I can’t call it summer here, for it is always warm in Nigeria and mostly sunny. What I can say is the rains are here. In full force and my frustrations rise to a head about this time. Every year.
Apparently, I do not learn. If I did things would be different.
For I know the season of wet. Wet. Wet.
The season when white school trainers washed on a Friday afternoon are dry on the outside on a Sunday night but soaked still on the inside. These trainers have been like signposts the entire weekend. I’ve walked past them a thousand times, thinking of how clean and pretty they look. How nice and white the sole is, rising gently to upper body. How the bright pink Nike tick looks stunning, an accent on a blank, embracing canvas.
Its about this time every year that I toss and turn and wonder if perhaps I need a clothes dryer. A dishwasher and a million dollars to meet all my electronic (and more) demands.
Some mornings start off with silver skies and wire sponge clouds , the air thick with mist, falling gently like a gossamer curtain. It leaves your hair damp, your skin misted and your mind in a tizzy while the clouds glisten and shine – every colour on the ‘dark’ spectrum from grey to black. Other mornings see my day lit up with quilted clouds of white, feathery down, pulled up over blue sheets of sky.
I don’t know which one gets to me more – the constant ‘damp’ or the freshly ‘made’ mosquitoes. Flying and buzzing with such agility, I want to hunt them down. Every single last one of them.
Instead I keep doors shut and command guests ‘in or out – please don’t leave the front door open. Thanks’. I’m not always this rude. This annoyed. Or annoying.
I blame the rain.
The fruit stands are full of green – garden eggs and cucumbers. For a brief moment, too brief for my capture, rose apples graced the stands. I hope they return so I can share a bit of them with you.
It is also corn season again and my cravings are not being satisfied.
My first cobs of the season are not ‘fresh’. I grudgingly eat 4 of the 6 cobs…because I am desperate. But there isn’t any enjoyment.
Still I hanker after the women and girls with basins on their heads filled with freshly boiled corn. I don’t stop to buy any though for various reasons. Rain. Too far from the seller to shout out. And so on. I try again and this time I am rewarded.
Ebelebo, Sea-Almond Fruit
The falling rain lulls me into a trance of the past. When I was young and carefree. When we raced each other and plucked ‘ebelebo’ from trees. Ebelebo being the fruit of the sea almond tree, common in tropical climes from Indonesia to India. Also called ‘fruit’ in parts of Nigeria by children who didn’t grow up in Warri where I ‘made’ my childhood.
The trees stand tall, like umbrellas. And the fruit drops around its feet. The fruit – thin flesh around a hard nut. Some nuts are white, some are a gorgeous magenta. The colour making no difference to how sweet or sour the fruit is.
I love to pick them up and rub them against my dress or shorts. ‘Washing’ them on the fabric because I cant be bothered to wait for running water. I want to chomp on the fruit and I want it now.
Sometimes, I crack the ‘cork-like’ nut to get to the real almond-like nut inside. Its hard to extract the sea almond whole as my smashing techniques aren’t refined.
Eating the milky seed is a delight.
Again I say, the rain is unbelievable. In half an hour we have 6 inches and counting. The droplets do a dance, bouncing up and down! I am safe under the canopy of the car. Once we move off, it pounds the roof of the car so hard it would be scary if I wasn’t used to it.
The rain is destabilizing. New rivers have sprung up. Muddy streams of rain water. Funny enough traffic appears light and as we drive on, the car is buoyed by the water, lifted up.
One feels the fury of the rain, addressing some offense, redressing the balance. Why I want to know are you so angry? What have we done to offend you? Why lash out so angrily?
I don’t think coconuts have seasons but they seem more relevant when the rains come, relevant for corn’s sake.
I don’t know much about harvesting them but breaking a coconut is easy. Its my chosen accompaniment to boiled corn.
But first a story on native sense – wisdom that cannot be purchased in the market.
With all the rains, I can’t wait to get home, into my kitchen where freshly boiled corn awaits. I’m apprehensive though for the last cobs have been far from fresh. Chewy, tasteless and fit only for the refuse heap.
This time though, things are different. I sink my teeth into a cob and my mouth is filled with soft, creamy kernels which fall off effortlessly.
Shock. Joy. Finally good corn!
My nanny and I chat and I commend her native wisdom, for she tells me she purchased the corn from women who roast it for a living. They are wise and knowledgeable on how to select the best corn and she is wise to suss that out! Leaving me happy.
Sweet boiled corn is a treat in season. One polishes off the kernel and sucks on the bare cob, like candy. For there is lots of juice and sweet nectar to be obtained, especially if the cooking water was well-salted.
The coconut is a perfect partner.
I sometimes perform a ritual of shaking it to see how much ‘water’ there is before looking for the one eye that can give me passage to it.
I poke the three flat patches, darker than the body of the nut. One gives and I’m in. I rotate my chopstick so I have a hole big enough to suck up the coconut water.
The son and I take turns. It’s not the tastiest of drinks but I feel healthier for drinking it.
When we are done I proceed to break the coconut. I hit it all round with my mallet. All round, tapping, tapping, tapping. Till I’m sure every inch has been covered. This hard massage will make it easier for the flesh to come away from the shell.
I up the tempo and deliver one hard blow – the shell cracks and it breaks open, showing off its fine white flesh. I repeat the hard knocks and I end up with 3 large pieces.
Using a small knife, I start at one edge inserting my knife between flesh and shell and then gently twisting and lifting, the flesh comes away clean.
I’m done. I know we won’t be able to eat it all and so I decide to make some coconut milk, which will be frozen.
I ‘m thinking of the coconut rice we had many Sundays growing up. My mom knew how to make it right, with diced carrots and onions . And green bell peppers which always went in last so they kept their brightness.
My children aren’t fans of the rice. They find it too sweet. And though they are sugar fans, they don’t subscribe. I try still!
I chop up the coconut into small pieces, roughly inch wide. Into the blender it goes. I add a healthy pinch of salt and some more-than-warm water to cover the coconut pieces. I blitz repeatedly till the liquid turns milky. I believe the salt aids the coconuttiness as does warm water.
I know it wont be perfectly white for I haven’t removed the brown base of the flesh. It’s the way we’ve always done it.
I drain off the liquid leaving the ‘chaff’. I add more water to the chaff and blend again, drain off the liquid which is thinner. I repeat the sequence for the third and final time and I have 2 liters of coconut milk!
There’s finely chopped fresh coconut. I’ve extracted most but it all of its essence. Sometimes I keep the leftovers and toss them in a cake flavored with lime zest and juice. My freezers though are bursting and so I discard it sadly.
Coconut milk. Homemade. At a fraction of the price!
It also seems to be shaddock season. But I know citruses persist all year round. Shaddock. Pomelo. Pink grapefruit.
I want to make a Thai salad with Nigerian influences. I’m thinking prawns and roasted plantains, with lots of cilantro. And chilli peppers. I’ll ‘supreme’ the shaddock and toss it in a sweet dressing. But I haven’t done it yet.
Instead I’ve done something that reminds me of my father – sugared grapefruit.
I’m thinking someday too, I’ll make a cake – with caramelised grapefruit and sugar at the base. The topping will be a Victoria sponge batter. I’ll top it with whipped cream. Or serve it on the side.
And it won’t matter what the seasons are.
For its Deliciousness is that counts .
What’s in season where you are? Pray, tell.[wpurp-searchable-recipe]Nigeria’s Wet Season Produce: May/June – – – [/wpurp-searchable-recipe]