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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 5731

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The consumption of bananas is enormous: more bananas are eaten than vegetables; and more banana-trees are yearly being cultivated. The negro seems to recognize instinctively that economical value of the banana to which attention was long since called by Humboldt, who estimated that while an acre planted in wheat would barely support three persons, an acre planted in banana-trees would nourish fifty.

Bananas and plantains hold the first place among fruits in popular esteem;-they are cooked in every way, and served with almost every sort of meat or fish. What we call bananas in the United States, however, are not called bananas in Martinique, but figs (figues). Plantains seem to be called bananes. One is often surprised at popular nomenclature: choux may mean either a sort of root (choux-cara?be), or the top of the cabbage-palm; Jacquot may mean a fish; cabane never means a cabin, but a bed; crickett means not a cricket, but a frog; and at least fifty other words have equally deceptive uses. If one desires to speak of real figs-dried figs-he must say figues-Fouanc (French figs); otherwise nobody will understand him. There are many kinds of bananas here called figues,-the four most popular are the figues-bananes, which are plantains, I think; the figues-makouenga, which grow wild, and have a red skin; the figues-pommes (apple-bananas), which are large and yellow; and the ti-figues-desse (little-dessert-bananas), which are to be seen on all tables in St. Pierre. They are small, sweet, and always agreeable, even when one has no appetite for other fruits.

It requires some little time to become accustomed to many tropical fruits, or at least to find patience as well as inclination to eat them. A large number, in spite of delicious flavor, are provokingly stony: such as the ripe guavas, the cherries, the barbadines; even the corrossole and pomme-cannelle are little more than huge masses of very hard seeds buried in pulp of exquisite taste. The sapota, or sapodtilla, is less characterized by stoniness, and one soon learns to like it. It has large flat seeds, which can be split into two with the finger-nail; and a fine white skin lies between these two halves. It requires some skill to remove entire this little skin, or pellicle, without breaking it: to do so is said to be a test of affection. Perhaps this bit of folk-lore was suggested by the shape of the pellicle, which is that of a heart. The pretty fille-de-couleur asks her doudoux:-"Ess ou ainmein moin?-pouloss tiré ti lapeau-là sans cassé-y." Woe to him if he breaks it!... The most disagreeable fruit is, I think, the pomme-d'Haiti, or Haytian apple: it is very attractive exteriorly; but has a strong musky odor and taste which nauseates. Few white creoles ever eat it.

Of the oranges, nothing except praise can be said; but there are fruits that look like oranges

, and are not oranges, that are far more noteworthy. There is the chadèque, which grows here to fully three feet in circumference, and has a sweet pink pulp; and there is the "forbidden-fruit" (fouitt-défendu), a sort of cross between the orange and the chadèque, and superior to both. The colored people declare that this monster fruit is the same which grew in Eden upon the fatal tree: c'est ?a mênm qui fai moune ka fai yche conm ?a atouelement! The fouitt-défendu is wonderful, indeed, in its way; but the fruit which most surprised me on my first acquaintance with it was the zabric?t.

-"Ou lè yon zabric?t?" (Would you like an apricot?) Cyrillia asked me one day. I replied that I liked apricots very much,-wanted more than one. Cyrillia looked astonished, but said nothing until she returned from market, and put on the table two apricots, with the observation:-"?a ke fai ou malade mangé toutt ?a!" (You will get sick if you eat all that.) I could not eat even half of one of them. Imagine a plum larger than the largest turnip, with a skin like a russet apple, solid sweet flesh of a carrot-red color, and a nut in the middle bigger than a duck's egg and hard as a rock. These fruits are aromatic as well as sweet to the taste: the price varies from one to four cents each, according to size. The tree is indigenous to the West Indies; the aborigines of Hayti had a strange belief regarding it. They alleged that its fruits formed the nourishment of the dead; and however pressed by hunger, an Indian in the woods would rather remain without food than strip one of these trees, lest he should deprive the ghosts of their sustenance.... No trace of this belief seems to exist among the colored people of Martinique.

Among the poor such fruits are luxuries: they eat more mangoes than any other fruits excepting bananas. It is rather slobbery work eating a common mango, in which every particle of pulp is threaded fast to the kernel: one prefers to gnaw it when alone. But there are cultivated mangoes with finer and thicker flesh which can be sliced off, so that the greater part of the fruit may be eaten without smearing and sucking. Among grafted varieties the mangue is quite as delicious as the orange. Perhaps there are nearly as many varieties of mangoes in Martinique as there are varieties of peaches with us: I am acquainted, however, with only a few,-such as the mango-Bassignac;-mango-pêche (or peach-mango);-mango-vert (green mango), very large and oblong;-mango-grêffé;-mangotine, quite round and small;-mango-quinette, very small also, almost egg-shaped;-mango-Zézé, very sweet, rather small, and of flattened form;-mango-d'or (golden mango), worth half a franc each;-mango-Lamentin, a highly cultivated variety-and the superb Reine-Amélie (or Queen Amelia), a great yellow fruit which retails even in Martinique at five cents apiece.

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