Damien Enright:  A new formula could help prevent the wasting of fruits

Damien Enright:  A new formula could help prevent the wasting of fruits

Just now, in La Gomera in the Canary Island, the avocados are coming in as the mangas are going out.

I’m not much interested in mangoes, nor is anybody except the juice-makers. Mangas, (emphasis on the ‘a’, rather than the ‘o’, ending) are the delicious, comestible variety.

The fruit of their mango cousins is woven through with fibres which, if you bite into them, stick in your teeth and stay there after the pulp has been swallowed.

If only mangos are available, they are best scored with a knife and sucked. Even the sharpest knife doesn’t cut through them easily. They are, however, fat and heavy with juice, distinctly flavoured and very sweet. Squeezed and ‘juiced’, they yield copiously.

The avocadoes which we get free from my son’s pal, Antonio — we could take a bucketful if we had a sensible use for them — are also fat and heavy but it is with soft, buttery flesh, not juice, inside the shiny green skin.

Taken from the trees, they’re not yet quite ready, but must wait a day or two in the kitchen and be gently pressed until the skin ‘gives’ a little indicating the flesh is soft inside.

It is a wonderful fruit, the avocado – so wonderful avocadoes are in demand as trendy ‘superfoods’ in the US. Unfortunately, in Mexico, natural vegetation, including forests, are being cleared to make plantations. Mexican farmers can earn more from avocadoes than from any other crops.

But, news has it that a new ‘formula’ will hugely alleviate the current situation of high levels of wastage of avocadoes and other fruit in supermarkets worldwide. If it proves practical and publicly acceptable, less fruit will be grown only to be thrown away, and less natural habitats need be cleared for greater production.

The ‘formula’, a plant-derived, water-based coating, would act as an invisible ‘skin’ or ‘peel’ and radically reduce the rate of spoilage. It can be applied to any perishable fruit and as much as triple its shelf-life. As an old friend of mine, a lady, said it’s a pity we can’t apply it to ourselves.

We have seen some of the worst abuses of plastic packaging on bananas, oranges, lemons, avocados —fruit already equipped with protective skins by nature — wrapped in airtight plastic in shops, and not better, but worse, for being enclosed and sealed off from the ambient air and temperature. This practice is already abandoned in the best Irish supermarkets where the fruit has, for some time now, been ‘open air’, as are nuts and bread. Nevertheless, of course, the unavoidable wastage in food outlets in general is an environmental sin. Happily, the trade is conscious of this and science has now been enlisted and has developed, we hope, the ecologically-sound coating afore mentioned.

Meanwhile, the cycle of fruit in the valley follows its annual schedule. Bananas ripen throughout the year, aided by biodegradable clear plastic sacks, wrapped around the ‘pina’ (ie the bunch) to hasten its maturing and to protect it from insect or other damage: A few commercial growers on the island use ‘invernaderos’ like vast benders or growing tunnels. In this valley, 90% of the bananas I see on the plants are open-air.

The word ‘invernaderos’ seems to come from the ‘invierno’, meaning winter, why I don’t know.

Dates, not a crop I remember being much harvested in our early decades coming here, are now cultivated, and we received a gift of Gomera sweet dates, very succulent. Around ‘our’ village in mid-valley, we see chain saws trimming leaves, no doubt to let in more sunlight to ripen the fruit. The characteristic iron band around the trunks — many trunks are blackened by flames from the great wild fire that came rushing down the valley along the thicket-corridors of bamboo growing along the main water-course — are still in place. Their function was/is to keep rats from climbing up the average 18m of height to reach the dates.

The topmost leaves on the crowns of Canarian palms are sometimes cut away and the very sweet sap from the trunk rises into the basin-like well, thus formed.

Nisporos, medlar, are also appearing and ripening in the strong winter sun, and I saw banks of bright red and orange cactus fruit, so dense on the ‘plate’ cactus that one could hardly see the green, spiny leaves, on rock abutments that were sun-traps above the road as my brother drove us up to Mount Teide, on Tenerife, before we caught the ferry on a one-hour voyage across the blue sea to La Gomera. We didn’t see pilot whales, as people sometimes do, but a couple of dolphins obligingly jumped out of the water and swam alongside.

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