I was invited to spend a weekend in the countryside in early October and I was delighted to discover some rare fruits, which were reminiscent of my childhood days in Mauritius: long bilimbis, sour sops and Spanish tamarinds grown in profusion in the garden of the lady who was hosting me in her creole home with a nice veranda.
Let me take you on this journey, while exciting your taste buds. These stimulating flavors and scents remind us of the debt we owe to Mother Nature, as no chemicals were added to these fruit trees, nature taking its own course.
In the middle of the banana plantation, I saw a magnificent Averrhoa bilimbi, whose trunk carried long fruits, also called translucent gherkins, which grow in clusters and are easy to pick. My host explained that this very acidic fruit is rich in potassium oxalate. She uses them as a laundry stain remover or to pickle metal. In a corner of her garden was a large pie-dish like aluminum container in which these bilimbis, cut into strips, sprinkled with copious amounts of brown sugar to reduce the acidity, were left to soak and dry in bright daylight. I could not resist the urge to taste it. I picked one, then three, then four…. As soon as the bilimbis would dry and turn gilded, she would use them to make pickles, a condiment that enhances her meals.
An Echo Parakeet – a bird I had not seen in a long time – a superb subspecies of the Parakeet family living in our forests, flew gracefully above us. These birds often flew down from the mountain, at that time of the year, most probably to peck at some seeds, but I could not tell which ones. That one parakeet flew quite low, then quickly disappeared in the bushes.
Another huge surprise was awaiting me: an equally rare tree, an Annona muricata or Soursop tree carrying fruits of 10 to 30 centimeters long weighing between 2 and 5 kilos could be seen. These dark green fruits are covered with areoles with a soft curved protrusion. I held one of them in my hands, closed my eyes and felt the little thorns under my fingers. That was an emotional moment, as I wanted to appeal to my memory of the aroma of a ripe fruit.
As I pulled myself out of my reverie, I assuredly thought the lady had put some ripe fruits aside for me, and indeed she had. I kept enquiring about the benefits of this fruit. There are multiple, she said. Be it the bark, roots, fruits, leaves or seeds, everything is useful. She used them to make juice, sherbets, salad … however, she told me, its consumption should be moderate. I was eager to discover these homemade delights right away, but she invited me to take a stroll with her.
She walked slowly, leaning on her cane. We were at the foot of a small mountain, where very fertile clay soils could be found. I was careful not to step on her medicinal plants: ‘plantains’, mint, ‘herbes papillon’, turmeric. A magnificent Vangueria, native to Madagascar, stood in front of us. Its branches were growing all over the place. Its fruits, commonly known as ‘Vavangues’ or tamarinds from India, caught my attention! Some were still green, others had brown spots, a sign that they would soon be ready for plucking. I was tempted to pluck one of them, to open it and savor it. Its taste is unique, like an applesauce tart, so good that it induces relaxation, as it helps with blood flow and helps one to keep fit.
I then thought to myself: this garden contained an abundance of revitalizing and rejuvenating food. I realized that my host drew her strength and courage from these plants grown with love and passion in her backyard. Despite her advanced years, she is still perky and uses these fruits generously offered by nature as much as possible to keep fit. After all, these rare seasonal fruits and these medicinal herbs are all ORGANIC!
Yes, it is in fact worthwhile to take time to recharge one’s batteries and getting one’s bearings by mingling with the elderly, in Nature. I had to bring some of these growingly rare fruits back to share them with the new generation who might not have seen them before. I am more than ever convinced we should be sensitized about their benefits. I am beholden to Mamalater for everything.
Mauritius does have many hidden gems which deserve to be preserved. Going back to basics and staying ORGANIC is really a sign of happiness and well-being. I was infinitely grateful to have had the opportunity to live this wonderful experience!