Archive for January 2012
I’m on a roll today, like a biology teacher, can’t help myself, this is fun. Right around Christmastime, I was visiting my friend Ileana not far from the Cuscatlán stadium. She has a small yard in front of her house, and prides herself in having the “nicest” one of all her neighbors. She really does. Don Chico, an old man and reformed alcoholic (who she herself helped reform) used to come by and tend to her garden, until the poor soul passed away recently. This post is in memory of Don Chico, may his spirit come to life again through all things that grow in front of Ileana’s house.
So while in her front yard that day, I looked down at this spikey looking plant, and had to do a double-take. I saw this little thing growing out of it, and wouldn’t you know, if it wasn’t the tiniest little pineapple you’ve ever seen?
There you have it folks, this is where pineapples come from. You learn something new every day. And if you’re lucky enough to live there, you get to see it up close and in person.
The Pineapple of El Salvador. Grows out of a spikey plant that looks like an aloe, before it ripens and gets cut, then transported thousands of miles, far far away to a Supermarket near you.
When you live in a northern climate, far away from the tropics, you never get a chance to see where some of your yummies come from. Kicking back on the couch on a chilly winter night, maybe with the gang, you pop open a can of mixed nuts and watch the football game. A couple peanuts here, maybe an almond or two, if it’s the deluxe mix, a brasil nut or two, and oh – your favorite – cashews. Ever wonder where they come from?
On one of my first trips to El Salvador, my husband pulled over on the road and showed me these fruits. “See these?,” he asked me “These have nuts inside them. Semilla de marañon.” I looked at this tree with all these yellow fruits, and at the bottom of each one was a funny looking thing, kind of grayish green, that appeared to be growing out of it. Strangely enough, it was in the shape of something very familiar. It was one of those naive gringa “wow” moments the natives here like to giggle at us for. Each marañon, as they are called in Spanish, will grow a seed, not on the inside of its fruit, like most fruits do*, but as a funny bud on the end, in an extremely hard shell, with the seed inside. And that seed, my friends, is the cashew. You cannot bite the seed open, it has to be roasted, and be sure to have a lot of fresh air when doing so, if you ever try, as the smoke can be toxic.
Here they are, hanging on the tree. You can see the hard-shell off the end of the sweet fruit part, which has the cashew in it.
A red variety of cashew fruit here in El Salvador
Fresco de Marañón I made the other day. I think you're supposed to peel them first. I'll be sure to next time.
* The sweet fruit of the marañon tree is a false fruit, according to Wiki, and it actually grows after the “real” fruit, which is the seed.
coffee tree, Los Planes de Renderos, El Salvador
So I’m talking with my neighbor Sabas over the fence the other day. He’s the same guy with the cool birds and plants I’ve mentioned before. He had a couple soup bowls from meals I’ve passed over, and we were chatting about water bills or taxes, or something affecting the general populace here, when a small tree behind him caught my eye.
It’s fruit has small reddish brown berries. “Hey, that looks like coffee over there.” “Oh that, yeah, that IS coffee,” he tells me. What!!?? “Sabas, I say, why don’t you pick the beans to make coffee?” “Oh no,” he tells me, “that would be a lot of trouble, for the small amount of beans, then you gotta dry ’em – and I’ve only got shade over here – then shuck em, then take ’em to the molino (person with a grinder), wouldn’t be worth it..” I offered my sunny yard for drying them if he’d like. Might be fun to pick and make a small batch just for experience sake, then sit and have a cup with Sabas when we’re all through. I think Sabas and I are gonna do some coffee pickin’ this coming weekend.
We went on a trip to San Pedro Nanualco, where my brother-in-law and his family live, last June, and I thought I’d share the visit with you after running into the pictures again. The star of this visit is my niece Doris. While my husband worked with some men to cut lumber for the house we have been fixing, Doris and my nephew Edwin kept me company.
We went down to the creek to explore. First thing we saw, which fascinated me the most, the Salvadoran bug lover that I’ve become, was a swam of dragonflies, presumably mating, based on how they’ve positioned themselves. The bugs on top have different coloring than the ones on the bottom. There were upwards of 20 at one point all buzzing around together. << Click to Enlarge to see for yourself >>
Then we walked around the bend of the creek and Doris went and pulled something out of a tree. These are COYOLES, a type of fruit thing, that resembles a coconut in flavor. Doris explained that you can eat them at various stages, and when they get older and riper, they grow harder, and people often just eat the sweet nectar around them. These were earlier stage coyoles, so the flesh was still soft enough for us to eat them.
It’s as easy as one, two, three. Take the coyoles out of the palm tree, crack one open with a rock, and eat. Here’s Doris and Edwin at the creek while we snacked on coyoles.
Not only is my niece one of the most well mannered in my family, she’s also a tough tomboy, able to manage her little brother and heave him up and down over fallen trees on a steep walkway, and cut down coyoles and all sorts of fruits in the forest nearby.
Here she is, hauling coyoles out of the tree.
Yanking Coyoles down from the tree
- Now examining the loot
All of 12 years old, Doris is a pretty tough girl. And now for the best photo – check out that machete she’s cutting the Mamey with!
I was finally able to get “Abate” – pronounced “ah-bah-tay” – a couple days ago at the health center on main street this week. I stopped there just before New Years and they said they had some, but the people with keys were out that week and to come back next week. Abate is a funny smelling powder that comes in small bags, which you poke holes in with a pen or small sharp object, and stick in the pila (washing basin) to keep the mosquito larvae from growing. The name comes from an actual name brand for a larvicide; the name is used as commonly in El Salvador as the word “Band-Aid” is for small bandages in the States. Although abate is almost a necessity in El Salvador for protection against mosquitoes (“Zancudos”) the local health centers often run out of it and I do not know anywhere you can buy it. The alternative is to clean out the pila 1-2 times a week, and wash its walls well with bleach. Works for the pila, but for the cisterna (large cement reserve water tank) that’s as tall as me…not sure I want to empty that out every week and wash it down with bleach. I recall stopping by the health center in San Jicinto last year and asking if they had abate. One woman directed me upstairs to a room, where another woman directed me to speak to a man there. He said “We don’t have any here, but I do happen to have some at my house. You can call me at this number (he wrote down his cell number) and I’ll bring some to the center for you.” Not sure where he wanted to go with that, but I decided not to call him for more than one reason. The gentleman this past week gave me 16 bags total, enough to dump several in the Cisterna and 1 or 2 in the pila. Said it will last for 2 months.
Bite into a potato. Now bite into a Jicama.
You’ll see for yourself, which one is the real “pomme de terre”. They are bland in flavor with a slightly sweet taste, and a texture similar to crunchy apple. Brought to you by El Salvador. It’s Jicama season. Buy one, try one, enjoy yourself.
I had no idea how to prepare this thing, but ate it once in a salad at a restaurant. No cooking needed. Just peel and eat. I squeezed lime, and dashed hot sauce into a bowl to “marinate” them a bit. Then took them out and sprinkled “alguashte” over them. Pretty good.