“Close your eyes and hold out your hand!” Who remembers this cheeky game, full of delightful surprises, played in our childhood? I recently had this fun experience again when a precious little child with a soft tender voice asked me to play with him, while I wondered what he had in store for me. I gladly obliged, no questions asked. Upon his request, I closed my fist and shouted the answer to his riddle : A lychee!
Bingo: I would have recognized it anywhere.
In the beginning of the Mauritian summer, when colors and fragrances combine, the crimson glow takes precedence and takes over. Seasonal fruits compete in abundance, consistency and beauty. This is how Litchi (Litchi chinensis) trees originating from China change in appearance because they are covered with bunches of red berries. They stand tall and proud for succeeding in making Lychee lovers wait a whole year to finally savor their produce.
This fruit, a small, heart-shaped sphere of 3-4 centimeters, is covered in a leathery and scaly envelope, feeling rough to the touch. I enjoy peeling it and eating it in its glassy-white aril juice, while being careful not to swallow its seed. I often used the latter as a spinning top. Cut in half, I would insert a matchstick in it and spin it around, making sure it would whirl round for as long as possible. I decided to make one for the adorable little child I was playing with. I will admit he was quite astonished.
I then explained to him that lychees are trees which can reach 20 to 30 meters in height and can bear 100 to 150 kilos yearly. As he was not fond of citrus fruits, he could consume lychees instead, as this small red fruit is rich in vitamin C. It would effectively protect him against infections and stimulate his immune system because it contains good nutrients: iron, calcium, potassium and sodium.
Some countries like China have been cultivating Litchis for over 2,000 years before our era. They are a true symbol of happiness. At the time, they were presented as offerings to the Emperors. With lychees, I told him, I could prepare him a little glass of smoothie, fruit salad, jam, sorbet, a great sauce served with fish, stuffing. ‘ WOW ‘ he shouted!
Why is it necessary to cover the trees with nets? I saw some of those along Beaux Songes Road, he continued. Are they used to keep thieves away? Yes, little one, but not the same thieves you would think of. They are your friends, the ‘Roussettes’, the ones you call Batman. Here in Mauritius they are abundant and they are attracted to the smell of this fruit, which is so tasty that the bats are capable of eating the Litchi chinensis all up overnight. Should we get rid of them then? Quite the sensitive question! No, child, we just need to find a compromise.