Momones: a fruit memoir
Some fruits are worth climbing trees to enjoy. A fruit from my childhood that is not widely known in the United States but is considered a delicacy in the tropical regions of Colombia and Venezuela are called momones. Momones grow in clusters on tall upright trees. The fruits have a tough green rind that is torn or cut open to reveal a peach colored core that has a somewhat wet, gelatinous flesh that covers a large seed. The flesh is more or less sucked off the seed which is then discarded. The edible portion is sweet but tart enough to pucker the mouth. It is difficult to liken the flavor to another fruit; perhaps it is bit like a combination of lemon and cantaloupe but with a grape-like texture. Suffice it to say that momones are one of those taste sensations residing in my childhood memories that I treasure most. Unfortunately I have been unable to revisit this taste treat because these fruits are rarely available in our markets. I don’t know why they are not exported more often, whether it’s a problem of supply, demand, difficulty of cultivation or transportation.
My first home was near the equator at sea-level in Amazonian rainforest. Prowess among my friends could be demonstrated in several ways including running, bicycle riding, spinning tops, shooting marbles and climbing trees. Therefore climbing trees to gather fruit had a double reward. Momone trees typically had a vertical slender trunk with few low hanging branches. It required a shimmying technique using both hands to grasp the tree along with both legs. When the fruits were in season, my friends and I loved to climb the trees and reach out with one hand to grasp a cluster and throw it down to a partner. Then we would sit down to enjoy the feast. The jungle was not always so paradisiacal, however, and concealed particular dangers, a lesson that I learned the hard way one day as a I reached around a momone tree trunk. As I began my climb, I put my hand directly upon a stinging caterpillar that was just beginning to wrap itself into a cocoon. Its sting was incendiary, painful, much worse than nettles, and I had fully grasped it expecting a solid tree trunk.
Instantly I howled with pain and without pausing to explain, ran home as fast as my short legs could carry me, heart racing, my wounded hand rapidly swelling and outstretched in front of me. I burst in the door at home crying. By now not only had my hand swelled to twice its normal size my arm was also puffing up like a balloon. My mother leapt into action and drove me to the company clinic. By the time we reached the clinic, my arm had doubled in size all the way to my shoulder. We hurriedly recounted to the doctor what had caused my horrifying plight which he immediately recognized. He put me in an oxygen tent to avert the possibility that my throat would swell shut as well thereby cutting off my breath, and he injected me with some sort of anti-venom. It was my good fortune that this doctor knew his business. I lived to tell the tale. I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. Somehow it reminds me of the Garden of Eden, but I am not sure why I was required to pay such a price, but then I am sure Adam and Eve must have wondered as well what the big deal was as he labored in the fields and she in childbirth.