Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Ode to Ugly Produce

Maybe I watched too many episodes of Charlie Brown’s Christmas as a child, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the unsightly, the unattractive and the downright ugly members of the plant kingdom. On the edible side of the kingdom, my favorite fruit is the custard apple, in all its sickly green and lumpy grandeur. A close second is the wrinkly-skinned passionfruit, followed by its shriveled brethren, the fig. I, too, admire the seed-studded splendor of strawberries and the blushing plumpness of a just-ripe peach, but I’m just as likely to reach into the fruit bowl for a plain-Jane Bosc pear.

It is not very surprising, therefore, that I am attracted to two very homely constituents of Zimbabwe’s native produce – masau fruit and dumbe (madumbe if you have more than one).

Hundreds of years ago, Arab traders brought masau from India to Africa, and today masau trees grow wild in the hot, dry Zambezi Valley. The fruit we buy at the side of the road are wine-colored and wizened, with a sweet and slightly sour taste that most closely resembles cherry-apple. The shape and texture is reminiscent of the dried plums I used to nibble on in China. Masau fruit are chewy, and you need to use your teeth to tear the flesh off the seed. They can be eaten as a snack, used to concoct a home-brewed alcoholic beverage called kachasu, and made into jam.

Meanwhile, under the ground grows the dumbe, a taro-like tuber cultivated in the mountainous Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. Its dark brown skin is pitted like the surface of the Moon and spouts tiny hairs.

Cut one open and you’ll see white flesh mottled with tiny burgundy lines, which, upon a quick glance, my husband thought were worms. Dumbe’s even uglier stepsister is the gogoya, whose interior is a sallow purple. A gogoya is so awkwardly large that it must be chopped into pieces with an axe.

Zimbabweans, who generally take tea at 10 in the morning, might consume cooked dumbe or gogoya with their cuppa. In fact, I’ve heard that once you’ve eaten dumbe with your tea, you just can’t go back to chingwa (bread).

Preparing dumbe is very simple.

Cooked Dumbe

1 dumbe
1 tablespoon salt
Sea salt, to taste

Peel the dumbe, cut it in half and drop it in some well-salted, boiling water. Let it boil for about 20 minutes, or until soft. Scoop the dumbe out of the water with a slotted spoon, and let it cool for just a few minutes. Cut into bite-size pieces, and eat with your tea.

The texture is quite dry, so if you aren’t a tea-drinker, make certain you have some other beverage handy. Dumbe’s taste is similar to that of a potato, but with a subtle, addictive nutty flavor, which can be enhanced with a grind of sea salt.

Some people might put masau and dumbe in the class of produce that needs to be kissed by a princess. I’ll put them in the same adorable underdog category as Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.


Anupama said...

Hi Carolyn, Came to your blog thru Nandita's Breakfast blogging event. African food is something completely new to me. So your blog will be education for me.

Noro said...

Hi Carolyn,
I came to your blog while I was looking for "foodblogists" who live in Africa.
Being from Madagascar myself, those are not unfamiliar for me.

We called Dumbe "soanjo" in this part of the world and we eat it cooked with a bit of sugar. Some like it with meat and veggies though ( especially greens)or as crisps.Btw, it can be used in place of potatoes I think.

As for masau ( or "jujube" for us), I used to eat them a lot when I was a little girl, especially the dried one!!! Now as a grownup, I prefer the wet ones with lot of sticky juices please....Yumm!