Cast of Players
Island Fruit Remedy features an ensemble of characters unlike any that have appeared in my previous work. Most of them have their roots in the botanical world. In order to make the IFR experiment a bit more digestible, I offer this “Cast of Players,” in which the underlying essences of the novel’s principal and supporting characters are revealed.
The connection between the character and the edible counterpart will, in some cases, be obvious. Guava, Fig and Cashew would be hard to mistake. Players like Tamarind and Pumelo may be less clear. And there are fruits from the tropics like Annona and Guanabana that may be unknown to readers in northern climes. Using the “Cast of Players,” it should be easy to identify the source for each character, along with the qualities that have inspired, and hopefully infuse, each of them.
While the inside story on the characters in most novels is the author’s secret, I have no special claim on the players in IFR. They are all freely available to anyone with a desire to sample them. I had a fine time doing that during the writing, and I hope some of my readers will do the same. What’s the point of inventing characters, and struggling to give life to them, when such exotic, fragrant and distinctive ones spring naturally from the earth?
The images are from the paintings of Ramón Alejandro, a Cuban-born, self-taught artist who lives in Miami and has spent his life with tropical fruit. He believes, and so do I, that it’s a glorious feast. We hope you enjoy the basket.
September 1, 2020
Played by: Ramón Alejandro’s archetype of male identity. Expert at harvesting, opening and exhibiting fruit in a variety of natural and man-made settings. Joining the production from a long run on canvases in Paris, Mexico City and Miami.
Played by: The Mexican scorpion Centruroides suffusus. This intimidating invertebrate is a native of Mazatlán and inflicts stings that are highly toxic to man. With ancestry dating back 300 million years, the scorpion is one of the few of earth’s creatures to have a demonstrated immunity to nuclear radiation. It is able to digest metals and incorporate them into the makeup of its stinger, which may be up to 30 percent metallic. While adult suffusus females generally measure 5-9 cm in length, their size is often exaggerated by fearful victims.
Played by: The fruit of Carica papaya. The plant is large and arborescent, up to 12 m tall. Its trunk is straight, smooth and branchless. The fruit, produced solely by females, appears at the top, out of reach. It is thin-skinned, with a fleshy interior and an open cavity containing a profusion of round seeds. Owing to its flavor, color and fragrance, many consider the papaya the queen of tropical produce. In Cuba, the name “fruta bomba” has supplanted “papaya,” as the latter has passed into popular usage as slang for female genitalia.
Played by: The fruit of tropical trees from the genus Mangifera. The tree is rooted deeply, with a tap up to 8 m long, and networks of feeder roots. Attractive specimens are used for landscaping. The mango fruits are easy to retrieve, as they hang from long, stringlike stems. The skin is brightly colored with yellows, pinks, reds and greens when ripe. The odor and appearance of the flesh is pleasing, but it can be fibrous and tart, and the edible portion may be difficult to separate from the overly large pit.
Played by: The fruit of the coconut palm, Cocos nucifera. Coconuts are prized as much for their milk as their flesh. Oils derived from the pulp are used in many beauty products, including hair conditioners, lotions and lip balms. Because of its hardness, a falling coconut can be dangerous. The three depressions in the base of the shell give it a simian appearance.
Played by: The fruit of the bromeliad, Ananas comosus. Its rough and prickly exterior, reminiscent of the pine cone, led to its common name, “pineapple.” The plants were cultivated by the Caribs centuries before the arrival of Europeans. On his second voyage, Columbus discovered the fruit being used in a native feast that included kettles full of human body parts. The fruit is juicy and extremely sweet, but not for delicate palates. It contains bromelain, an enzyme that has been used as a meat tenderizer and can make the tongue and mouth bleed.
Played by: The surface, mirror-polished, in which a patient may get a reflected glimpse of obsessions, delusions and truths that might otherwise be obscure.
Played by: The stone fruits of the Melicoccus bijugatus tree, locally known as mamoncillo. The fruits grow in clusters on the tree’s branches. They can be difficult to harvest, because the trees are large and reach 25 m in height. Most often, the teeth are used to crack open the brittle shell and retrieve the peach-colored flesh. It is gelatinous and clings to a cream-colored seed. The taste of the fruit is sweet and sour.
Played by: The fruiting pods of the tamarind tree, Tamarindus indica. The pods are 10 to 16 cm in length and hang gracefully from the boughs. As they mature, the fawn-brown shell becomes thin and brittle. The pulp of the fruit is burgundy-brown and mixed with glossy seeds. Tamarind is usually sampled in small quantities or used as a flavoring, as the flesh has a sharp, sweet-sour taste. The tree is exclusively tropical and easily damaged by frost. Valued as an ornamental and often cultivated as a dwarf species.
Played by: Fruit of Psidium guajava. Usually delivered to market firm and highly acidic, requiring further maturing. Once ripe, guavas give when pressure is applied. The fruit’s scent is heady upon opening, filling the air with tropical fragrance. Guavas with pink flesh are especially flavorful and make a savory juice.
Played by: Fruit of Citrus maxima. This is the predecessor of the grapefruit and other modern citrus hybrids. The flesh is dry, the juice encapsulated in tear-shaped vesicles. When it bursts in the mouth, it has a pure, clean taste. Nutritional benefits, which include support for the immune system and heart and bone health, make the pumelo an important helpmate to man. Its thick skin and membranes are an obstacle to retrieving the flesh but make the fruit hardy and unlikely to bruise, even with rough treatment.
Played by: The large fruit of Pouteria sapota. Mamey (mah-MAY) as it is known in Cuba and south Florida is ovoid, with a large glossy pit. The fruit’s rough brown skin belies its smooth, custard-like pulp and the vivid hues of its flesh when ripe. With a modest sweetness, the overtones on the palate are complex, including hints of vanilla, nutmeg and clove, prompting admirers to compare the fruit to bakery confections.
Played by: The fruit of the West Indian pumpkin, Cucurbita moschata or calabaza. The plant is a creeping vine, and it fruits in winter. The flesh is usually orange, with a range of textures and tastes depending on the cultivar. The calabaza is chameleonic, exhibiting a variety of characteristics depending on the season or circumstance. Cultivars have been much manipulated by man.
Played by: The fruit of the slow-growing evergreen, Manilkara zapota. It has rough, tan-colored skin, and the flesh is grainy, the color of earth. When ripe, the fruit is soft and sweet, with a subtle cinnamon fragrance. Its seeds are black and shiny. The sapodilla tree is not particular about climate, accepting both damp and arid conditions. In addition to being cultivated for its unassuming fruit, the latex of the tree was used to make chewing gum.
Played by: Fruit of Anacardium occidentale, commonly known as marañón or cashew. The cashew tree is a large evergreen, growing to a height of 15 m. Its fruit varies in color but is most commonly tan, flesh-colored or red. The pulp is soft and when squeezed will produce a refreshing juice. The seeds, or cashew “nuts” as they are called, are distinctive and flavorful.
Played by: Fruits of cultivars propagated from the genus Musa, or banana. The plants are without woody parts and are technically herbs, not trees. Fruits hang in bunches and are elongated, with a turgid appearance that belies a soft starchy interior. Modern cultivars are seedless. The banana is controversial in feminist circles because of its shape, its reputation as a superior food, and the manner in which the raw fruit is typically consumed.
Played by: Guanabana, the local name for the fruit of a broadleaf evergreen tree native to Cuba. It is large and heart-shaped with green skin and small spike-shaped protrusions. When ripe, the flesh is white and soft and easily bruised. The pulp is segmented and has glossy black seeds. Guanabana is reputedly an effective remedy for stress and nervous disorders, and has been used by medicine men to treat heart disease and to purge the body of toxins.
Played by: The false fruit of the deciduous fig tree, Ficus carica. Both flowers and fruit grow within the wrinkled syconium, a hollow fleshy structure. The fig is prominent in ancient culture, serving as both a food source and a symbol, usually of shame and degeneration. After the fall, Adam was clad in a fig leaf, and when a fig tree was barren, Jesus cursed it.
Played by: The fruit of Abelmoschus esculentus, sometimes referred to as “ladies’ fingers,” is fibrous and packed with seeds. It exudes a slime which some find unsavory. The slime can be reduced by soaking the fruit in vinegar before cooking. Because its taste is subtle, okra is often matched as a companion with foods of stronger character.
Played by: The fruit of Annona squamosa, or “custard apple.” A small tree, 4–10 m in height, Annona bears fruit that is lopsided, with a lobed greenish rind that darkens at maturity. When ripe, it is soft and falls to pieces, dividing into asymmetric sectors. The pulp is thick, creamy-white and custardlike, with a somber sweetness.
Played by: A .38 caliber snub-nosed handgun manufactured in South America. The gun has a short neck and an oversized butt. Not known for its accuracy, the gun has a deserved reputation for its recoil.
Played by: Bitter melon, the fruit of Momordica charantia. It is produced by a vine that grows to 4 m in height. The fruit is elongate with a bumpy exterior, green at first, turning orange when ripe. The seeds are scarlet. In many quarters, bitter melon is considered an invasive and its fruit is viewed with distaste. But it remains a popular ingredient in Indian and Chinese cuisine.
Played by: Ramón Alejandro’s god of island fruits. With its understanding of growth, its skill in flight and its papaya glans, the god is well-equipped to look out for humanity’s interests. Seeds are its eyes, seeds emblazon its chest, and its mission is sowing. Blessed are the island dwellers who see, through the jungle of green and ripening fruit, the Sower’s bold and kindly intentions.