These are genips:
This fruit comes from a tree in the soapberry family — not very promising, I know, but go with me on this — that’s either native or naturalized to most of the Caribbean Islands and to Central and South America. It’s also got more names across these places than Jupiter has moons (63 to date, in case you’re astronomically oriented). A small sampling: quenepa, kenepa, canepa, kenep, talpa jacote, xenepa, and Spanish lime. For a small, bunching, and largely unprepossessing fruit, that’s a lot of monikers, and the fact that the Jamaicans call it an “ackee” (NOT to be confused with that other ackee) only adds to the confusion.
Here in St. Croix they are ubiquitous, and I picked up a bunch for a dollar from a truck parked on the side of the road. (You can also acquire the insanely delicious Caribbean lobster, various fish, papayas, bananas, coconuts, and mangoes the same way. I heartily recommend this approach.) The fruits have a thin, brittle outer shell.
In the usual method you crack the shell between your teeth, spit it out, and then chew and suck off the sweet, orange, fibrous flesh that clings somewhat stubbornly to a large central seed. Some folks believe that it’s a bit too much work for too little reward, but I love the citrusy top note, followed up with a warm and delicately sweet flavor that just bellows “YOU’RE IN THE TROPICS” to your taste buds.
But that’s not enough for an accidental alchemist. Nope, I decided I was going to try to make some syrup from the genips. For all good alchemists every project begins with research into ancient documents, just as for all good software programmers every project begins with a T-shirt. Astoundingly, I found a reference in the Virgin Islands Daily News from 1973, preserved by Google with all its dark arts. Genip Syrup
The recipe recommends popping them out of their shells, which is an easy and unusually enjoyable experience, putting them in a pot, and dumping some sugar over them to extract the juice.
After a curiously unexplained period of this extraction, you’re to wring them out and then add a ton more sugar. So I wrangled with the proportions a bit, because I didn’t have a gallon’s worth of genips, put them into a pot, and sat around.
After a curiously unexplained period of time I noticed not a lot of juice seemed to be presenting itself, so I shifted gears a bit to something I did know how to do — get juice out of prickly pear fruits. This technique requires that you warm the cut fruits over a very, very slow heat for (again) a curiously unexplained period of time. So I put a lid on, started up the simmer burner, and congratulated the genips on their brand new sauna.
Now let me tell you, genips are tough little brats and just as they don’t want to give up their fruit when you’re chewing on them, they don’t want to give up their juice even while simmering. I noticed that while the sugar had liquified, I wasn’t getting a lot of anything else out of these delinquents.
So I popped in about a half cup of water to encourage the process. That seemed to turn the trick. Once the water started simmering, I got a marvelous, citrusy fragrance wafting through the air, and a quick taste screamed “GENIP!” from the liquid in the pot. I did the little alchemist woo-woo dance (yes, that’s the official name) and decided to work on something else while they continued to simmer out all their wonderfulness.
There are multitaskers, and then there are non-multitaskers. While admitting that you are a poor multitasker is a great mark of shame, well, I’m Cat and I’m a terrible multitasker. By the time I surfaced for air and remembered the genips, they’d burned — the water had simmered away, the sugar had burned and hardened, and the genips themselves were mean, shriveled, dark orange and blackened balls that essentially seethed with resentment at me from the bottom of the pot. I didn’t even have enough energy through the despair to take a picture of this disaster. Into the garbage it went.
What I did, though, was go out the next day and get five, not one, bunches of these punks from the truck at the side of the road.
Because even through the disaster, I have some great ideas. I have some soap stuff that I managed to figure out how to ship here, and which should arrive in the next day or so. I think a simple genip juice (no sugar) would be an excellent water for the lye mix — or at least the kind of experiment that makes alchemy worth doing. And I think I’ve gotten the line on the syrup workings. It’ll be a pretty interesting next few days.