In my experience, all jungle plants fit neatly into one of two categories: Invincible or unsalvageable.
The latter category of plants were fated for failure from the first. A flood of bugs or ants might march in and eliminated the plants in a matter of hours. The unbearable heat of the equatorial sun could scorch them into swift and silent demise. An animal may decide to make them into a meal. Mud and floods from Amazonian downpours might delete them entirely from the scenery. The unpredictable jungle surroundings were just too much for these poor plants to stand up against.
Plants in the former category, however, flourished furiously. They grew fast, strong, and tall. Neither machete, nor fire, nor even civilization itself deterred these powerful plants. When their leaves were striped away, they launched a thicker fan of foliage. If sawed down to a stubby stump, uncontainable green growth soon exploded from their cores. When people set fire to the land around their home, burning the area to make ground usable for other endeavors, within months the extreme act was absolutely imperceptible. One example around our house of these invincible plants were the glorious ferns growing inexplicably out of the solid cement walls surrounding our yard. They had a will and they made a way.
Growing wild in the jungle, most plants appeared invincible. When I did the planting, however, despite my best amateur efforts and awkward tender loving care, most of the attempts ended up in the sad category of unsalvageable. They never had a chance.
One obvious exception was my maracuja (passion fruit) vine. I tenderly planted it in the backyard, just as I’d done with hundreds of other seeds saved from kitchen fruits and vegetables, but this time the result was magical. The vine grew and grew. I coaxed it, day after day, to climb upward, carefully guiding its tightly spiraled tendrils towards nearby backyard structures and redirecting them from unacceptable objects of which they had taken hold. Dad built a climbing fence for it—two wooden posts with ropes zigzagged between them—and as soon as it had a makeshift trellis, it grew with alarming relish working its way across the backyard and into our daily routine.
The leaves were, we somehow discovered, the delicacy of choice for our brown bunny, Snickers. He couldn’t get enough of them. Buttercluck, our pet chicken, enjoyed the vine as well. She shaped a shallow hen-size spot out of grass, weeds and feathers, filled it with smooth brown eggs and nested there, completely concealed under the maracuja‘s thick foliage.
Days passed. The vivid green vine-fence in the center of our backyard presented us with exquisitely unusual purple blooms, followed by plenty of fruit. We monitored the ripening maracujas, and when the green orbs began to pucker, wrinkle and turn maroon, we picked them from the vine. Into the kitchen we ran, where we cut the fruit down their centers, transforming each half into a palm-sized bowl filled with small flat, black oval seeds wrapped in pockets of flavorful pulp, sour enough to compete with lemons, but oh, so very, very delicious and with such a wonderful exotic flavor! We heaped sugar onto the seeds and dug in with kitchen spoons, scraping and munching and letting juicy drops of sticky orange sugar sneak down our fingers, which already carried the dirt and grime of all kinds of childhood joys—digging, climbing, exploring, examining, and foraging.
There was only one thing better than eating the maracujas this way. The only thing able to hold off our temptation was the knowledge that the fruit was destined for a bigger and better thing: Maracuja frozen dessert! On those days, we collected the ripe fruit, and when there were enough, Mom sliced them open and scrapped the pulp and seeds into the blender. The orange contents swirled and ticked as the seeds hit the blades and were broken into black bits. Then Mom strained the mixture through a coffee sock, squeezing the juices into a bowl while retaining the seeds inside the sock toe. We crunched away at the seed remnants while Mom continued the recipe. She mixed the fresh juice with sweetened condensed milk, then in a casserole dish she alternated layers of maracuja sauce and sweet cracker rounds, until the dish was full. Then she slipped it into the freezer. The freezer time felt like AGES and EONS, but every bite and spoon lick of that sweet, decadent, creamy, tropical ice cream sandwich-like dessert was worth the wait, I can assure you!
Once in a blue moon the international grocery store down the road stocks a shipment of frozen maracuja pulp. It doesn’t hold a candle to the real backyard-grown deal, of course, but it’s still pretty darn amazing! Hmmmm. I ought to take a little walk over there today. I think my husband needs a proper introduction to the wonders of the maracuja frozen dessert. Either to the frozen dessert or to a homemade raw milk cheesecake with an almond and date crust and maracuja sauce. That doesn’t sound too shabby either!
Oh, look at the time. I ought to get going. I think I have a recipe to track down and a childhood memory to recreate…