrup, juices, chutneys, jellies, jams, toppings, ice cream and even to make local wine.
As with all the wild fruit mentioned, nearly all of the above-mentioned can be made into wine. Served as a dessert wine, these wines show that wild fruits can make you well, happy and wild as the free fruit that grow in abundance in and around the region.