Search This Blog

Monday, June 4, 2012

Last Fruits of Summer!

Well, this month is the start of winter down here in Uruguay, June 21st.

I should have taken advantage of our warm summer and done more, summer stuff, like enjoying swimming in the warmer waters down by the beach but I didn't. Instead, it seemed like I had an endless list of projects to complete. Now that it's been autumn for a while down here, I am trying to seize the last bits of decent weather before the dreary cold of winter sets in.

 I'm taking the time to appreciate some belated memories of the summer and fall.

4 weeks ago our banana tree/plant yielded several new bunches of bananas for this year. They were quite good. If you look hard enough, you can see them hanging on the tree in our title photo. Visitors from the States thought they were just fine and chomped away on them. Each little bunch had from 8 to 10 bananas. We had 45 bananas in total. Last year we were told to cut the bunches off while still green and to let them ripen to their golden color in a bag rather than on the tree itself. This year I took that advice. It seemed to take forever to ripen them, many weeks in fact and Wally was just about to throw them out when he saw that 1 banana in the bag had turned yellow. Only a few days later and all of them had changed! I'm so glad that, that one little banana had turned in time or we in our ignorance would have missed out on enjoying our fruit!

They were kinda of small about 5 to 6 inches long but they tasted just like bananas should! I have the trees planted in a sheltered corner next to a wall in my front yard! They face away from the water. My front yard was planted to be decorative and not edible, not a vegetable garden, yet, I now have 2 plants that actually yield fruit. This is the second year of fruit that I've obtained from my mini banana grove.We originally bought one tree but they multiplied on their own. After a tree produces, it won't do so again and will need to be cut down. However, other shoots from it will have already started to grow into trees before you have to take out the mother plant. That's why we had fruit this year as well. They came from a second plant that had self-sprouted from that original purchase and in a year was ready to produce. Soon that tree will be cut down and the 2 other offspring will be ready by next year. Wally made french toast and we covered them with the bananas' mini slices of fruit, in addition to eating them wholly on their own with our visitors.

So, it's a definite yes, a home gardener can grow bananas here in Uruguay, worth eating at home.

 The most surprising fruitage from this year, came from my plant commonly called "a Swiss cheese plant"(Monstera deliciosa, it's Latin name). I posted last year (March 16th, 2011) about what I learned concerning that plant. While the leaves are poisonous, what most people don't know is that it produces edible fruit! That's maybe why part of its Latin name contains the word deliciosa or delicious in English, meaning especially; a very pleasing taste or smell. The smell in this case is not great but the fruit is tasty.  Once the stalk like fruit appears, you must wait from 8 months to a year before you can eat it! Just leave it on the plant until the little corn like tops that cover the fruit (called berries) start to pop off, then you can eat it! I have been waiting a year now to try this fruit that I have never tasted.

You can imagine my mood when Wally thinking he was helping me with pruning, decided to cut back this plant. It was starting to grow over the walkway. I ran out and explained he should have mentioned to me first that he was going to be so o helpful because now I would not get to try the long awaited fruit since he had loped everything off. Well, I guess I got a break because I saw some old stalks from last's year fruit that he had missed, still left behind on the plant and today I saw their tops popping off! I cut off two stalks of the long promised fruit. The kernels (berries) of our "Swiss Cheese plant", tasted a bit like sweet pineapple with maybe a "slight" mango taste. Wally made some empanadas using this sweet filling in them for dessert. The interesting thing is that if you don't wait until the fruit fully ripens for that long amount of time or in our case for over a year, the fruit flesh will numb your mouth and cause an upset stomach. The numbing of your mouth is the clue.

I was brave and sampled the fruit first, just in case. All went well. I was so surprised that the fruit "kernels/berries" really were sweet! You lift off the top "caps" and the kernels easily pullout. What is left on the "cob" like fruit stalk are soft black seeds. They pretty much stay adhered to the cob. Some come off so just rinse them off or eat them along with the fruit. For those of you looking to add edible plants to your front yard but don't want the look of a vegetable garden these two plants, the decorative tropical looking Banana tree/plant and the Philodendron known as the "Swiss cheese plant",  might just make your list.

You can also plant edible flowers like violets, roses and certain geraniums and nasturtiums. On all plants, always, check which ones are edible first before eating. I also have Daylily and Dianthus (commonly known as pinks or "Sweet William") growing around my fountain in my front yard (can you see my cat Nathan, hiding in the photo? He's between the two plants just mentioned). Both types of plants come in a wide range of flower colors. The flowers of both the Daylily (all parts of the common Daylily are edible) and the Dianthus flower are edible. An important thing to note is that the Daylily is not dangerous to cats. They can nibble away on both the flower or the leaves. However, other types of  lillie's are fatal to cats, so watch what you plant! Edible flowers can look quite lovely in a salad and many people wrap squash flowers and Daylily flowers around meats and bake them. In the left photo (with Nathan) you can also see my plant commonly called "lambs ears', in the lower right-hand corner. People in the USA call it lambs ears because of the leaf shape together with its soft fuzzy texture and white color which resembles a little lamb's ear. This plant has a minty smell and tiny pinkish purple or white flowers, when it blooms on its stalk. 

Lambs ears, growing in my garden.
A surprising discovery for me was that in Brazil the leaves of the plant we commonly know as "Lambs ears" (Stachys Byzantina) is called Lambari (not to be confused with several species of fish in Brazil by the same name). These leaves can be eaten. Raw, they are yucky tasting! Instead, the leaves are fried and taste a little like crispy sardine skins when cooked! I marched out to my front fountain garden and took a few leaves off to try that. I didn't want to  influence the taste so I fried them in some corn oil rather than olive oil, my usual choice. I didn't know how long to cook them, so I just fried them until I thought they would be slightly crisp. I added nothing but a tiny bit of salt to them. Then I called in Wally to be a second judge as to the taste and we liked them! They did taste flavorful and slightly like sardines! Wally said they would be good probably added over rice. The leaves, (I read) can also be dried and used for tea, tasting a little like chamomile tea (and not I hope, sardine like). People say the plant can be invasive but mine behave.

Speaking some more about Lambs ears, this hardy perennial has an interesting history. Originally from the Middle Eastern area (Turkey,Armenia and Iran) It was once used as emergency bandages because of it's absorbent and antiseptic qualities. In the days of outhouses it was used as a moonlight plant to direct people to the outhouse at night as the white, slivery leaves caught the moonlight and were easily seen at night.  It could also be used as toilet paper in a pinch (because of its absorbent nature) when supplies ran out. I've added an info. link, so click on the name "lamb's ear" to read more.

You too can have a secret edible front yard garden if you just search the web for other recommended edible ornamentals. I am very happy that so many plants, trees, shrubs and flowers can so easily grow here in Uruguay.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Wally's sliced banana french toast looks scrumptious. He can really prepare food with great style and panache.

Seamus said...

Denise and Wally, I have to say again that you have the most beautiful home.

Interesting about the bananas and plastic bags. A few times in Jamaica I'd seen banana trees in groves with plastic bags over the fruit. I assumed that the bags were there to protect the fruit from pests. It never occurred to me they might have been used to ripen the fruit.

I'd heard that bananas can be used to ripen tomatoes because the bananas produce ethylene gas which causes the tomatoes to ripen. I just looked it up again and it seems there is a whole list of fruits and vegetables which are affected by the gas.

It seems that most anything off this list, tomatoes, avacados, bananas, can be used to ripen each other.

Gordon Grant said...

Hi Wally and Denise,
How is everything with you two. Are you still in Uruguay? We are still in New York working in the Chinese. Love to hear from you. Will write more when we know this got through.
Gordy & Karen

Wally said...

Man! what a blast from the past. Yes, we are still in Uruguay. But that is due to change, soon. Happy to hear you are still doing the foreign language (though by now, it is almost your native tongue).

We'll get in touch.