December 20, 2014
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Ahead of the Curve: Hungry? Just Look Around

There’s plenty to eat if you know what’s out there.

Illustration by Adam McCauley

 

White sugar-sand beaches. Cotton candy clouds floating through blood orange sunsets. Sometimes Southwest Florida looks good enough to eat.

And, technically, it is. Urban foraging is all the rage, with cities like Philadelphia and Seattle planning edible forests and parks. But we don’t need a park from which to graze. This is the tropics; low-hanging fruit is literally everywhere. Here’s how to turn your next evening stroll into a trip to the all-you-can-eat buffet.

1. Forbidden fruits: Obviously, lemon, lime and mango trees abound, but before you stuff your pockets, know this isn’t a fruit free-for-all. Anything borne by trees on private property belongs to the owner of that property. While you may cut a branch that overhangs into your yard, technically you should return the fruit on that branch to your neighbor. However, fruit growing in public spaces is free for the taking.

2. Coconut water: The latest trend with the Lululemon-wearing set, coconut water is high in natural electrolytes, such as potassium. Look for young, green coconuts, which yield the most juice, and use caution when breaking through the tough outer husk. (Safety note: Because many palms are injected with chemicals to prevent disease, it’s best to ask the owners whether their trees have been treated.)

3. Cocoplum: These shrubs, which are often used in landscaping, bear sweet, dark purple, olive-shaped berries. Shea Porta, the Garden-to-Table program coordinator at the Naples Botanical Garden, says that the stones inside the fruit have an almost almond-like flavor and, when roasted, are a favorite snack in the Caribbean.

4. Hibiscus: Dry brilliant red hibiscus blossoms and steep them in hot water with a touch of sugar for a zingy tea.

5. Sea lettuce: This bright green seaweed is considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. Pluck it off jetties at low tide, rinse or soak (a several-hours-long bath mellows out the ocean-y flavor) and add to soups or marinate with rice vinegar and sesame oil for a chilled salad.

6. Sea grapes: The fruit from these ubiquitous shrubs is naturally high in pectin, so it’s perfect for making jelly. South Seminole Farm and Nursery in Casselberry, Fla., gave us this recipe: Harvest sea grapes by shaking the clusters—individual grapes ripen at different times, and the ripe ones will fall off the vine. Wash thoroughly, then boil with an equal amount of water until the skins slip off when mashed with a potato masher. Strain through a jelly bag or a few layers of cheesecloth, but do not press. Boil extruded juice with an equal part of water for another 15 minutes. Place prepared juice in a large pan and turn burner up to high heat. Add a cup of sugar for each cup of sea grape juice. Boil rapidly to 228 degrees. Pour into prepared and sterilized jars, seal and store.

 

400+ The number of mango varietals. With commercial farming and natural selection, the number keeps growing.

 

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