Value-added products like beeswax and fruit jams are those which are made or created as a byproduct of something else. For example, many local farmers have begun to keep beehives. The primary function of the bees is to pollinate the flowers of the crops grown on the farm ensuring greater yields. However, there are many value-added products that are derived from bee keeping. Honey is the most obvious, but the honeycomb where the honey is stored is also a prized byproduct. Some artisans are creating beautiful long-burning candles from the beeswax from their hives. “Busy as a bee” takes on a whole new meaning when one looks at the many value-added products coming out of beehives.
As summer turns to fall and the mango season fades away, those of us who revere this queen of Caribbean fruit still keep looking for the last holdouts in the few trees still giving up this wonderful bounty. This year we were so fortunate to have more than one season as it were. The mango trees on Precious Produce Farm in Dorothea had three distinct “fruitings.”
There are few simple pleasures that bring such joy as the delight of biting into a really ripe mango and having the juice run down one’s arm as you devour the succulent goodness. If that mango comes from a tree that you own then the pleasure grows exponentially as the mango season extends. However all good things must come to an end. And as mango season grows to a close some of us begin to have withdrawal symptoms. We look longingly at the last stragglers hanging from the few trees still bearing mangoes.
This year there were so many mangoes across the territory that far too many simply dropped off and were left to rot on the ground. Which led to the question — why were these fruit allowed to go to waste?
But many took advantage of the glut and stocked up on mangoes of all shapes and sizes before the season ended and froze as much of the flesh as we could. So throughout the next few months we will be able to create value added products. Chief among them is mango jam. This sweet confection goes well on toast, a bagel or an English muffin. But it is extra special when stirred into yogurt, placed between the layers of cake or dropped on top of cookies.
Almost any fruit can be preserved for use after their season has passed. The most common is probably the mango. However, other local fruit used to create jams and jellies include passion fruit which doesn’t seem to have a season as such, since the vines seem to be productive almost year-round. All they require is to be kept well watered, and the beautiful blossoms appear on the productive vines eager to be pollinated and turned into the juicy fruit we all enjoy. Passion fruit juice remains a favorite drink, but passion fruit jelly is quite a special treat.
The pineapples grown in the VI are sometimes smaller than those that are imported but their taste is unsurpassed. They are some of the sweetest and juiciest fruit with a growing season that is way too short for the demand. The skin is used to make a delicious drink while the fruit can be made into an addictive jam.
Less common are the jellies made from soursop and genip. For those of us who simply cannot get enough of these fruits when they are in season, this is a great way to enjoy the flavors after the season’s end. Have you ever tried tomato jam? This sweet confection is quite a departure from how tomatoes are normally used.
Still more unusual are jams and jellies made from herbs used most often to make herbal or bush teas or used in seasonings. Both lemongrass and basil, also known locally as balsam, make interesting jellies. We are familiar with mint jelly which is often paired with lamb, so why not some of our local herbs prepared in jelly form and served in creative ways with meats as well as in desserts.
Sauces, condiments and pickles are other value-added products that are made from our local fruit and vegetables. Most popular are the wide variety of pepper sauces created by local cooks. Some are spicier than others. It all depends on the personal palate. Pickled okra and pickled beans have become a favorite snack and they are often added to main dishes or to salads to give them that special kick.
The next time there is a glut of fruit, rather than allow it to rot and go to waste, think about creating value-added products for yourself and your neighbors.
June Archibald owns and operates Precious Produce Farms in St. Thomas and its subsidiary, Virgin Islands Fruit Preserves.