Where once was all bananas, we are now spoilt for choice

Where once was all bananas, we are now spoilt for choice
Almond trees in the spring with the first blossoms and buds in the Argaga Canyon on the island La Gomera.

One of the exotic pleasure of this island of La Gomera, and indeed of all the Canary Islands, is the variety of fresh fruit one can enjoy in one’s porridge.

Mangos, and their larger cousins mangas, less fibrous but sometimes less sweet, are past their best for this year, but can be replaced by papaya, passion fruit, and bananas galore.

Canarians are spoiled for choice. Thirty-eight different fruits grow on these islands.

Many originate elsewhere in the world but do as well here as in their native habitats. From bananas in the lowlands to apples and pears in the highland, there’s a climatic zone to suit all.

Avocados, hardly right for the porridge, but excellent on toast, are the current cutting edge of food fashion in ‘sophisticated’ Europe.

In response, here there are now plantations of avocados, hundreds of trees, where before there were bananas.

Unfortunately, this boom may be short-lived. Recently, the avocado trees have been attacked by a fungus appearing as white spots on the dark green leaves, then as a white mantle subsuming the entire leaf.

The leaves wither and fall, and the tree dies on its feet, a brown, lifeless skeleton that will not revive.

What is being done about this fungus? Farmers hope chemical sprays will kill it. My friend refuses to use sprays.

Worthy as this is, it’s sad to see his trees die, one of the eight or nine fruits in his domestic garden planted long before the avocado craze began.

Coincidences are regular companions in life, it seems. Last week, my column dwelt on the properties of the miracle tree, tagasaste.

Researching it, I consulted the internet and the only relevant book I could find, a German plant guide. However, I don’t speak German.

Then, on the Monday that the column appeared in this paper, I received a text message from friends to say they’d come across four old books of mine in an up-valley house I’d once occupied.

Accompanying it, was a photo of a note I’d made inside the English-language Flora of The Canary Islands.

Ironically, it said: “From Antonio Chinea, Las Hayas March 2003. ‘The white bush found everywhere beyond Arure & Las Hayas in March is ‘Tagasaste’.”

It seems I knew a bit about it then but have since, lamentably, forgotten. I also remember that Antonio was proud of its value to the land.

Meanwhile, old books bring back other memories. Two of the four record my address on this island over the years.

Inside the cover of Las Aves de Canarias I find “D Enright, Casa de la Seda, 1985”. Casa de la Seda, the village a mile up-valley from the sea, means The House of Silk because mulberry trees were once grown there.

In the Flora book, along with note on tagasaste and other plants, I find “Enright, Elentulio, 2003” written inside the cover.

Elentulio, meaning The Burial, is a plain at sea level backing against a cliff wall soaring to 600m above it.

The name records an event when part of the cliff fell and buried the land beneath. As to how long ago, there seems to be no record.

Hopefully, the land wasn’t then populated. However, one cannot but think that the name may enshrine a warning; certainly, when I first came to the island 40 years ago, there were wall-to-wall banana plantations, plots owned by local farmers.

Now, among the bananas, a few houses have been built, and garden houses, some of which are quietly becoming full-time homes.

In the gardens, various fruits and avocados replace the bananas. Residents perhaps enjoy them on toast.

Wild almond trees are now in blossom all over the mountains that climb to the island’s dense cloud forests of laurels and giant heathers above 900m.

The almonds grow on the poorest of soil, on dry, rocky slopes and abandoned terraces.

Being small and wiry, they are unnoticeable until they flower but then, the unkempt limbs in blossom are as showy as the gorgeous, tonsured tree standing alone on the red soil of Ibiza in the Balearic Islands and the serried ranks of almond trees on my brother’s farm in Andalusia, which are like waves of white spume on a red earth sea.

In the forest above the dry slopes, wax myrtles, Myrica faya, grow.

Half a millennium before the Spanish colonisation of the islands, centuries before the creation of terraces to grow tobacco, then tomatoes, then bananas, the native Guanche people harvested the berries of these myrtles, along with wild oats, as a food.

We regularly find the berries underfoot when we walk there. Who knows but the Guanche may have mixed them with their porridge?

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