I remember when we were back in Greeley, Colorado. We tried to replicate what we imagined our life would be like in Puerto Rico. We were both so excited about all the cool things we could do when we lived there. We had indoor coffee plants, mini citrus trees, even a banana tree in our living room! I looked for anything with Puerto Rico in it. Read lots and lots of books, blogs, articles, etc. We even had chickens against all convention and with a big fight because we knew we could have as many animals as we wanted when we were outside of the rigidity, rules and conformity of the states.
Seems pretty funny now…our Colorado indoor banana tree
We also tried cooking some Puerto Rican food. And it was an absolute failure. Not only is Puerto Rican food extremely difficult to find in Colorado (the closest thing I found was a Cuban restaurant in Denver), but even the raw ingredients were horrible! We could do rice and beans but beyond that, it was a complete loss. There are no breadfruits or traditional viandas in Colorado grocery stores, coconuts were basically rotten and we had absolutely no idea how to cook plantains. A good reminder to eat local-wherever you are! I remember one plantain we tried cooking. We couldn’t even get the skin off it. We didn’t know how long to cook it and so when we finally tried it, we were like…how did anyone think that eating these was a good idea?!
Our bananas growing now (outside)
So I suppose it’s a good sign when plantains (and breadfruit and papaya and avocados and bananas and mangos) straight from your tree become part of your daily fare. I wasn’t exactly taught how to cook with these things like a parent might to a child and I definitely would like to learn some traditional techniques, but when it is all around you, you learn quickly. Here is a video of a typical breakfast. Nearly all straight from our land.
Plantains (platanos) grow and look much like bananas (guineos), but they are considered a starch or main food group rather than a snack or dessert. Here they make all sorts of things with plantains such as tostones, amarillos, mofongo, empanadillas and many others. I stick with lightly pan fried amarillos. Amarillo means yellow and so unlike most other dishes which use the green plantains, I wait until they are yellow to cook them. They cook fast and don’t need to be double fried like some of the others.
This is still very basic cooking. For one thing, we only have one single burner. And another is I don’t know exactly how to cook some of the “fancy” things like mofongo, though I love to eat it! Con tiempo, con tiempo. It was fun preparing for our move, but there is really nothing like the real thing when you fully embrace it.
Mofongo relleno y Malta -something I never ate in Colorado but can enjoy any time here!
Growing, eating and cooking with plantains means we are adapting. Evolving. Becoming more Puerto Rican. And it is cool because plantains also have a cultural significance. La mancha de plátano or the stain of the plantain is considered a symbol of pride for the jíbaro, the Puerto Rican country farmer, who when cutting down bananas and plantains would invariably get banana sap on their clothing. This stain is nearly impossible to remove, like the love for the country itself.
Plantain stain on a towel that we set plantains and bananas on after harvesting them
La Mancha de Plátano Luis Lloréns Torres (Translated by me)
Mata de platano, a tí, a tí te debo la mancha que ni el jabón, ni la plancha quitan de encima de mí desque jíbaro nací al aire llevo el tesoro de tu racimo de oro y tu hoja verde y ancha; Llevaré siempre la mancha por secula seculorum.
Plantain tree, to you, To you I owe the stain That neither soap nor the iron Can take away from me Since I was born a jíbaro To the air I bring the treasure Of your golden corm
and your green and wide leaf; With me I will always carry the stain For ever and eternity.
We just spent about 3 days mowing, machete-ing and planting around our property. It’s hard, hot work, but in the summertime you have to do it fairly regularly or things will just grow out of hand with all the rain. I can mow about an acre that is flat(ish) and Britton does another acre that has a fairly pronounced slope.
We have two of the same mower so sometimes we mow together, but we can also exchange parts as we inevitably break something. The good news is that all the growth and work also means FOOD! Lots and lots of food.
Delicious creamy red banana
In the summers I can buy about half of what I normally do at the (indoor, conventional) grocery store and only need to go shopping every 10-12 days instead of every 5-7 days and we could probably go even less if we could stand to eat mangos every snack and meal. Instead I end up having to shovel off the rotting mangoes from the roof of the cabana and the chickens and turkeys eat them. A good exchange for some eggs and meat down the line.
A quick stroll around the finca for about 10 minutes I came up with this plate of food. Eggs, figs, Surinam cherry, mulberry, sapodilla, pomarrosa, papaya, mango, passionfruit
And while I love the delicate little berries like mulberry and pitanga, and the succulent passionfruit, nispero and figs, the real staples that make it so you don’t have to go shopping as much are in the starches like breadfruit and plantains.
Breadfruit AKA pana ready to be picked
Plantains and papaya from our finca
Both breadfruit and plantains taste and can be cooked much like potatoes. They can both be harvested and used green or a little more mature. I prefer to cook with amarillos and ripe pana, but that’s just my preference since we still have a limited kitchen and the ripe ones take less time and prep. I often cook them with our eggs. Just add a few peppers and fruit and it’s a fully rounded meal!
Britton and a friend harvesting coconut
Another great food that we are currently under-utilizing is coconut. We have two varieties that are currently producing. One is a smaller yellow coconut and the other is a large green one. They are both good. The green one tends to have a lot more coconut water though. I would like to eventually make our own coconut milk and oil. For now we are just eating the meat and drinking the water.
Coconut water filled into a bottle and ready for some tragos!
Papaya AKA Lechosa
Another favorite of mine is the wild papaya we have growing. These just grow as volunteers. I think the birds drop their seeds. I never was much of a fan of papaya because I think it smells a bit like vomit and it is recommended to squirt lemon or lime juice on papaya to cut that smell. But this rounder variety doesn’t have that smell. So it is like having a cantaloupe tree! And I LOVE cantaloupe. This stuff is so good! They call it lechosa here I think because when you cut it open a milky sap sort of forms as you can see in the lower left of the above picture.
Grow little lychee grow! (Red flagged plant beneath the royal palm)
We are starting to see the fruits of our labor in some of the trees we first planted like the pomarrosa. And we are still planting more trees. Like this little lichi/lychee above as well as a governor’s plum and longan.
Both Britton and the chickens congregate around this little pomarrosa tree to eat straight off it
Pomarrosa is so good! One of the few truly crisp tropical fruits. It has a rosey smell and a crunchy almost jicama texture. It looks waxy and the redder they are, the sweeter. This variety is seedless and you can basically eat the whole thing in 2-3 bites. I love to add them to fruit salads for a pink burst and a nice crunch.
Chickens and turkeys scavenging and fertilizing around the pomarrosa tree
We all love “shopping” at our outdoor grocery store. It’s the most beautiful supermarket I know!
The aisles of our grocery store… littered with fallen flowers. The store may be a little warm but way better than unnatural air conditioning!
Puerto Rico has an ideal climate for growing tropical fruit. All of the tropical standards found in grocery stores can grow right here: pineapples, mangoes, bananas, avocados, and citrus. And of course there are all of the lesser known exotic fruits that are quite delicious but maybe not as suitable for long distance travel to stores all over the globe.
In our garden we have many different tropical fruits. Recently we harvested some mandarin oranges.
A handful of mandarins and the tree behind it
Puerto Rico has been hit with a variety of diseases that are harmful or deadly to citrus including citrus greening which is simply devastating to crops. When we began clearing we saw the remains of probably 5-6 other citrus trees, but these 3 mandarins were the only mature ones to survive. We have since then planted more citrus varieties (kumquats, Buddha’s hand, lemon and lime, orange, grapefruit, etc), but it will take a while until they are full-sized and producing fully. So far, it has been a little over a year in and we really haven’t lost any citrus trees, so we will continue doing what we’ve been doing.
The next thing we recently saw was a banana flower with little bitty bananas growing!
Turkey photo bombing the banana flower!
These banana flowers are so huge and beautiful. We have planted a large number of banana “hijos” or sprouts of various cultivars, but these ones over by the turkey coop really took off. We think this area may have slightly better soil than some of the other areas (and more fertilizer for sure). We are super excited to eat our own bananas from the land because bananas are something we eat every day.
Pineapple plant, banana tree and chicken
We are also super excited to grow our own pineapples. We planted probably 20 pineapple tops, but we only have about 5 remaining. Most of them succumbed to root rot. We are trying a new technique and are hopeful that it works.
Gardening in February…never ceases to amaze and delight me.