Monday, June 17, 2013

Jerry Fig / Jabuticaba

A jerry fig is a native tree of Taiwan found accidentally by a tea trader in the 1800s when he drank from a river near Chiayi. He found a clear yellowish jelly in the water he was drinking and was refreshed upon trying it. Examining the jelly, he noticed it was fruit hanging on vines that exuded a sticky gel when rubbed. He marketed it under his daughter's name Aiyu (pronounced o-gio in Taiwanese) successfully. Today, lemon aiyu jelly is loved by children and adults alike as their favorite summer refreshment. I heard there are aiyu jelly specialty shops in Tokyo. The problem is that preparation takes a lot time for a small profit margin.

I had a chance to try it in Taiwan and was interested in taking a look at the tree. I looked up Chiayi Toastmasters website to ask where I can see the tree. Bingo! The president of Chiayi Toastmasters was Dr. Lai, with the Chiayi Experiment Station, Governmental Agricultural Research Institute. He introduced me to Dr. Chung, an expert working on low land cultivation of the jerry fig. I learned that the jerry fig thrives in a misty highlands like Alishan, which requires plant breeding in the lower land and special farming preparations such as a watering networks, trelliswork, vining support, etc. I was looking forward to meeting Dr. Chung. So I sent email when I decided to join the Spring Toastmasters Conference in Taichung, he didn't respond. I contacted through my Taichung friend. I was told he retired last year.

An alternative advice came from Taichung Toastmasters friends. A new member joined them who was with the Taichung Experiment Station and he could drive me to a jerry fig farm. It was a case of wish fulfillment and I jumped on the opportunity.

The Taichung Experiment Station Complex in Wufen we dropped in on the way (about an hour drive from central Taichung through a new highway) has been the main headquarters of the Government Agrarian Research Institute since 1997, occupying 145 hectares (ha) including 17 ha building and 128 ha of experimental farms served by complete irrigation and drainage systems.

Unfortunately, the Puli farmer we visited no longer owned jerry fig farms any more. He took us, the disappointed guests, to a jerry fig farm in the neighborhood mountain. They are taller than I thought. The owner didn't go into detail, but I'm guessing he either sold it or changed all of his plant acreage from jerry fig to jabuticaba, a new lucrative business, grape tree native to Brazil for the following reasons: l) the fruit is new to Taiwan and has rarity value; 2) farmer receives possible Government subsidies; and 3) provides opportunity for sightseeing and on-site grape picking tours. He was excited to welcome tourists coming soon after us. He gave us fresh jabuticaba on trays. Tasted like grape, more viscous than regular grapes.

Edson Aoki, my Brazilian friend (see Imamura Church post) sent me info on Jabuticaba from the Netherlands. He wrote:

Jabuticaba is indeed a typical Brazilian fruit from the Atlantic rainforest, and hence is common in my state of São Paulo. I don't think jabuticaba is produced in a large scale, but it is commonly found in small farms and ranches, mostly for local consumption. ‘Jabuticaba’ is actually a word from Tupi (a Native Brazilian language) and it means ‘button fruits.’ But ‘Jabuti’ alone is also a word from Tupi, which means ‘tortoise.’

My jerry fig hunt caught jabuticaba instead! I met a smart farmer ahead of his time!


I searched books giving information on jabuticaba in the library. I found one "The Fruits Hunters - A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession" (2008) by Adam Leith Gollner. Here is some information from the book:

1) Appearances are embryos of cosmonauts. Tastes, however, are fantastic, incomparable to any other fruits.

2) Jabuticabas grow on the trees like mushrooms. Children in Brazil sneak into the orchard of others to play "jabuticaba kiss", pluck jabuticaba by mouth, with sounds like puk, gooch, pooch.

3) At Hilo Airport, Hawaii, I pulled out souvenir jabuticabas from my pocket. As I gazed at them, these cubes I've never been aware of before seemed to veil unworldly riddles. I photographed them, one sharp focusing, the other blurred and hazy to have cubes melt in a geometric pattern. Jabuticaba promised hopes, endowing revelations which I have not experienced. Just holding jabuticabas in my hands, I felt miracles to descend, answering my prayers I'm humming without notice.

4) Brazilian photographer Silvestre Silva stopped endangered white jabuticaba from extinction after his 10 years of personal battles. It was in the suburbs of Guararema, the State of Sao Paulo. Soon the white jabuticaba will be cultivated and we will be able to see it.

1 comment:

Paul Dion, STL said...

Well, Rio, now I will write to my Brazilian friends to se what they have to say about the Jabacutiba. I'll let you know.
It's mor fun to read you than the encyclopedia!