This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
It is difficult for one whose winters have always been spent in a northern clime to realize that these glorious, balmy days are December and January. In front of the large open veranda upon which I write, is a large orange tree loaded with ripening fruit and just bursting into blossom. Nearer, a huge Calabush tree, Crescentea Gujete, hangs full of the immense green fruit, showing most conclusively that though nature has placed the pumpkin on the ground, and the acorn on the tree, it was not from ignorance how to suspend the pumpkin. Plants that with us are purely greenhouse specimens, here grow into great bushes, and are covered with a wealth of flowers.
One of the surest ways of becoming familiar with the fruits of a country is to visit the markets. Here (in Para) the market opens at day-light; so immediately after coffee we walked to the lower market, a long, low, ambling structure, and not especially clean; but the display was most interesting. Although not the season of fruit, there was no lack, and great piles of oranges, baskets of limes, bananas, such as one never sees out of the tropics, and many other fruits left us in doubt which to try first.
The oranges are of medium size, generally dark colored or greenish, very sweet and very cheap; a few cents will buy a basketfull. To those who have tasted oranges fresh from the tree no words of description are necessary; to those who have not, no words will convey an idea. The banana probably suffers less from transportation than any other tropical fruit, but there is a delicate flavor to those ripened under a tropical sun which those we get in temperate zones never attain. There were many varieties, generally yellow, though the large red were not uncommon, and there were many of the long slender yellow, but the greater proportion were very small varieties, about as long as the middle finger, and deliciously sweet and melting. The limes, Citrus limetta, were small, round, bright yellow, and very fragrant; strange to say lemons are not grown; I have not seen one in Brazil; I was told that the climate was too hot, but can hardly believe it. Leaving the market we walked along the quay, shaded by a magnificent line of palms (Oreodoxa regia) and passed the custom bouse, within a stone's throw of which we found large clumps of the showy orange milkweed (Asclepius curassavica) which we grow in greenhouses.
In a narrow ditch near at hand a light purple Pontederia was in full bloom, and some tall Colocasias had a showy, but ill-smelling white flowers. A few steps further there was plenty of a beautiful white Pancratium or more properly Hymenocallis, a tangle of light purple Lantana, and a wilderness of strong growing Convolvulus with a light purple flower. The tall Assai palms (Euterpe caulis) are very beautiful, and the strings of purple fruit very ornamental. This fruit, which we saw in great qualities in the market, is about the size of a marble; when ripe the purple pulp is rubbed off of the seed in water, is sweetened and drank as a beverage or taken with farina. In appearance it resembles elderberry tea; to most tastes it is not at first agreeable, but one soon learns to like it. Some (all fences were a mass of bright scarlet cypress vines (Quamoclit coccinea) the air was heavy with the fragrance of masses of jasmine (Jasmi-num Sambac). Castor oil beans (Ricinus) grew into trees and orange Lantanas formed huge bushes. * * *
"We visited the old Botanic Garden, which has for years been neglected and allowed to grow to a mass of foliage. There were many large palms, but all Brazilian species; a hedge of the pink and white Clerodendron in full bloom and scenting the air; Cape Jasmines (Gardenia), and Taberna?montana coronaria, large enough to sit under. A large pond was full of Pontederia crassipes in full bloom, the tall spikes of light purple flowers are very ornamental.
All through the garden and by the road sides, Caladiums in many varieties, with bright leaves, were weeds.
There were tall Papaw trees (Carica citri-formis) full of yellow fruit which is edible, but insipid. It is called by the Brazilians,"Mamma or Papa," as the plant is dioeious. There was also a tall tree of Plumiera rubra in abundant bloom. * * * *
On a second visit to the market we found a most meagre display of vegetables; tomatoes about the size of a large walnut, a few small turnips, cabbage leaves, for in the tropics cabbage does not head; onions, little bunches of Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) and a profusion of small bright, various colored, peppers. There were large bunches of Purslane which is used as a salad; but even this, with us, pestiferous weed, does not here grow with the luxuriance which so annoy us in our northern gardens.
There were large qualities of Sesuvium pertu-lacastrum covered with purplish flowers, which seemed to be in great demand as a pot-herb. Of the squash family, which I expected to find well represented, these was only a small, crooked, rich squash, and a heap of little yellow pumpkins. There were musk and watermelons, but very poor, such as in Boston would not be thought fit to bring to market. They are very inferior in flavor, but are considered great delicacies.
Large baskets of shrimps, both alive and cooked, seemed to meet with ready sale; long strings of a small, dark colored turtle were waiting for the epicures of Para; negroes were buying very unpleasant looking fish; and in one stall a huge alligator was being cut into sections to suit customers.
The fruit market was most attractive; oranges, limes, and bananas, in any quantity; huge piles of Plantains (Musa paradisiaca) which, although palatable and often eaten raw, is far better cooked, and is prepared in many ways, all good; and bright fruits of various palms, including huge baskets of Assai.
Mangoes (Mangifera Indica) were seen at every stand, but they are not a popular fruit, having the reputation of causing fever, and a taste for them must be acquired, as the flavor of sweet resin or turpentine is not at first pleasant. The fruit of the cocoa (.Theobronia cacoa), the seeds of which form the cocoa of commerce, is seen in considerable quantites; it is orange colored, pentagonal, about nine inches long, and contains numerous seeds, bedded in a white pulp: from this pulp, mixed with water, an agreeable acid drink is prepared. Pineapples were delicious, the whole pulp melts away in the mouth, and one's only regret is that frequent indulgence in pineapples is not considered prudent. Little heaps of Sapodilla, S. achras, and of S. mam-mosa, more properly Lucuma, attracted my attention, but I was unable to discover an edible quality to warrant the reputation they have obtained; they seemed to my uneducated taste neither pleasant to the eye nor good for food; the seeds are shining brown, and very pretty.
Of the Alligator Pea or"Avocado" (Persea gratissima) I can speak more favorably. The fruit is pear-shaped, about seven inches long with a dark green or purple skin; the pulp is firm, buttery, and is eaten with sugar, spice, lime juice or pepper and salt. At first it is not unpleasant, and one soon becomes very fond of it. The Flower Market was poorly stocked; a few yellow chrysanthemums, some perpetual roses, bunches of jasmine, and some white pinks, composed the assortment. A white pink was offered me for twelve cents as very rare; the same money would have bought a peck measure of jasmine, or three dozen oranges.
I must leave for another letter a description of the gardens and orchards of Senor Serreira, the voyage up the Amazon, the trees, the climbers, the flowers which fairly bewilder me by their variety and beauty; the climate which is the perfected of climates, neither too warm nor too cold; the orchids of the Upper Amazon and the grand Victoria regia.