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Frutas de America: Tropical y subtropical.

Frutas de America: Tropical y sub-tropical, by Clara Ines Olaya. Barcelona and Santa Fe de Bogota: Norma, 1991

Frutas de America is a delicious book from all perspectives. A coffee-table-sized volume of photos, history, and recipes, Frutas de America gives the reader a new appreciation not only of the vast and varied vegetation of Latin America, but also of the pre-Columbian cultures that utilized it with such ingenuity.

Each section commences with a historical introduction that contains fascinating information about the importance and uses of a particular fruit in the pre-Columbia civilizations that cultivated it. Many of the introductions also include details about the reaction of the Spaniards and the uses they gave to the fruit in colonial times. Thus, we learn that the word "guayaba" or "guava" is a Spanish adaptation of the name given to the fruit by the Taino Indians of the Caribbean. In pre-Columbia Mexico the guava was called xalxocotl, which means fruta arenosa ("sandy [or grainy] fruit"), while in Peru it was called shuinto. The Spaniards first tasted fruits of the anon family, of which the soursop is one member, in the Caribbean. When they discovered similar fruits in other parts of Latin America, they continued calling them the Taino name anon, ignoring the native names, which the Indians continued to use. For this reason, some fruits are known by several different names.

In some cases fruits became instruments employed by the Spaniards in the battle to subdue the Indians. In 1514 Rodrigo de Contreras, governor of Nicaragua, ordered vast groves of chontadura palms razed. By eliminating these majestic giants, some of them 30 meters tall, Contreras destroyed the Indians' way of life, for the natives depended on the chontadura, also known as pejibaye, for food, drink, and shelter. The fruit of the chontadura was a staple; it was the Indians' only food from September to December and its uses were similar to those of rice in the Orient. Furthermore, the Indians hung their hammocks from the chontadura and constructed weapons for hunting or defence from its wood. The tree also had a religious significance, for it was thought to be a companion in the afterlife.

As absorbing as these introductions are, the real allure of the book is its photographs, which capture magnificently the lusciousness and variety of the fruits of Latin America. From the fiery red-orange lulos, uchuvas, and tomates de arbol to the delicate cream-colored flesh of the chirimoya (soursop), these fruits are works of nature's art. Olaya shows them growing on the vine or on trees, sometimes surrounded by lush vegetation.

Olaya also displays the fruits artistically arranged in bowls or baskets, whole or split open to reveal their juicy insides. Even without preparation, these products constitute a banquet, but cooked, ground, squeezed or strained, they yield hundreds of dishes. The array of mouth-watering main dishes, side dishes, drinks and desserts seems almost limitless. On one page spare ribs in pineapple sauce sit on an elegant table next to pineapple flan, a pina colada, fried pineapple slices, pineapple marmalade and shrimps with pineapple. Chocolate lovers will go crazy over the chocolate ice cream, chocolate mousse, chocolate fondue, and tiste (a chocolate beverage), all of which accompany the main course, a turkey mole prepared with a spicy chocolate-based sauce. Best of all, Olaya provides recipes for all these dishes, and surprisingly, many of them are quite simple.

Frutas de America is a treat for both the senses and the mind. Currently, plans are being made to translate this gastronomical treasure into English.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Organization of American States
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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