The Brazilian Cherry, obviously enough, hails originally from Brazil, where the Tupi Indians call it 'pitanga'. As it has spread around the world, it has gained other names such as Surinam cherry, rose apple, Malay apple, Santo Domingo apricot, pitomba, jambos, and, on the Indian sub-continent, goraka-jambu.
The French call this fruit 'cerise de Cayenne' and the Thais call it 'mayom-farang'. It is a member of the myrtle family and the species we are talking about is sometimes called the fruiting myrtle. It is related to the lilly pilly and one of its cousins produces pungently-scented flower buds that, when dried, become the spice we call cloves.
According to Sir Joseph Banks' journal, a form of Brazilian cherry was the first fruit sampled by Captain Cook and his party when they landed at Botany Bay. The journal says that Cook and Banks' assistant, the Swedish naturalist Daniel Carl Solander, "found also several trees of the jambos kind, much in colour and shape resembling cherries. Of these they eat plentifully and ... with much pleasure, as they had little to recommend them but a light acid".
The ill-fated explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt, according to A. and W. Cribb in Wild Food in Australia (Collins), also mentions several species of the Eugenia family in his journal. A few native Australian species of this plant have tasty fruit and all of them are attractive ornamental plants. As is usual in nomenclature that involves food, there is confusion in the naming of what we call the Brazilian cherry, a name that is applied also to what is called the Barbados cherry, a different plant altogether.
By now, those of you who haven't tasted this fruit are wondering what all the fuss is about. In Brazil, they use the crushed leaves as a stewing herb because of their pleasing aroma. They also make syrups, wines and liqueurs from the fruit and consider them to have medicinal value. Which may have some basis in fact, as the fruit is high in Vitamin C.
In Australia, the fruit is used to make jams, compotes, ice cream, and a jelly that some say rivals guava jelly in deliciousness.
The tree is an ornamental evergreen and can grow to three or four metres in height. Sometimes it is grown as a hedging plant. The fruit, as one writer says, "hang from the tree like miniature Chinese lanterns. They are shiny, bright red and ribbed. They attract the fruit fly. The fruits are solitary, but the blooms are small, creamy and cover the whole crown of densely grouped slender branchlets".
The only negative aspect of the Brazilian cherry that I can see, is that some people find the fruit a bit strong in flavour, and others find the acid a bit hard to take. The secret, apparently, is to wait until the fruit is at its peak of ripeness before eating it.
DATE: March 1993
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