I was thrilled when the trip's organizer, Jay, contacted me. I felt so honored to be invited. Growing up I was that shy girl in glasses who was definitely NOT invited, whether to lunch tables or birthday parties. I guess I'm cool enough now for a fruit party. Awesome!
The group organizes through an online forum called the Tropical Fruit Forum. These folks know something about every fruit there is, from jaboticobas to durians to mangoes to stuff I've never heard of. I frequently ask for help identifying fruits I've found on my travels or finding the answers to nerdy fruit questions. Many members have also traveled to exotic corners of the world and are encyclopedic in their knowledge of the world's fruitful offerings.
Puerto Rico is their current stomping grounds, because it's an easy hop from Florida and technically part of the United States, which makes it both easy to get to and fairly easy to navigate. This was their fifth year there, and their highly organized leader Jay had every day mapped out and filled to the brim with fruitful activities. I arrived in Puerto Rico ready to sit back and enjoy the program.
I love, love, love durian, and my appreciation seems to be expanding to other weird and obscure fruits, especially any that have spikes, are deformed, have strong odors, or manage to look like they belong in the X-Files. In Puerto Rico, Jay and the Tropical Fruit crew introduced me to a lot more really fascinating products of the plant world.
Needless to say, the Puerto Rico trip was a real learning experience. We visited four farms and tasted some really interesting stuff. Hanging out with them, I learned possibly more Latin then during my entire Catholic school career, as well as grafting techniques, soil requirements, fruit photography, and stock market advice.
Much thanks to Jay, Noel, Harry, Ethan, Ian, Warren, Gwenn, and Ray for a fun, fruit-filled week!
I hope you enjoy the pictures. To see more pictures, go to our facebook page.
Puerto Rico is an island roughly 100 miles long and 40 miles wide. A mountain range running east to west, the Cordillera Central, divides the island into a northern and southern region. On these steep, misty slopes small farmers plant their collections of exotic fruits. It's beautiful and somewhat mystical, just like the extremely rare fruits preserved here.
Many fruits from Southeast Asia, like the rambutan, have been introduced with astonishing success. It happened to be the season for rambutan, pulasan, and mangosteen while we were there and the trees were loaded. It was neat to see these fruits so far from their home territory, and get a sweet taste of fresh, sun-ripened fruit right off the tree.
But of course, I was excited about the things I hadn't seen before.
|Kwai Muk, Artocarpus. hypargyreus|
|Charichuela (Garcinia madruno)|
|Mamoncillo or Spanish Lime|
There were things I'd never even imagined before, like Amazon Tree Grapes (Pourouma cecropiifolia), clusters of juice bombs that grow on the tips of branches 30 feet high, bowing the slim branches. Then there were the quirky relatives of familiar fruits with strange names like Achachairu, Charichuela, and Mamoncillo. Charichuela is a sour, bumpy cousin of the mangosteen, while the Mamoncillo is a flamboyant cousin of lychees and longans.
We even found exotic forms of things so familiar it made me laugh, like these princess pink bananas.
Just like fruit, tropical flowers come in myriad crazy and exotic forms. I know nothing about flowers, but I am always awed.
Then there were things that are just hard to find even though they are super awesome.
While I was mostly excited about the eating part of the fruit hunt, the guys were off climbing trees and sliding down the mountainsides to gather cuttings or seeds for their gardens back home (they all have phytosanitary permits with the USDA and know what's permitted).
There was plenty of bamboo around to remind us that we were in a jungle. It felt exotic, and hot, and the beaches were just beautiful. But what really made the trip feel like Puerto Rico, and not some other humid tropical country, was seeing an ancient petroglyph from the Tainos, the original peoples of Puerto Rico, right next to a waterfall.
And then of course.... there was durian.
I'm saving my best durian photos for the next post, which will be about durian in Puerto Rico. Make sure to have some durian on hand because these pictures are inspirational - for cravings anyway. Mmmmm.