Saturday 27th July came around so fast.
Hugo and Jean Tissera had kindly said "yes" when Joe Anich our Mossman Branch President rang just after our April Committee meeting. Hugo said July would be a good month, as his tropical exotic vegetables would be plentiful then.
The weather was 6/8 cloud, a little windy and cool as cars rolled up and parked amongst the young jakfruit trees at Hugo and Jean's Daintree property. Hugo and Jean's property is up the Daintree valley, past the coffee plantation, on a rise overlooking the Stewart creek flood plain. The land is set amongst rolling hills. The property is flat, with beautiful clay loamy soil, ideal for growing tropical vegetables.
Hugo and Jean, originally from Sri Lanka, are hard workers. So as to get an income from their property, they set about growing tropical exotic vegetables, as there is a big demand for them in southern markets supplying the ethnic community, who like the vegetables in their cooking.
Hugo and Jean welcomed everyone. Set out under the shed were tables with samples of the vegetables and fruit they grow: Yam Bean, Ceylon spinach, snake gourd, bitter gourd, lemon grass, breadfruit, jakfruit, coconut, banana flowers, okra and kan kong.
Barry Scurrah, our Treasurer arrived, and set up shop. Everyone paid their entrance fee, as it helps to keep the Branch's funds healthy. Business over, President Joe Anich introduced our hosts and Hugo then led the way.
Jean and her sister-in-law, Rose, had prepared a variety of dishes made from the exotic vegetables and fruit. It was surprising the different ways the food was prepared. There was cooking banana as a vegetable, finely-diced banana flower, banana fried and curried, breadfruit and coconut spice, breadfruit chips and cooked as a vegetable, jakfruit and coconut, jakfruit mustard curry, curry leaves and pickle, Ceylon spinach and lentils, jakfruit balls, bitter gourd curried, snake gourd and salad, okra stir fry with pandanus leaf, rib gourd and salad, yam bean salad, snake gourd stuffed with mince, okra stuffed with spice diced onion, lime preserve; the range, was colourful and varied.
Hugo, had ceased walking and stopped in front of the neat rows of cassava. Everyone gathered around before Hugo spoke. (This was Barry, our Treasurer's idea - pre-arranged spots were chosen so everyone could hear).
Hugo told us that the cassava is grown from cuttings and takes about 6 months to mature and is harvested when it flowers. The plants grow to about 7 ft high. Replanting is essential, by taking stalk cuttings, about 1 ft in length. Hugo uses dolomite to sweeten the soil. Indian and Vietnamese buy the cassava. Hugo finds the yellow variety the best. The leaves of the cassava do not give away the variety though. The variety can only be told by the tuber. The yellow variety boils and tastes better.
Next to the cassava, rows of taro neatly grew. Hugo pointed out that it takes 6 months before the taro is ready to harvest. The soil is kept wet. Each tuber is about 2¼ kg when harvested. Islanders like to eat the taro.
Everyone moved on to the okra plantings.
Hugo said this was a vegetable for a winter-time demand. The okra is used in soup, fried, or raw in salad. The plants will last for up to 2 years. Pruning is done to encourage new pods. The new plants are grown from seed. Pentea hybrid green is the best okra, Hugo said. Other varieties tend to get pimples on the skin. Hugo said there is a non-hybrid pure strain variety but the pods are too long and does not bear heavily. The secret in cooking the okra is not to cook it too long, Hugo said.
Joe Anich enquired if there was any questions - no more questions so we then moved on to the next designated spot.
Bitter gourd or Chinese cucumber grew on neatly placed trellises. Hugo said this was an easy vegetable to grow, but needs to be fed a lot. Hugo said it is rumoured that the bitter gourd helps to purify the blood. The Asian people love this vegetable, it is used in stir fries, or sliced and sauted in onion. Hugo places his trellises lengthways with the wind direction so the wind passes through without blowing over the vines. The bitter gourd can be grown from seed.
Beside the gourd, black pepper grew below poles. Hugo said this was a commercial pepper and was not sure how it would go. It was a trial crop. Growing alongside the pepper, rows of lemon grass were ready for harvest. Hugo said the lemon grass is harvested by pulling up the whole clump and separating the stalks. The stems are used in flavouring food or as a tea. Dawn Gray commented that all lemon detergents are perfumed with lemon grass. Dawn Meneikys added that the lemon grass tea is great as a relaxant 20 minutes before bedtime.
Ceylon spinach was the next stop. Hugo said the row where we stood was in its 3rd cut. He found that after the 2nd cut it tended to seed. The Ceylon spinach is cut 1 inch from the ground. It is popular with Asian and Indian people. Ann Roche (committee member) commented that Ceylon spinach is high in oxalic acid and one serving a week is plenty for some people. Hugo said that chicken manure is best for the leafy vegetables.
Alongside the Ceylon spinach, rows of kan kong, a leafy vegetable, grew lush. Hugo said the grasshoppers love kan kong. (I wondered if the grasshoppers could be harvested. It was on T. V. the other week that the Japanese farmers collect the grasshoppers and eat them in stir fries. Don always says that insects are something that we are missing out of our diet. Primitive humans used to eat insects.) Hugo continued that the kan kong is planted by seed in rows and takes 60 to 70 days before harvest. This is another green vegetable the Asians like.
Snake gourd, bitter gourd is easy to grow, and is best on a trellis. We walked on past snow peas and hot, hot, dynamite chilli bushes. Beside these rows, cashew nut trees grew. Hugo said he is planning to harvest the green cashew apple. It is a popular stir fry vegetable and really nice. The skin of the nut is the only poison part. It is cut and removed with a stick and the nut boiled.
As we headed back to the shed, Hugo pointed out trial plots of licorice basil, a special leaf taro, the leaves only are eaten, as it forms no tuber, and curry leaf tree used as a flavouring for any type of cooking.
We arrived back at the shed. Jean invited us to taste her dishes. It was more than a taste; it was a delicious smorgasboard. Jean answered all the questions about the cooking.
A good, social, relaxing chat and cuppa followed. Joe Anich gave a talk and held up a display of fruit sucking moths he had caught and preserved from his own orchard. The colour and sizes varied greatly.
The day had to come to an end. Loud, thankful applause for Hugo and Jean sounded through the crowd. They had provided us with a wonderful spread and a very informative day. It was a field day with a difference.
DATE: September 1991
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