Today I toured the slippery slopes of Ono Farms, an organic tropical fruit jungle that somehow falls under the farm category because someone smart knows where all the ripe stuff is. Seeing the branchy versions of things I’d only seen before in supermarket-friendly forms (did you know tamarind grows on a tree?) at Ono, I began to wonder how many misconceptions I have about the things I put in my mouth. Sure, it’s understandable that I’d never tasted a chocolate sapote, a round, persimmon-like fruit filled with a smooth, dark brown flesh that, when frozen, can only remind one of a Fudgesicle. Okay, so there aren’t many vanilla orchids in Massachusetts. But what do I know of the things that grow here? I live on Cape Cod, and I’ve never seen a real live cranberry. I’ve never seen wheat or oats growing, really up close, even though I’ve passed fields of them many times. It makes me wonder how I can confess a connection to all the food I eat when I often don’t have a clue what most of it looks like.
However, Ono (“Delicious”) Farms didn”t just make me depressed about how little I know about our food supply. I was also reassured by some of the things we tasted.
It may seem like all good candy flavors come from research done in the bowels of some chemical plant with designs on ruining kids’ teeth. Perhaps that’s true with some. But there are in fact magical flavors that come, oh gosh, from nature. Take the jackfruit, for example. It’s about the size of a watermelon, with a chartreuse- and mustard-colored thick, pocked skin. If you know what you’re doing (and thank goodness we knew someone who did), the fruit comes out in yellow, juicy pieces roughly the shape of one of those small, thick outer leaves of an artichoke. And it tastes exactly like Juicy Fruit gum. Or rather, Juicy Fruit tastes like jackfruit. Then there’s bilimbi, a cylindrical green fruit related to star fruit. It grows on a tree, each fruit sprouting out of where the branches of the tree split below the leaves (rather than from the ends of the branches where the flowers form, like apples and peaches). One bite reveals a defined cucumber flavor and a supersour pucker that the folks at Cry Baby (those giant sour gumballs, remember?) must have tapped into. And in case you’re wondering, cacao, before it is turned into chocolate, tastes like . . .fruit. The flesh around each bean (there are about 15 beans in each little orange football of a pod) is white and a little cottony, and tastes fresh and citrusy, and nothing whatsoever like chocolate.
We heard tell of a magical berry that changes something about one’s taste buds in such a way that sweet foods taste sour, and vice versa, for a limited amount of time. It’s purported to be a useful tool in dieting: imagine taking a huge bite of chocolate mousse, only to have a mouthful of something that tastes like lemon juice. That’s one way to learn. Unfortunately, we never tasted said berry at Ono. So I’ll keep eating chocolate.