Leaf of the Day: Tamarind Pod

Superstition and the power of suggestion are strange things. Once you know something it is hard to ‘unknow‘ it especially, if it is an unsettling fact.
The innocent Tamarind is an unprepossessing looking fruit…very. I don’t think I should repeat Susan’s robust and accurate description, rather, if it is unfamiliar to you, it looks like a big peanut shell covered in cocoa powder. The pod is brittle, and, not knowing anything about them, I wasn’t really ready for the soft sticky date like fruit inside. If I had known another name for the Tamarind was Indian Date I would perhaps have been prepared for this delicious experience. Inside the flesh are beautiful brown glossy hard-as-stones seeds which are encased in a slightly chewy membrane. You really have to watch your teeth! The most curious things are the fibrous net like strings which run along the length of the fruit, like some sort of life giving vein structure, which embeds itself in the fruit, it really does look like the surface of a brain or some alien pod. If you were just to pump some blood through these veins who knows what would happen.

But it really is delicious and is like a tangy date. This is an ancient fruit, known to the Egyptians and Greeks, it is a native of Africa and was introduced to India long ago where it found a happy and welcoming home, and is an important ingredient of many Indian dishes and Worcestershire sauce.

However, it has an associated superstition, which, once lodged in your mind would, I think prevent you naming a hotel or restaurant “The Tamarind Tree”, although there are quite a few. I presume the owners cannot be familiar with its reputation because the Tamarind tree, despite being a very useful and much loved tree is thought to be the haunt of dark spirits, the night spirits.
I quote from my copy of the lovely ” Flowering Trees and Shrubs in India, by D V Cowen.”

“Country people have a prejudice against sleeping under the Tamarinds because they say the trees exude unhealthy vapours. This is no doubt correct to a degree as the cloth of tents pitched under Tamarinds in wet weather becomes discoloured and rotten after a time and there is a legend concerning these acid exhalations..
A woman whose husband was about to set out on a voyage wished to ensure his early return. She consulted a medical man who told her she must advise her husband to sleep under a Tamarind tree every night of the outward journey and under a Nim tree every night of the homeward journey. This he agreed to do and as the Tamarind tree is reputed to exude unhealthy acid vapours so, before many days the unfortunate man found himself too sick to continue his travels . He returned back and the healing power of the Nim trees under which he then slept each night worked to such effect that by the time he reached home his sickness was cured.

This seems a canny bit of knowledge for us girls to have up our sleeves. So when your loved one is getting a bit of wanderlust or any other kind of wandering lust, and needs that weekend ‘alone’ in the Caribbean,suggest he tries the charms of the Tamarind Tree Hotel on Dominica. He may be back the very next day.
There are other versions of the story and many other superstitions regarding this tree, one very sweet one is that in Malaya the bark and fruit of the Tamarind are given to elephants to make them wise. Ahhh.

There are recipes galore on the Internet. I will be trying some because this is a really delicious (and cheap) fruit. The ones I bought were in a box and are the sweet Thai Tamarinds. Do try them if you can find them. I may even try my own version of Worcestershire Sauce.


Tamarind Pod and Seeds

Leaf of the Day: Dragon Fruit and William Joyce

Oh, the joys of Asian supermarkets!
It’s Saturday and that usually means a day off for me, away from the trials and tribulations of battling with plants and paints. I was talking to Susan, who is one of the gardeners at Leu, yesterday about about various edibles and said I had been looking for the wonderful dragon fruit. She said. “Go to the Asian supermarkets down on Colonial, and while you are there be sure to try the tamarinds.” so, still feeling uninspired after yesterday we cycled down there this morning.
If you are feeling a bit jaded as an artist I can recommend a trip to the Asian supermarkets for an olfactory and visual boost. They are crammed with strange and wonderful foodstuffs, fruit and vegetables I cannot identify, (there seemed to be huge bamboo spikes) packets of bits and pieces of dried vegetables, all kinds of pretty sweetmeats and cakes, and the smell of the place is quite indefinable. There are pretty gaudy nicknaks and some great packaging, all enough to lift the creative spirit out of the deepest slough of despond. I have come back with… joy of all joys.. 2 stunning magenta and lime green dragonfruit and a box of tamarinds. It doesn’t take must to make this girl happy!

On the way back we stopped at the art main Orlando Art Gallery which was holding an exhibition of the illustrator William Joyce who I had never come across before. The work is very well known to Americans, perhaps not so much to the UK market. He was the co-creator of the film Robots and has many books and TV series here in the USA. It was fun and the sheer quality of the artwork was stunning, the earlier paintings done in oil on paper!! (I was wondering how he managed to meet tight deadlines). His work has a decidedly retro feel owing quite a lot to Lawson Wood I thought in its design and colour. It is always so good to see illustrators original works, well any original works really, they always have a presence that you can never get from the printed page or the computer screen.
A couple of images from the Harper Collins website here,the dragon from Bently and the Egg, and The Leaf Men, which I think is going to be made into an animated film

We finished off the Asian theme to the day by finding a very good Indian Restaurant.. the sag alloo was to die for .. but then spinach is such an interesting plant, isn’t it? Catherine de Medici and Popeye thought so too, all that for another post.