This is a true story. It is full of hope, disappointment, tension, pathos – and a little good old-fashioned West Indian drama.
Now, the Jamaican soursop does not look very impressive. It is irregular in shape – sort of blob-shaped, you might call it. It has no enticing fruity smell. No smell at all, really. It is a dirty greenish color, and when it starts to ripen it turns into a dirty yellowish color. Moreover, it has these curved spikes. I am not sure what purpose the spikes serve. They are not edible. And nor is the tough old skin.
Nevertheless, this common tropical fruit is not to be under-estimated. Apart from its much-vaunted health benefits, it happens to be utterly delicious. At least, the whitish, sourish juice is. It’s a bit of a fiddle to make, and I usually kindly ask my mother-in-law to do all that straining and squeezing. I know, I’m lazy. I just like to drink it. In Jamaica we add lime juice, and a touch of ginger is nice. Utterly refreshing on a steamy August day in Kingston, with a couple of tropical storms knocking around. It hits the spot.
Now we have a soursop tree in our yard. She is slender and very unobtrusive, leaning against the wall like a shy maiden. She has fairly small, somewhat shiny leaves, and underneath those gently upturned branches… a wealth of fruit. I was astonished to find our tree bore so much, at such a young age. Fruit appear all year long – there does not seem to be a soursop season, per se – and even burst through her tender bark and grow directly from the tree trunk, like jackfruit.
Yes, she’s a little darling. And in this nice shady spot by the wall, I was recently discussing the readiness (or not) of two of the larger soursops, with our lodger (who, to his credit, is particularly observant and diligent in the gathering of our fruit). Somehow, soursops always look as if they are just about to drop; they are attached to the branches so awkwardly. If they do fall naturally they are ruined, sploshing onto the ground below and creating a whitish mess that looks like something the dog puked up. They must be picked, at just the right moment.
Is this one ripe? Does this one need a day or two longer? Perhaps by tomorrow – it should be ready, the lodger opined. We decided to give them just a little while longer, while keeping a close eye open in case sploshing occurred. It’s tricky.
But alas… Walls have ears.
The evening passed pleasantly enough. Our wild birds pottered around and cleaned up the remaining bird seed on our bird table, under the apple tree – just a stone’s throw away from the sweet little soursop tree. Darkness fell. The dogs went through their usual ritual of sniffing disdainfully at their bowls – filled with delicious dry food imported from Brazil (I assure them that Brazilian dogs love it, but they don’t believe me; and will only eat it nowadays when it is doused with a particularly aromatic packet soup of a certain brand. But that is for another day).
Then the dogs started barking. Not the careless, conversational bark they use when responding to a neighboring dog – but the insistent, sharp alert that says, “I am a guard dog, and I am doing my duty here. Please pay attention!” For some reason – I think I was watching a movie, and my husband was reading the paper – we ignored it. Well, not entirely. “I wish those dogs would shut up” was the general sentiment.
Dear reader, if only we had known that a dastardly deed was afoot. (OK, nothing to do with feet, really…more to do with hooks and sticks and grasping hands…)
Fast forward to the next morning. Humid, with opaque clouds that promised rain, but did not deliver. The soursops crossed my mind, and I walked over to the tree, and looked up to where the two fruit had been hanging just the evening before, ripening nicely.
They were not there. They were simply not there. I was wondering if our lodger had kindly picked them for us, when he appeared – and pointed to the evidence.
Indeed, one of the fruit was there, lying at the foot of our dear little tree. It had been picked, but found wanting. The other, larger and riper one was gone.
Now, walls are not altogether a deterrent in Jamaica. Thieves can take a running jump and leap over them. Or, if the wall happens to run between you and a fruitful neighbor, one can simply lean over and…You get the picture. And it didn’t take long for the three of us to figure out what had happened.
You see, we have these clever contraptions. You won’t find them for sale in the hardware store. They are always home-made. We have our own, and I should really take a picture of it to illustrate this. It is a simple tool – a stick of the appropriate length, with a solid, thick hook attached to the end. Ours has a neat little plastic pot a little further down. One hooks the fruit securely, and pulls it down sharply – disengaging it from the branch and allowing it to fall with a satisfying plop into the little pot. If one misses, and things go awry, the person waiting at the bottom of the tree (which is always me) has to frantically scramble to catch the fruit in mid-air. My reflexes aren’t what they used to be and I only have a 50-50 success rate.
We will never know the methods employed by the neighboring thief. A step ladder might have been employed. Nor will we ever taste the juice of that large and gorgeously ripening soursop. But, a warning has gone out (my husband can be quite stern at times) and we can rest assured that this will never happen again. Or can we?
The abandoned soursop took on an added poignance. I picked it up tenderly, wrapped it in newspaper and allowed it to ripen. It was then delivered to mother-in-law, and returned to our home a day or two later in liquid form in one of her plastic containers (of which she has a vast array).
This is a cautionary tale, dear reader. Never wait too long to enjoy the fruits of your garden. There is never a perfect time. It is sometimes best to seize the day. Or the forces of tiefery may overwhelm you, before you know it. (to non-Jamaicans: tief means thief; thus tiefery, thievery).
A footnote: I am indeed grateful for the intervention of our lodger. I did provide him with a small glass of juice, which I believe he enjoyed. All’s well that ends well, as they say.
- Haiku: Dreaming Of Exotic Fruits… (eof737.wordpress.com)
- 1 million homeless Jamaicans is too many. Sign the petition. Do summn. (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Fruit Extract 10,000 Times Better Than Chemotherapy? (nalonmit.wordpress.com)
- http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/F_N-22.pdf (All you need to know about the soursop, including a recipe for White Chocolate Soursop Mousse!)