Good morning on this fabulous Friday!! Today is my last blog post with you for a while since Hillary hops back on here after a (hopefully) restful and (undoubtedly) fun vacation! Today I want to highlight some yummy summer fruit we have ripe and ready on St. John, and also show you were you can find it. I’ll take you foraging in Coral Bay, wandering around our (hopefully) soon-to-be library, and visiting friendly fruit stands for the most ripe and ready to-go spread you could want! Let’s dig in (literally into this mango)!
Right in Cruz Bay, on the corner right by the Lutheran Church (Prince St. & King St.) and right in front of the pink Connections building, you will see a kind and smiling woman named Marta selling all sorts of local produce. When I visited her yesterday, she had everything I was hoping she’d have, and most of the fruit was ripe too! She pointed out produce I was familiar with and some I had never seen or tasted before. I have seen the two types of mango she called Apricot Mango and Champagne Mango, but I had never heard of Golden Apple! When I told her this, she smiled and told me “It’s a little like mango, you will love it”, and she certainly was not wrong!
That mango in the picture above, was probably the best mango I’ve ever had in my entire life. It was the perfect amount of ripeness and the juice had a depth to it that store bought mango just can never compare to. I felt the same way about the Golden Apple, granted I don’t have a reference to compare it to, but the flavor was so bright and muti-leveled I couldn’t believe I was still on the same bite. And I felt a little like I was in some magical fairy tale?
Marta was right, it did taste like mango, however there was this bright floral note that I dont think I’ve ever experienced before. The texture was a mixture of soft applesauce with more of a fibrous body…but the flavor threw me for a spin! Thankfully I was able to share my first Golden Apple experience with a friend, and watch their reaction for their first bite as well, and let me tell you…we said “oh my god” A LOT of times!
I first experienced this plum fruit when I was wandering around the Elaine Ione Sprauve Public Library (that hopefully opens back up in October of this year!) and talked to someone there that told me it was called a Hog Plum. Marta didn’t know it by that name, but she also told me that many fruit here have different names that all come from different islands that are influenced by the different cultures. Either way, this plum was even tastier then my library plum! The taste was tart, but sweet and a nice big seed in the middle!
Marta told me that she has been at this location by Connections for the past seven years, and before that, she spent 20 years providing local produce on St. Thomas. Over time, she’s become a local produce hub where Caribbean growers reach out to her and send her their produce for her to sell. And then she herself has an extensive garden too!
Every morning she loads up her boxes of produce onto her wheeled dolly and walks it onto the people’s ferry over from St. Thomas. That’s a pretty long and heavy weighted trek for one person! Her prices are indeed higher than anything you’d find in the store, but you have to remember the quality of her produce and all the work that goes into bringing them here for us! The mangos you get in the grocery store down here, are not grown here, and they definitely taste like they weren’t. As a local produce grower myself, I understand the labor of love and will gladly pay the fair price she is asking!
Another option to find local fruit, is to forage for it! To do that, I headed to Coral Bay to meet with my buddy Mike Marsh. On my way I passed by another fruit stand at the corner of Centerline and Gift Hill! Francis and his wife were running a little low on produce yesterday, so I told him I’d come back a little later and write about his offerings when he gets them in!
Mike belongs to a family who has lived on St. John for YEARS. He knows a lot about the land and what grows on it! I was eager to meet up with him to learn about some of the different trees on his family’s land that might be bearing some fruit! So foraging we went! We started on a little car tour, driving down the same road Josephine’s Greens is on (King Hill Rd.) and we pulled over at a few mango trees first.
I learned from Mike that his grandfather used to graft different mango trees together, including this tree pictured. He said that he believed grafted trees grew faster and produced more fruit, which is totally awesome and I need to start grafting trees right now!
We found a few young soursop trees around, but none of them had any fruit on them quite yet. Mike said the drought really affected a lot of the trees down there, and then with all the rain we’ve been getting lately the bush is growing like crazy! Next time, we agreed to bring a machete to cut away some of the catch-and-keep that was keeping us from seeing some of the more mature trees planted by his grandfather. So stay tuned!
As we walked into the bush, we found some gooseberries and ate those! Very earthy and tart! To me, the taste was a little shocking! To Mike, he remenised about eating those like “candy” as a kid. Honestly, this would be such a better option for our youth today since they have way less sugar content!
As we ventured further into the bush we found some ruins of an old windmill from back in the sugar mill plantation days. The bush was too tight for us to get much farther without cutting our way through, but we were able to find our next delicious fruit, genip.
Now, when I kept calling it genip (geh-nyp), Mike just laughed at me and told me I sounded like a tourist. He then went on to let me know it was locally pronounced ken-nyp, spelled kenip. So we had a big chuckle and I tried to re-wire my brain to call the fruit it’s true St. John name. The flavor is reminesent of a yuzu, quite tart but super delicious. I can eat fruit after fruit of these kenips all day! The seeds can actually be roasted and eaten like nuts! Also, in Puerto Rico, it is common practice to make an alcohol out of the pulp called “Bili” to process all the fruits these trees produce! (Thanks Leo Perez for the fun facts!)
Heres a fun little video to see how the locals eat this fruit!
Tucked away still in the bush, Mike shared stories from his childhood running around these old ruins. He told me that he would get so into climbing trees and living in his imagination that he would often not be able to hear his grandmother calling out for him at meal time. I remember those days as a kid too, something that kids these days dont experience anymore…but thats a whole other topic. Anyway, it was magical to see a window into my buddy’s past, and the island’s past, while also tapping into memories I have in a land far away.
After a few moments of conversation, kenips in hand, and many bug bits later…I thanked and hugged by buddy goodbye and headed off to grab some pizza at Salty Mongoose.
Alright, there you have it! Some delicious and juicy local St. John fruit! I covered a good variety, but there is still so much more, and it’s always changing depending on the season! Be sure to check out Marta in front of Connections in Cruz Bay and Francis and his wife at the corner of Centerline and Gift Hill! There is one more fruitstand on your way out of Cruz Bay driving towards Starfish Market that looks AWESOME when there is produce displayed! I wasn’t able to catch them opened, so I’ll have to save that report for another day!
When foraging…make sure you bring someone with you that knows about our local St. John plants! There are a lot of plants here we have no buisness in eating, and many that can really harm us, so be careful! But I am certainly an advocate for reconnectng to our true wild side and getting out into nature for our food! YES!!
It has been an absolute pleasure to blog for you all for the past week! Thank you for reading! I’m sure I won’t stay away for too long! Till next time, KT out!