Parade of fruit

11/07/2011

clockwise from left: dale-dale, pan de árbol (in bag), granadilla, cacao, macambo seed, pan de árbol

[This is really a post-script to what is otherwise a completed blog series. Karen was our designated documenter-of-fruits, and I couldn’t post this without consulting with her–a bit difficult as she is presently in Massachusetts. After a couple of email exchanges, we’ve put this together as what will be the final post for my blog of South America 2011.]

As I saw it, nearly all vegetable matter we sampled (with the exception of citrus, banana, guava, and pineapple) would be unfamiliar to a typical norteamericano. Even some of the familiar items would turn out to offer surprises–I (embarrassingly) never actually ate a straight-up regular banana while I was there, figuring that it wouldn’t be appreciably different from the ones we buy in the states. Karen now tells me that they were way better and that she downed twelve of them just in the couple of days after I left.  Sheesh.

The parade of exotic fruit started from shortly after my arrival. Seth, having lived in Iquitos since October of 2010, knew what most things were, but we bought interesting produce all the time–usually something Karen or I couldn’t recognize at a market or on the stand of a street vendor. Other times–such as during one of the botanical tours–we would be shown a tree in someone’s huerta and if there was a ripe fruit available we could for a sol or two get one opened on the spot for an immediate sample.  Here’s a running list of the fruit, compiled from my notes and Karen’s.

camu camu on the property of the gentleman who sold us leva nearby to the River Itaya

Camu-camu. Myrciaria dubia in the Myrtaceae –we bought some from a street vendor and prepared and agua fresca back a the hostel. a very tart, small dark red fruit with a rather large seed. washed, then placed in a bowl submerged with water and crushed by hand, forming a chunky juice which was then strained; added  sugar to taste…very refreshing.  Making an agua fresca seems to be the principal way in which this fruit is consumed–I didn’t see any other preparations. The plants are tall bushes that grow on the riverbanks in the flooded zone, i.e., dry during the low-water period but under water when the river is high.  It turns out that I have a congener of this plant (Myrciaria cauliflora, the Jaboticaba) growing in my back yard–it’s a very slow-growing plant.

Mocambo. Theobroma bicolorin the Malvaceae–formerly classified within the Sterculiaceae (for the benefit of the geezers ;-)) – first, we enjoyed the creamy, flesh inside this large pod, then you remove the seeds and roast–slightly salted, they make a great snack!  This was definitely a favorite. We first encountered just the roasted seeds at a fruit stand, and they were so good that from then on they sort of became an obsession.

seed, right out of the fruit and covered by creamy, fragrant, sweet pulp

Compared with other items toasted mocambo seeds were a bit pricey, and when Karen found them in a supermarket in a packaged-food form, they were singly wrapped–little did we know at the time how labor-intensive their preparation was.  We also found them being roasted on skewers at the market in Bellavista Nanay.

endosperm after peeling away the seed coat. it looks like the germ got bitten off of this one

It wasn’t until Wilder opened up a whole fruit for us at Yanayacu (see video) that we got a full appreciation for the whole fruit.  The outer shell is very tough and can be dried hard for use in handicrafts (there was a goblet made from a mocambo shell at our hostel). The creamy pulp surrounding the seeds is fragrant–reminiscent of durian, though much less strong–and sweet.  And after eating off the fleshy part, the slimy remains are slippery and hard to hold as you’re trying to peel off the leathery seed coat to expose the edible endosperm and germ.  It’s a lot of work–pleasant work, though–to get just one of the seeds to fry or roast for a snack.  Between Wilder, Seth, Karen, and me, we peeled all twenty or so of the seeds that was in the fruit that Wilder opened.

the inflorescence of Artocarpus gives rise to a multifaceted globular compound fruit

Pan de árbol. Artocarpus camansi in the Moraceae. This was identified for us as “breadfruit,” but on further investigation (at home), the true breadfruit is not seeded and is a different species, A. altilis. This plant we saw and tasted was really the breadnut, which is closely related to breadfruit. Both breadnut and breadfruit are not native to Peru, originating in southeast Asia. We purchased the cooked seeds (which look like a small chestnut) from a roadside stand. starchy texture. I can sort of understand this as adding body and calories to a larger, more complex dish, but peeling these pistachio-sized chestnuts for a lump of bland foodstuff was not particularly inspiring.

some good stuff to take back to the hostel for later: that's a pineapple on the left (Karen's right) and a copazú, which Seth later turned into a lovely frullato

Copazú. Theobroma grandiflorum in the Malvaceae. Karen’s notes has this as having a very pungent aroma, though I remembering that it smelled kinda nice.  (Then again, I love the smell of skunks.) Although we bought a nice copoasú, neither Karen nor I were unable to document its opening and preparation, all because of Seth. 😀 This sneaky kid goes and opens the thing and makes an agua fresca when we weren’t looking. The drink was white-ish with a pale green tinge, kind of like what you might expect for a honeydew licuado.  The fragrance was not strong at all, and I remember thinking that it was good, though I can’t recall the flavor well enough to describe it.

Since the pic with Karen also shows a pineapple (Ananas comosus of the Bromeliaceae), I ought to mention that while this is grown as a cash crop in this area, it is not native to the Amazon basin (though it is native to South America).

dale-dale look and taste incredibly like potatoes, but peeled and eaten raw they have a crisper texture.

Dale-dale. Calathea allouia in the Marantaceae, which is the arrow-root family. The tubers look and taste remarkably like small potatoes (in the literal sense and not the metaphorical “small potatoes”). The texture of the dale-dale, which are peeled and eaten raw, is crisp and watery–more water-chestnut-like than potato-like. This is another crop native to this part of the world.

It appears there dozens of species of Calathea (and perhaps other genera of Marantaceae) that grow around here, and I should mention that the larger-leaved varieties are harvested for use in the preparation of juanes–the tamales made with rice instead of masa.

aguaje palm fruit for sale at the market in Bellavista Nanay. the labor-intensive part of peeling off the tough, red shell is done by skilled hands.

Aguaje. Mauritia flexuosa in the Arecaceae. The oval-shaped fruit of this palm–about the size of a large kiwi–are brownish red before peeling. Displays of the peeled fruits add brilliant color to every market we saw in Iquitos. The edible part is really just the thin layer of richly flavored (not sweet) orange pulp between the hard shell and a leathery seed coat, and a large, inedible seed makes up the bulk of what you buy. Two approaches to eating the thing are A) just scrape the orange stuff off with one’s incisors, and B) peel the seed coat off with the pulp and scrape the good stuff off like one does with artichoke leaves.  I liked the second approach much better. The orange pulp is also mixed with sugar and water to make a very nice beverage and also to make some yummy popsicles–which Seth loves–and are sold by street vendors.

yummy suri grubs--larvae of the giant palm weevil Rhynchophorus palmarum--are harvested from rotten aguaje palm trunks and stewed or roasted for a fine (if greasy) snack food

The aguaje fruits may be harvested by climbing mature trees and cutting off the infructescenses, but sometimes the trees are just cut.  The advantage to killing the tree is that it makes habitat for the suri grubs–large, edible larvae of what must be one big beetle.  The suri are therefore also kind of a “food product” from the aguaje palm, and they are truly delicious, either stewed or roasted.

the cashew nut is inside the little thingie on the left. the rest of the fruit is a seed-free mass of mildly sweet pulp (when ripe)

Cashú. Anacardium occidentale in the Anacardiaceae. What we all know as cashew nuts are just a part of the much larger fruit that we never see in our markets.  The large, seedless fruit to which the nut-sack attaches (sorry, that’s just what it is), is a mild-flavored pulpy fruit widely used throughout the tropics as the base of a fruit drink. We picked fresh from the tree, the one we sampled wasn’t quite ripe.

Another Spanish name for the cashew is marañón, which is also the name of the river we set sail from in Nauta–one of two rivers (the other being the Ucayali) that become the Amazon River in Perú.

Granadilla. Passiflora ligularis (I think) in the Passifloraceae. Compared with the P. edulis that I grow at home in California, this fruit has a softer, pulpier skin and sweeter (or at least less acid) juice.  I have had other varieties of maracujá elsewhere, and to me this was pleasant though not as good as the large, orange variety found in Brazil.

cacao pod, opened and showing the pulp-covered seeds. The pulp is the part you eat fresh

Cacao. Theobroma cacao in the Malvaceae. This was kind of an old friend for me–I’d had it a few times before (not counting in the form of chocolate). You open the shell to expose rows of seeds covered by a slimy, fragrant and very sweet pulp. Toss a couple in your mouth, suck the pulp off, and then spit out the seeds. Yum.

Sapote. Hmmm. another embarrassing gap in my records–no notes and no pics.  I do recall a pleasant, sweet flavor and a very sticky sap–particularly in the skin. Fruits known as “sapote” may come from either the Sapotaceae or the Rutaceae, and based on the stickiness I’m inclined to think that the green fruit we ate (on a couple of occasions) were in the former group.  But I’m not sure.

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