I don’t want to put you off your five a day (any excuse let’s face it) but fruit is nothing more than a glamorous seed carrier, essentially a swollen ovary carrying seed for the next phase, a vessel of life. Sticky juices and soft flesh entice busy leggy insects and pawing mammals to bite into pulpy bonbon bosoms to release the seeds inside. From the highly sexualised cherries of DH Lawrence to the fatal red apple that tempts Eve and which Lolita tosses lightly in the air only for it to be intercepted by Humbert Humbert, in literature, religion, life, fruit has never been just fruit. We can bemoan ‘fruitlessness’ or ‘bitter fruits’, enjoy ‘the fruits of our labour’ have a ‘fruitful’ experience or indulge in ‘forbidden fruit’. The word is writ deep into our language.
Up in the Jamaican Blue Mountains, land of the much prized Blue Mountain coffee which sells for up to $50 / lb, the landscape is draped in folds of cottony mist and this morning one tree stands out in the foreground: mango. Tiny green nuts at the early stages, weighty grapes among red new leaves, sitting for the sunshine to seep in and transform hard green flesh into a deep velvet yellow saturated with a piney citrus juice.
Walking out into the hills, ripe mangoes have already fallen into the roadway, and gingerly passing a local with a twitching machete, I bend down, flick away the beetles and pull open the skin to sink my teeth into my first ever, non-supermarket mango. It’s small, imperfectly formed but crammed brimful of the taste of tropical climes, a screaming lack of food miles and the sweet misty rain that causes chaos in the streets of Kingston below.
And this is the revelation that is Jamaica: fields, forests and hillsides full of fruits better and beyond any supermarket, fruit shop even: stretch up, one slice with a machete and the best freshly harvested lychee, mango, avocado is yours. Our equivalent would be hedgerow fruits – blackberries, sloes, elderberries, if you’re really lucky: damsons. The list is limited. Jamaica may face economic difficulties, high levels of unemployment and a bad reputation in a couple of areas in Kingston but even the most ‘civilised’ of nations can’t come close to replicating this tropical fruit bowl.
From a simple fresh papaya salad, to mango squeezed with the tiniest of limes, a floral purple pear that is known as Jamaican or rose apple, to ackee, a bright red tree fruit full of fatty acids that resembles fish roe, the list is extensive, the abundance embarrassing and the quality superlative. Our native fruits have been neglected: the heavily scented bulbous quince, the dog’s bottom medlar or that sexier plumper plum cousin, the damson. I say let’s get native, plant a quince tree, cultivate a gooseberry bush or give some love to an old damson tree. Without them we are a poorer nation.