Nigeria’s Wet Season Produce: May/June

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.

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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.

Rainy #PortHarcourt, #Nigeria! just another tropical storm and we're  all drenched

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.

#cucumbers as #fruit not #vegetables

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.

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Sea almond/Ebelebo Tree

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Eating the milky seed is a delight.

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Corn

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.

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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!

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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.

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The coconut is a perfect partner.

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Coconut

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.

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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.

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The son and I take turns. It’s not the tastiest of drinks but I feel healthier for drinking it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 use it too in sauces, from my peanut butter dipping sauce to my Indian tomato sauces and biriyanis and Thai curries.

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!

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Shaddock

It also seems to be shaddock season. But I know citruses persist all year round. Shaddock. Pomelo. Pink grapefruit.

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There’s something seductive, exciting about fruit in the red spectrum to my palate, from strawberries to raspberries, rhubarb and pink grapefruit.

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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.

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My children have no problems eating this up, with the copious layer of sweetness.

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]

24 Comments

  1. I live in Florida and we are now in our rainy season also. Probably not as bad as yours….but the 3 weeks straight we have of it all day everyday (instead of just the normal summer afternoon thunderstorms) is enough to drive me batty!

    I loved seeing you make homemade coconut milk. You (as usual) make it sound SO easy. Always love reading your blog!

  2. Still to early for our corn but I share in your joy at a good cob. Would you believe that I like to salt my grapefruit?

  3. All looks wonderful….have a wonderful trip back to Holland

  4. Brings back memories of cars floating away during the rains in Saudi Arabia. No concession was made by the drivers for the conditions – they just drove as they normally did! You made me want to eat that corn.

  5. A grumpy Ozoz. I found myself smiling and identifying and wishing you’d not reined yourself in, but let the grumpiness of the season take over your authorial voice. There are just some moments when I want to write an utterly p****d off post, you know? It’s never fun for the one doing the writing, but always hilarious to read! And there’s a catharsis in it, too, to go with the season’s treasures of sea almonds (lovely name) and corn and coconut–about which we shall have to confer and conspire sometime soon.

    • Oh Deepa….that one is coming! :-)!! I am struggling between enjoying the fruits of the season and appreciating the rains that make it possible. The classic dilemma eh? Oh yes, please lets do something with coconuts! You’re the best.

  6. Ohhh, I feel your pain with the mosquitoes!! They drive me mad too! It is winter here and the mornings are FRIGID!! Thankfully it warms up a bit during the day. 🙂 We are over the mid-winter hump though, so Spring IS getting closer. HOORAY! 🙂 I love the looks and sounds of that corn. Delish!!

  7. I hope the rain lets up soon dear Oz. I too have memories of wet season in Malaysia, some parts had it worse than others. My dad was stationed on the East Coast where the wet season was terrible. I remember hanging clothes indoors and in a desperate bid for clean underthings, we took to trying to dry them with a hairdryer (busting the hairdryer in the process!) 🙂

    I’ve seen the sea almond trees that grown wild here, but I never realised the fruit was edible. We were always told not to eat it! I wonder if it’s the same species, and if it is, I’m going to bite into one next time 🙂

    Thanks for the sharing all the lovely produce with us.

    • Its going to be a while Shaz but I’ll hang in here. Thanks sweetie. I love the ‘dryer’ story – remind me not to share that with my kids, ok?

      When I was growing up, we did what we called ‘towel-drying’ – putting everything in a towel, rolling it up and wringing it so hard….then letting the towel absorb the water! Boy, those days. It made it more fun cause we all basically would do this one after the other, my sisters and I.

  8. Your story of wet trainers brought back so many memories. Loved that particular anecdote!

    Of course, you are always introducing me to fruits I’ve never heard of like, ebelebo. So fascinating.

    It is summer here in D.C. Tis the season for berries so berry picking is a fun past-time in this area. I’m just glad the sun is out after a tough winter and wet spring.

    Hope the family is well

    A.

    • Oh berries……I still have bags of frozen strawberries from when they were in season in Nigeria, back in January.

      You made me smile with being able to relate to ‘wet trainers’! Everyone is well.

      Enjoy your summer X X

  9. I love your pictures and stories..beautiful! Here in Switzerland, strawberries are in season…unfortunately this spring has been one of the wettest in history and probably because of that, the strawberries I have tasted so far are all watery and tasteless! Pity because it’s one of my favorite fruit. Soon it will be cherry time..very excited about that!

    • Thanks Caroline. Watery strawberries are definitely not a delight. Couldn’t you have some delicious fondue instead, with the soft, melty swiss cheeses? I would love to be there for cherry time – I loveeeeeeeeeeee cherries. Save me some!!

  10. I always find something I’ve never seen before on your blog! Thank you for this wonderful tour of flavors. Here in the netherlands strawberries are in season so it’s like living in a strawberry dream at the moment. Also last week harring came in! (I guess you remember Hollandse Neuwe)
    Jelous about the corn. With all this GMO nonsence in US and Europe I’ve been afraid to touch corn for years…..

    • Alla, I’m glad I’ll be in the Netherlands soon….to enjoy the gorgeous strawberries for myself!

      I’ll have to pass on the Harring but I’ll have to sneak a trip to Leiden – to walk around the market!

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