Don’t Eat the Surinam Cherries!

I’m not as familiar with the flora in these parts as native South Floridians, but I’m learning. Perhaps my favorite part of my body is my tongue, and I like to try to stretch my taste buds when I can. Up north, I was familiar with the various mushrooms that sprouted from the forest floor in summer. And while I’m not all that tight-laced, I am disappointed that the only mushrooms I can find in the wild in South Florida are psilocybin. It’s hard to hostess dinner parties when your guests are hallucinating from the appetizer.

I love a ripe mamey, when it’s so ready for eating, it falls apart, syrupy and tender. I’ve never tasted anything so satisfying. It’s like healthy flan. My greatest achievement is ground-scoring a mango in July, when they willingly fall into my path as I walk the streets of Hialeah, like manna from heaven. I rush home to open them warm, and then smile with chin-dripping satisfaction. Recently, I have tried the nispera (or sapodilla, sapote, whatever you want to call it). Good God, that fruit gives me reason to live. It’s like burnt caramel, mixed with rotting kiwi.I only wish I didn’t have to eat so many ants to enjoy a ripe one.

I’ve even learned to enjoy a fresh ackee, though I’ve heard they could kill me. The fruit is the consistency of the bacon grease my great-grandmother used to keep in a coffee can next to her stove, and it tastes something like a rubber band crossed with butter, but I adore it. It’s worth risking death to try one. And visually, it’s like eating a split-open skull, and chewing around eyeballs. I hear I’ve been doing it wrong, that eating raw ackee is like having sex with your clothes on. To truly enjoy it, I’ve been told, it must be cooked. We shall see. Fresh ackee is hard to come by. If you have an ackee tree, and want to share, I’d be happy to take some extra fruit off your hands.

But David Rolland is out of line when he sings praises of the Surinam cherry. Taste is subjective, I won’t say he’s lying, but his taste buds are way out of whack. There is nothing so disgusting as those little red balls of hatred. Right now, they are littering the streets of Hialeah, making the sidewalks slimy. Not even the birds are eating them, and the birds here eat everything. I’ve gone back twice now to try these hedge devils. The first time I tried one, it took me an hour to wash away the taste from my tongue. Tonight, I ate six of them, and I think I may die. If you’ve never had one, imagine mixing a red bell pepper with sugar, and then add a healthy dose of hell to the mix. Tonight, I’m, skipping the toothpaste, and going straight for the aguardiente. It’s the only thing I think will wash away the bitter aftertaste. And if it doesn’t, it won’t really matter. <hiccup>

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Jan Becker

Jan Becker is the author of The Sunshine Chronicles from Jitney Books, and lives in Hialeah, FL.