JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from Rancho Regenesis
in the woods near Ek Balam Ruins north of Valladolid in
Yucatán, MÉXICO

January 8, 2017

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GUANÁBANA FLOWERS AND FRUITS
Our Guanábana trees, sometimes called Soursops, are both flowering and fruiting. Guanábanas are members of the Custard-Apple Family, the Annonaceae, along with the wonderful tropical fruits variously known as Custard-Apples, Sweetsops, Sugar-Apples, Cherimoyas -- all of the genus Annona -- and the US's Papaws. The family is closely related to the North's Magnolia Family.

You can see what our Guanábanas look like hanging on a tree at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108gy.jpg

The fruits can be a foot or more long.

Even as the fruits are maturing, flowers are appearing, and it's interesting to see how such spiky fruits can develop from single flowers. It's also interesting that for a long time I've been looking for what I think of as an open blossom, but so far I've never seen one. Our trees' flowers are about 1½ inch long (38mm) and their three leathery sepals just barely crack open, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108gw.jpg

The rancho's Maya workers tell me that they haven't seen more open Guanábana flowers, either. Remembering how widely closely related magnolia flowers open, this surprises me. In the above picture the pale item peeping from inside the sepals' enclosure is one of the flower's yellowish white petals, of which there are six. If you break away one of the three big sepals and a big petal, you can see what's embraced by the overarching petals, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108gx.jpg

The fuzzy-looking top of the ±spherical item inside the petals is composed of very many stamens -- the flower's male, pollen-producing parts. The lower, paler part of the sphere, like a little yellow face peeping from beneath a Russian fur hat, are many stigma heads -- the female parts where pollen grains germinate after pollination. Apparently the stamens mature first, shed their pollen, and then later the stigma heads mature. Having male and female sexual parts mature at different times keeps a blossom from pollinating itself.

When such flowers are shaken or barely touched, they fall apart, leaving what's shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108gu.jpg

In that picture, the crammed-together items at the right of the picture are the pistils with purplish stigma heads. The grainy, dark area to the lower, left of the pistils is a zone of scars left behind by stamens, which already have matured and fallen off. Keep in mind that those packed-together pistils will merge to become the spiny guanábana fruit. That's easier to believe when you find a flower with the pistils more developed, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108gv.jpg

Just visualize those little banana-like things, the pistils, merging together and growing, and that's your future guanábana.

Our tree is littered below with old, decaying guanábana fruits filled with seeds. You can see a small part of a broken-open fruit showing some seeds at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108gz.jpg

There you can see that one seed lies below each of the fruit's spines, so guanábana fruits are definitely full of seeds. My books say that guanábana fruits are a little acid and that instead of being eaten by themselves, normally they're squashed and squeezed to make tasty drinks, jellies and conserves. This is news to my Maya friends, who say that the fruits are sweet and eaten raw, just that when you eat them you have to spit out lots of seeds.

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GROWING PURSLANE TO EAT
The Maya workers scratched their heads when I started planting Common Purslane, which around here and throughout much of the hot to mostly-warm world is a common weed, even along sidewalks in towns. You can see Purslane, and read that of all green leafy vegetables examined to date, Purslane contains the highest concentration of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants of all, on our Purslane page at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/purslane.htm

Traditionally, Purslane has been eaten by indigenous Americans for millennia, but nowadays here it's mostly forgotten as a good food, even as Northerners are beginning to "discover" it because of its nutritional value and good taste. The last time I was in Mexico City I bought a fistful from an indigenous lady selling it and other herbs from a tablecloth spread out on the sidewalk. When I was a kid on the farm in Kentucky it grew robustly in the rich soil around the barn where the animals pooped and I never heard of anyone eating it.

You can see one of my two beds of Purslane at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108vd.jpg

In that picture the big grass at the upper right is Lemon Grass supplying Lee's hotel guests with Lemon Grass tea. In the back, center, is a Pineapple plant, and to the left of the Pineapple the large-leafed plant is a Macal, a Maya cultivar of the big Elephant Ears ornamental plant.

The Purslane plants in my two beds grow fast and are especially succulent and good tasting because before planting the beds I worked in a good bit of cow manure, and I water the beds each day. I got the plants for setting by transplanting small plants from weedy spots. You can see a typical weedy Purslane growing with other weeds beside an abandoned garden space at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108ve.jpg

Purslane transplants well. Just pull them up and even if the roots come out without soil around them the plants quickly accommodate themselves to their new home if the soil is rich and moist.

You can see what a morning breakfast's handful of freshly harvested Purslane from the garden looks like at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108vf.jpg

You can see what the finished dish looks like, having started by sauteing half an onion and a jalapeño, then adding a chopped tomato and the above handful of Purslane, with the Purslane's stems included, contributing to the texture, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108vg.jpg

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SHELLING JÍCAMA SEEDS
Last November we saw how our Jícama vines were producing pods full of seeds. You can get your introduction to this important tropical food source (the starchy tuberous roots, not the beans) on our Jícama page at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/jicama.htm

Jícama is to be planted during the cool season, which is now, so I collected beans from the plant profiled on our page, and planted them. Shelling the beans was complicated by the fact that only about one bean of twenty looked healthy, the vast majority having been eaten by worms or appearing undersize and/or shriveled. You can see what I saw in most pods when I cracked them open -- worms with their poop -- at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108jc.jpg

Two healthy looking beans along with some undersized and discolored ones are shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108jd.jpg

Earlier I'd been given a bag of Jícama beans, but when I planted them not a single plant came up, apparently because the seeds were outdated. This time I wanted to be sure the seeds were viable before they were planted, so I sprouted them using the technique outlined on our bean-sprouting page at http://www.backyardnature.net/simple/alf-spr.htm

Some sprouted Jícama beans just before I planted them are shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108je.jpg

The wet beans were taken to the garden in a water-soaked bandana. Making sure the beans didn't dry, they were inserted into moist, crumbly soil, with the white root tip pointed downward, and covered with a thin layer of soil. Then they were watered, to make even surer that they didn't dry out. That little white root is very sensitive and the least physical impact or dryness might damage or kill it.

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SOUP JAZZ
Jazz has a stage, and with soup jazz the pot is the stage. Every stage is different, so I tell you now that my soup pot, the size of a big muskmelon, is an old Mexican one with a wire handle. The pot used to be mottled blue outside and solid blue enamel inside, but now outside it's all black with campfire soot, and inside it's mostly black, too, though I'm unsure what causes that blackness. Every stage has its mystery, curtains hiding things and the question of who all these people are and how the performance will affect them, so my pot's inside blackness is analogous that mystery. To tell the truth, all jazz has its black heart around which the music comes, so maybe that's why the blackness in my pot seems right to me, and I don't do anything about it.

Soup jazz starts with a pot full of water, the Key of C, no sharps, no flats, but that'll soon change. How my soup jazz gets improvised depends on what's in the garden, and what I've been able to buy in town and carry home on the bike.

This time I begin with enough Maseca -- very finely ground dry cornmeal poured from a white paper bag -- to thicken the water a little, start out things mellow and down-home, pure corn. Sprinkle in a few short, curved cylinders of macaroni, which settles to the bottom where I like to see it when I'm almost finished eating, all soft and glistening, something upbeat about those silly little curved tubes, and I especially like the ones with ridges just because they're funny, sassy little toots in just the right places.

Now a little handful of soy protein granules -- lots of Maya Seventh Day Adventists in the area and the missionaries teach vegetarianism, so the frutaría in Temozón carries it. A sprinkle of salt, and then all is stirred and set over the fire: Black pot, orange flames, white smoke back-lit by morning sunlight slanting low over the papaya orchard below, and already there's a simple morning melody in the air, and things are beginning to feel jazzy.

Chop up red onion, orangish habanero, red tomato and a good sized green bouquet of purslane , Mizuna mustard greens, and red-bottomed amaranth leaves, add to the pot, and now this jazz is green, red and white, colors of the Mexican flag, as rainbowed and ragtag hot-spicy as any Mexican backcountry village or barrio, onion-syncopation, tomato cymbal crashes, cilantro clarinet and habanero cornet, the green stuff a groovy base beat, all mingling the way it wants to, simmering as the firewood tunes to a lower flame and ember glow rhapsody.

When this soup jazz starts bubbling and along its sides foam oozes up, you're starting to get the feeling of what this jazz is all about, so its time to get down to final business. A little vegetable oil from a plastic bottle and two eggs dribbled in and stirred so that little white egg-tatters of coagulated protein the size of beetle legs form, wispy snare-drum strokes saying it's all alright.

And then it gets eaten, that jazz becoming part of me, so ka-boom, howdy do, and toodle loo!

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Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/.