The Jamaican otaheite apple is native to the Pacific Islands. The juicy, shiny, red fruit has one large seed and is usually ovoid-shaped. Otaheite apples are in abundance now, and are usually best eaten freshly picked.
But, as with many other Jamaican fruits, otaheite apples have many uses and make an excellent jam when stewed with brown sugar and ginger. The fruit is found on a medium-size tree, growing up to 60 feet tall. Although not indigenous to Jamaica, otaheite apples grow abundantly here. The evergreen leaves are soft, leathery and dark green. The flowers are purplish-red and form a carpet after falling under the tree.
It has medicinal applications and an extract from it is used to prevent vaginal infection, while the root is used to treat itching. The apple root is also effective against dysentery and is good as a diuretic. In Jamaica, the plant is also used as a remedy for diabetes and constipation. A typical tropical plant, it can only be grown in the most southern part of Florida.
A delight to the eye in every respect, the apple is much admired for the beauty of the flowers. Though showy, otaheite apple flowers are hidden by the foliage until they fall and form a lovely carpet on the ground. The fruit is bell-shaped, two to four inches (5-10cm) in length, one to three inches (2.5-7.5cm) wide at the apex, has thin, smooth, waxy skin, rose-red or crimson, or sometimes white with streaks of red or pink, and white, crisp or spongy, juicy flesh of very mild, sweetish flavour.
The fruits of some trees are entirely seedless. The apple is presumed to be native to Malaysia and is commonly cultivated from Java to the Philippines and Vietnam, and also in Bengal and South India. Portuguese voyagers carried the apple from Malacca to Goa and from there it was introduced into East Africa. The apple must have spread throughout the Pacific Islands in very early times, for it is featured in Fijian mythology and the wood was used by ancient Hawaiians to make idols.
It has been recorded that Captain Bligh conveyed small trees of three varieties from the islands of Timor and Tahiti to Jamaica in 1793. The tree was growing under glass in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1839, and specimens were fruiting in Bermuda in 1878.
The tree is strictly tropical, too tender for Florida and California, except under very unusual conditions. It grows vigorously on a range of soil types, from sand to heavy clay. It tolerates moderately acid soil, reacts unfavourably to highly alkaline situations. In India, it grows best on the banks of ponds, lakes and streams where there is good drainage and no standing water.
The seeds germinate readily. Many sprout on the ground under the host tree. While Jamaican seed propagation is common, superior types are multiplied by budding on to their own seedlings.
The tree flowers in May and June, and fruits ripen in August and September. The fruiting season is about the same around Castleton Gardens in Jamaica, but at lower levels in Kingston, the apple is in season earlier and ends during the first week of June. It may flower two or three times a year, in spring, summer and fall, the blooming season covering 40 to 60 days. The spring and fall flowering seasons produce the biggest crops. Fruits mature in 60 days from the full opening of flowers and they fall quickly after they become fully ripe and deteriorate rapidly.
For marketing, they must be hand-picked to avoid damage and to have longer shelf life. The yield varies from 48 to 188lb (21-85kg) per tree.
Otaheite apples are now in abundance all over the island. Vendors come in all sizes and shapes, from little boys at stop lights to seasoned higglers in the markets. You can buy them by the dozens from these vendors or in plastic bags of six or more for $20 upwards
The apple is best stewed with cloves or other flavourings and served with cream as dessert. Asiatic people in Guyana stew the peeled fruit, cooking the skin separately to make syrup which they add to the cooked fruit. They are sometimes made into sauce or preserves. The slightly unripe Jamaican fruits are used for making jelly and pickles.
In Puerto Rico, both red and white table wines are made from the apple.
1. The fruits are picked as soon as they are fully coloured (not allowed to fall) and immediately dipped in boiling water for one minute to destroy surface bacteria and fungi.
2. The seeds are removed and, for red wine, the fruits are passed through a meat grinder and the resulting juice and pulp weighed.
3. To this material, they add twice the amount of water and 11/2lb (680g) of white sugar per gallon, and pour into sterilised barrels with the mouth covered soon with cheesecloth.
3. Yeast is added and a coil inserted to maintain circulation of the water. The barrels are kept in the coolest place possible for six to 12 months and then the wine is filtered.
4. The wine will be of a pale-rose colour, so artificial colour is added to give it a rich-red hue.
To make white wine, the fruits are peeled. The only liquid is fruit juice, and less sugar is used - only 11/4lb (565g) per gallon, so as to limit alcohol formation over a fermenting period of three to six months.
In Indonesia, the flowers are eaten in salads or are preserved in syrup. Young leaves and shoots, before turning green, are consumed raw with rice or are cooked and eaten as greens. The apple contains protein, fat, fibre, ash, calcium, phosphorus, iron, carotene, vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and ascorbic acids.
Otaheite Apple Refresher
1. Wash and peel apples, remove seed and chop into small pieces.
2. Peel and chop ginger and place all ingredients in blender then blend till liquefied.
3. Strain and pour into your favourite glass jug and chill. Serve over ice cubes.
Additional information from: www.bestjamaica.com