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Nigerian Street Food: Golden Corn with Ube (African Pear)

by on August 25, 2012
 

If I didn’t know better, I would think I was pregnant….for the serious corn cravings I’ve been having.

It is the season for tasty oranges, cucumbers, pineapples and pyramids of Ube, purple African wood pears that must be roasted on hot coals or soaked in freshly boiled water to eat. When cooked, they taste like avocado, cut through with cream.

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It is our rainy season, summer and winter to other parts of the world but to us, at home in Nigeria, it is the very wet season. And corn is its pilgrim – roasted and boiled, companion to the pears very much in season.  Fresh golden, toasted kernels fall of hot cobs, toasty and fragrant with heat and all of Nigeria’s rainy season’s sweetness.

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Ube is a word that both Microsoft and Apple document software draw the dotted red line underneath – a signal that no such word is present in their culinary records. I don’t mind, one right click adds it to my personal word bank, and it is no longer a stranger….on my screen.

Dacryodes edulis or safou is a fruit tree native to Africa, sometimes called African pearNsafubush butter tree, or native pear. The name of the genus (Dacryodes) comes from the Greek word for tear, dakruon. This is a reference to the resin droplets on bark surface of its members. The species name edulis means edible.

It is called Ube is in southeast Nigeria and ‘Eleme’ in the southwest.

For weeks since the rains began, I’ve been hung up on corn, all ways – white corn, yellow corn, roasted, boiled, souped.  On the drive home from work, stuck in traffic, my eyes dart about and I’m not minding the fact that home is still a long way off…..because my eyes are busy looking out for all the ‘corn’ spots so I could get me some. The roasted corn reminds me of popped corn that hasn’t quite popped. This is lighter in taste and softer. It will still give your jaws a workout, which is why Nigerians will often refer to eating corn as ‘chewing corn’ (kind of like chewing curd!)

When I eventually pull off to the side of the road or receive the order of corn I’ve hollered for, it will come wrapped in newspapers, a kind of makeshift ‘brown’  bag or in a black plastic bag.

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Frequently, I’ll get some chunks of coconut with my corn and Ube. Coconut and corn are a delight. Though personally I prefer to have boiled corn with coconut and roasted corn with Ube, I’ll take whatever is available. It is also a ‘guarantee’ of sorts – if the Ube isn’t soft enough, or well cooked, then I still have a great accompaniment in the coconut.

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Yellow corn with fresh coconut chunks and Ube

My kids won’t touch Ube,  even though my five-year old proclaims that it is ‘like ice-cream’. But that’s no surprise, they don’t take to rich and creamy textured foods like custard or any ‘pap’. Ice-cream, yes but avocados, no. And this is definitely avocado’s first cousin.

The African Pear….. is an annual fruit. This fruit is about 7cm long and 3cm in diameter. It contains a leathery shelled stone surrounded by a pulpy pericarp about 5mm thick. This pericarp is butyraceous i.e. resembling or having the qualities of butter! It is this portion of the African Pear which is eaten, either raw or cooked to form a sort of “butter”.

The pulp is rich in oil and vitamins.

Interestingly, the annual harvesting of “ube” the African Pear, is concurrent with that of maize (or corn). Culturally, the appearance of ‘ube” signifies that harvest time for field crops has arrived!

So back to Ube – this long, hard purple fruit becomes edible when dipped for a few minutes in freshly boiled (hot) water, or grilled over hot coals. Notice the change in size, and colour in the photo below. The one on the left is raw, hard and uncooked. The one on the right has lightened in colour, and has plumped up. After 4-5 minutes, sometimes a bit longer, other times somewhat shorter, your Ube will be ready to eat.

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L: Uncooked Ube; R: Cooked Ube

The strong outer flesh softens, and the pulp turns to mush, which is reminiscent of creamy, slightly tart avocado flesh. I like it best well salted. With a corn of cob, I’ll often devour 3 or 4 Ube. The creamy green pulp isn’t liquid.

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To eat it, one plunges the fruit into one’s mouth and clamps teeth down.

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Teeth that meet seed.

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Sigh, I will be sad when the season comes to an end.

Though to be honest, I know something else will replace it. Will make me forget it in minutes. Who believed that I would survive after mango season? But hey, I did and am still here. I live to eat another fruit (in season)!