The pleasures of the Mexican bread fruit

The plant is named Monstera Deliciosa for a reason, discovers Divya Chandran

November 03, 2017 03:29 pm | Updated November 06, 2017 12:59 pm IST

Getting it ready for the table

Getting it ready for the table

Not far from the lake in Kodaikanal is Cinnabar, Vasu and Bala’s lovely homestay. A vegetable garden provides most of what they cook and consume in their kitchen. There were big green ears of corn in one patch, plump red cherry tomatoes in the next and a row of Kohlrabi at the edge followed by many more vegetable patches beyond. But the purpose of my visit was to see something else.

An Instagram post by Vasu some time ago had piqued my curiosity. Every Friday, she shares a picture of the excess produce that heads to the town for local sales. A green stem in the pile of vegetables caught my eye. Was it a vegetable? A fruit? I wanted to know more. It was the fruit of the Monstera plant, which grows in one corner of their garden.

Monstera Deliciosa is a common ornamental plant seen in gardens in the plains and also as an indoor plant with large, glossy and dramatic leaves. It is also called the split leaf Philodendron and the Swiss cheese plant due to holes on its leaves that resemble Swiss cheese.

The Monstera Deliciosa

The Monstera Deliciosa

 

Often the Monstera is seen climbing on trees and growing upwards toward the light. But, in Vasu’s garden, the plant spread horizontally along the floor and looked lush green and dense in a corner. “The Monstera plant has a lot of supporting roots and thrives well on the garden floor here,” said Vasu, showing me around.

She pushed a few large leaves aside to reveal the pale white flowers beneath. The spathe of the flower matures to become a fruit. Vasu explained, “It takes over a year for the flower to turn into a fruit. Once the bottom part of the fruit turns a pale green and the scales start to loosen, they are ready to be harvested. Many people seek this out in the local market for its health benefits.”

Vasu pulled off a pale green Monstera fruit and handed it to me to take home. “This is still not ready to be eaten. Wrap it in a newspaper and put it away for a day or two. The scales have to fall off on their own; do not force it. You have to eat the fruit in parts over two to three days as it ripens slowly from the bottom to the top,” she instructed, as I looked at it curiously.

The Monstera fruit is high in oxalic acid. If eaten while raw, it will cause severe irritation in the mouth and may even lead to the bleeding of the gums. When the fruit begins to ripen, it gives out a lovely tropical aroma. The taste is a combination of banana and pineapple with a hint of jackfruit as well. This is often called a fruit salad fruit or the Mexican bread fruit.

When the fruit ripened, the smell permeated my kitchen. I unwrapped it from the layers of newspaper eagerly. The hexagonal scales dropped with a gentle touch and revealed a white fleshy core. There were black flakes between the tiles and the flesh that Vasu had warned me to scraped away before eating as they can cause itchiness in the mouth.

The flesh was soft and juicy with a lovely sweet and slightly sour taste. The taste and texture was close to custard apple (sitaphal), although they belonged to different families in the plant kingdom. Vasu is certain it was named Monstera (for the risks and scary nature) and Deliciosa (delicious taste) for a reason.

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