Hurray for the Sea Grape

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Few things in life give me more pleasure than picking ripe fruit off a tree. Perhaps if I ate meat I would get similar excitement when I discovered my car ran over a raccoon, but I doubt it.  In Florida we lack the blackberries that grow as weeds throughout most of the country, but if you keep your eyes open there are a few treats.

Coconut palms are abundant around the beach areas, but unless you happen to stumble upon a fallen coconut, you have to be an ace climber to grope your way up the trunk. And then of course there is the great difficulty in opening the coconut.

There are trees with mangoes, starfruits and avocados littered throughout the region, but more often than not they lie on someone’s private property and with Florida being a Stand Your Ground state you might literally be taking your life in your hands for a forbidden fruit.

The mulberry is a favorite. The long black berry when ripe will stain your mouth as you bare a tree of them. Then there is the surinam cherry, the pumpkin looking berry that goes from green, to yellow, to orange (when it really looks like a pumpkin), to a deep tasty red.

But the easiest fruit to come across that happens to be starting to ripen right now is the sea grape. Walk near any beach in South Florida and you will discover the green little fruits turning purple. No other fruit has as apt a name. If you catch a ripe dark purple one it can taste like a grape. Nibble on a bad one though with still a tinge of green on its skin and it will taste like the sea.

Sea grape trees are planted over all our beaches to serve as dune stabilizers. As a tourist novelty people occasionally write on the sea grape tree’s leaves, put a stamp on them and mail them off as a postcard.

But the actual grape is what makes the tree special for me. You’ll never find them being sold at Publix or even any farmer’s market. You’ve got to harvest them yourself and savor when you pick that perfect one.

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David Rolland

David Rolland edits The Jitney blog. He is the author of the novel The End of the Century.