Evaluating the usefulness of the plants in your yard is a big part of permaculture; once you understand what each plant does, you will know if it is useful either to you, to wildlife or to the environment, or if it is causing harm. There are many food-producing plants that we think of as weeds or as ornamentals. Always, always, always be sure before you pop something in your mouth. So by identifying your plants you can add to your diet, and if something is already successfully growing in your yard and you can use it, fantastic!
You’ve probably walked past them, or even looked askance at the dropped fruit without realizing. Also called Jelly Palms, the pindo palm is a common landscape tree for drought-tolerant hot areas. The fronds look very pokey, but are rather soft. That is a relief because once you’ve tasted the ripe fruit you’ll be thrashing through the fronds trying to pick more of them.
Pindo palms (Butia capitata) are called Jelly Palms because the fruit has a lot of pectin in them. The trees are also called Wine Palms because you can make a cloudy wine from the fruit. But then, mankind has proven that you can make alcoholic beverages from just about anything.
The fruit is small and fiberous with a big seed, and falls to the ground when very ripe. They taste amazing. The burst of flavor is as if a pineapple and an apricot had a little yellowish baby. The best way to eat them is to gently chew the whole thing and swallow the juice, then spit out the fiber and seed.
We have two jelly palms at Finch Frolic Garden, only because they didn’t have identification we didn’t really know what they were. At the beginning of this year Miranda and I were evaluating the garden plants using the Three Positives rule (where everything in the garden has to give you three positive things. If it doesn’t, then it should be turned into hugelkultur or mulch). Several trees were repurposed and we were eyeing the palms. These palms are squat and short, not slim and tall like the very similar Queen palms. Fortunately for them, and as it turned out, for us, the trunks were too thick for my small chainsaw so we didn’t remove them with the others. This threat seemed to work because they set fruit on long stalks. We hesitantly tried one… and then just about ran each other over trying to get more!
Queen palms also produce an edible fruit that is sweeter, but is only edible when very ripe.
The fallen ripe fruit can attract bees and wasps because, well, everyone wants some. We waited until the stalks were just about completely ripe then cut them off and left them in a paper bag. The fruit then ripened and dropped off in the house where we could have them all.
Most of what I know about the Pindo Palm comes from the website Eat the Weeds by Greene Deane.
We cleaned them and froze them. Now we’re making Pindo Palm Jelly. Or maybe Jelly Palm Jelly, which sounds better.
Freezing and thawing the fruit actually helps break down some of the fiber and release juices, and makes them much easier to pit. The pits are high in oil, so advice for cooking the fruit whole says the jelly can pick up bitter flavor from the seeds. We sat with trays laden with cutting boards, a knife and bowls and pitted them. Yes, this is how we spend our evenings when I’m not out dancing, processing fruit and watching a movie or reruns of the Bob Newhart show or something. Yep.
The thawed fruit was easy to push away from the seed, so the process went very quickly although our fingers were pretty cold from the fruit.
We covered the pitted fruit with water and cooked it for about an hour, then strained out the fruit. There isn’t a lot of pulp because of all the fiber. We used the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s recipe which used a lot of sugar, but the juice is so tart that it needed it.
What we got was a beautiful jelly that,despite the natural and added pectin was fairly loose. The benefit was that it can be used as a syrup as well. While the flavor of the jelly isn’t quite as astonishing as the fresh fruit, the tart tropical flavor is very good.
So walk around your weeds and trees and identify them, read up on them, and perhaps you can find a treasure in your yard as we have!
(We’ll be selling Jelly Palm Jelly at our annual Marketplace here at Finch Frolic Garden on Sat. Nov. 19th, 2016)