Plants that made the journey
HUGHESVILLE – Before supermarkets, most people had to pick their plants and prepare their own food from scratch as was told to several youngsters who attended a summer program on ancient foods featured at the Hughesville Library earlier this month. Presenter, Helen Grosso, a Hughesville resident and avid Master Gardener demonstrated various foods that have come to the United States from ancient civilizations. The youth got to taste and sample them as they learned about some of their names and their origins.
For example, the guava fruit has been around for so long its place of origin is uncertain, but is believed to be from South America. We know it arrived in Hawaii in the early 1800’s Grosso told the kids as she gave them some samples of guava jelly to taste. She explained how the early civilizations would make the guava paste or jelly by first picking the fruit, then drying it and adding arrow root as a thickener. “This took them several days to prepare from hand picking to boiling, and there was no refrigeration,” she explained. “Boy that was a lot of work,” said Gina Budman from Hughesville.
These foods have traveled far and wide added Grosso while cutting up kiwi fruit for them to sample. The kiwi fruit only arrived here from China about ten years ago, she said, even though the fruit is over 2,000 years old. Its original name is Chinese gooseberries, “but would you really eat a fruit with that name?” Grosso asked them. Thus, the name was changed in the 1950’s to ‘kiwi’ but is actually an edible berry of a cultivar group maintained by propagation.
Other ancient foods sampled by the children were peaches, olives, garlic, cucumbers, apples, mangoes, black-eyed peas and peanuts. These plants have a long history. For example the olives were carried over here by soldiers in little pouches from Jerusalem. And garlic, originally from Asia, was used as an antiseptic in World War I and II. Although a staple in the Mediterranean diet, garlic is now a part of all cultures. It is a cold weather crop and can be planted in the fall to be ready for spring. Wild garlic was discovered in America by the Indians.
Some plants such as garlic, lemons and red chili peppers were used to ward off evil spirits. Cucumbers, that are 3,000 years old, came from missionaries in France who cultivated them in the 9th Century, and then came to America in the 16th Century.
Mangoes are a delightful fruit and grow from a tree with a long stem that is 3 to 4 ft. long. “This is a super fruit,” Grosso told them because it is high in nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants. The fruit started in Asia, then spread to India, then Africa and then brought to the United States from British troops. They grow well here in the warmer climates, but mainly come from South America. Mango trees can grow up to 65 feet high. The trees can be 300 years old and still produce fruit.
“Wow, fruit is like nature’s candy,” said Olivia Strother from Hughesville. The children ended the program by making apple smiles and peanut persons with the help of Master Gardener assistant, Monica Konyar. The apples came from China and today there are many varieties offered in the supermarket, and the peanuts were domesticated in Peru where they were discovered in prehistoric graves. “The peanuts are one of our most useful foods today,” Grosso concluded.