After giving a damning review to one weird home-grown fruit I thought I’d better balance out the report card on the food forest. The babaco I selected and carefully cultivated myself. But the Monstera deliciosa (or cheese plant as its sometimes called, because of the swiss cheese-like holes in its leaves) was flourishing here long before we arrived. It did seem to get a new lease on life when the large gum tree that had shaded it fell on our house – the rejuvenating power of schadenfreude perhaps – and I’ve had to hack it back numerous times since.
While most people grow this plant as an ornamental, I had heard its fruits were edible. Our rampant vine has had quite a number of fruits over the years, but it wasn’t until I stepped over one knocked down and half eaten by possums that, in a moment of uncharacteristic boldness, I decided I would have to give them a try. I hacked off the end that had been nibbled by critters, for cootie management, and, peeling off the small green cap on each, tasted a few of the hexagonal berries, compressed together pineapple-style. What a revelation – absolutely delicious, with a hint of a pineapple-like tartness, and the creamy mouth feel of a banana, but perhaps closest in texture and taste to a custard apple (also appearing from the bottom of the garden at the moment – yum!).
At a first taste the berries were sweet but quite firm. After sampling a handful my throat felt slightly raspy, as it sometimes does after eating under-ripe pineapple, and there was a faint burning sensation around my chin and lips. Rather hastily, I did some light googling to find that, thanks to needle-like raphides of our old friend oxalates, the fruit salad plant, including its unripe fruits, can be quite toxic. Oops. There’s a lesson for the kids at home.
So, annoyingly, while babaco with its flavour of newly-laid-carpet is quite innocuous, monstera deliciosa fruits get the following rundown from the Queensland Government poisons centre: they are “considered edible” but can cause “immediate burning pain, and swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue and throat… copious salivation and difficulty breathing, swallowing or speaking… rapidly developing urticaria or hives, a transient swollen, itchy rash… nausea, abdominal pain and intense gastric irritation”. Kill joys.
Given that my light snack on allegedly toxic unripe berries had only mild side effects, I decided to try to ripen the rest of the “cob” in a paper bag with a banana, as one site suggested. As promised, after a few days the little green caps on each berry fall off spontaneously, although the fruit didn’t turn yellow as it appears in some of the pictures online. The fruit seems to ripen from one end to the other, so I pulled off some of the rather scabrous looking lidless berries, leaving others, still clinging to their hats, to ripen further. As you can see, the half gnawed fruit looks distinctly unglamorous, but the squoodgy berries underneath tasted great.
I’m going to keep eating them, carefully and in small quantities. On a cautionary note, my tasters, the possums, haven’t been seen since the appearance of that discarded cob. So if this is my last post, it was the raphides that dunnit.