Exotic Garden Tour And Tasting

Bill and Lucinda Robertson established Princeville Botanical Gardens in 2004. The family-owned-and-operated business started offering small, guided tours in 2010. The Robertsons organically grow their diverse collection on 8.75 acres. There are nearly 400 specimens of canoe crops (brought here by the early Polynesian explorers), medicinal plants, food plants, rare and endangered flowers, and useful plants from around the world.

“The gardens are a shining example of how organic gardening can be done,”

Lucinda and Bill Robertson of Princeville Botanical Gardens Daniel Lane photos

Surinam cherry leaves are used as a fly repellant in Brazilian homes

The eight-ribbed cherry-like fruit has a thin skin with orange-red and very juicy flesh says tour guide Victoria Tewa Holloway.

There are two tours available. Both the two-and-a-half-hour tour and the three-hour tour include a leisurely walk through terraced gardens: Creek Valley, with 75 species of palms, and Sacred Valley, along Anini Stream. Guides make short stops and relay plant uses and medicinal properties. Guests sample honey harvested on the property. A mini chocolate workshop shows how Lucinda makes chocolate from cacao grown in the gardens and is followed by a tasting of chocolates from around the world.

Some of the gardens’ food and medicinal plants: Acai, achoite, allspice, atemoya, avocado, breadfruit, cacao, cassava, cinnamon, clove, coffee, katuk, kava, kukui, noni, Okinawan spinach, papaya, pomegranate, soursop, sugarcane, Surinam cherry, taro, vanilla.

SURINAM CHERRY

One of the things you’ll see on a Princeville Botanical Gardens tour is Surinam cherries. You won’t find them at the farmers markets, which is too bad because I love them, but there are a handful of farmers on Kaua’i who grow them.

Also known as Brazilian cherry or Cayenne cherry, the eight-ribbed cherry-like fruit has a thin skin with orange-red, juicy flesh. The fruit is distinctly acid and slightly bitter to sweet, with a touch of resin. There may be one fairly large, round seed or two or three smaller seeds.

The plant is native from Surinam, Guyana and French Guiana, to southern Brazil and Uruguay. It is frequently grown in Hawaii, Samoa, India and Ceylon as an ornamental plant and occasionally in tropical Africa, southern China and in the Philippines. There are two distinct types: the common bright-red and the rare dark-crimson to nearly black, which tends to be sweeter and less resinous. The fruit should be picked when they are so ripe as to fall into the hand at the lightest touch. Gathering must be done daily or even twice a day.

Season: Fruit develop and ripen quickly, only three weeks after the flowers open. The season varies with locality, but in many places the shrub bears fruit year round.

Tip: Leaves have been spread over the floors of Brazilian homes. When walked upon, they release pungent oil, which repels flies. Bark contains 20 to 28.5 percent tannin and can be used for treating leather. Flowers are a rich source of pollen for honeybees but yield little or no nectar.

Preparation: The acidity of Surinam cherries pairs well with tropical fruit and is exceeded only by tamarind and passion fruit. I enjoy eating ripe fruit out of hand. But for table use, they are best slit vertically on one side, spread open to release the seed(s), and kept chilled for two or three hours to dispel most of their resinous character.

If seeded and sprinkled with sugar before placing in the refrigerator, they will become mild and sweet, exuding juice. Served this way, they work very well in place of strawberries. They are an excellent addition to fruit cups, salads, pudding, ice cream, and can be made into jam, jelly, relish, pickles, pie, sauce or preserved whole in syrup. Brazilians ferment the juice into vinegar or wine, and sometimes prepare distilled liquor. Fruit and juice develop a bitter taste on standing so the cherries should be used shortly after they’re picked.

Health benefits: One cup of Surinam cherries contains 57 calories, 52 percent of our daily requirement of vitamin A and 76 percent of vitamin C. In Brazil, a leaf infusion is taken as a stomachic, febrifuge (decrease a fever) and astringent. In Surinam, a leaf decoction is consumed as a cold remedy and, in combination with lemongrass, as a febrifuge.

Princeville Botanical Gardens: For information, reservations and pricing, visit PrincevilleBotanicalGardens.com or call 634-5505. Tours are available every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

SURINAM CHERRY SAUCE

This recipe is adapted from “Fruits of Hawaii,” published by University of Hawaii Press. This makes a thin sauce, but can be thickened by simmering longer. Yields 1 pint.

* 1 pound Surinam cherries
* 1/2 cup water
* 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups sugar

Wash cherries and remove blossom ends. Add water and simmer 20 minutes over low heat. Remove from heat and press through a course sieve to remove seeds. Serve at room temperature on meat or poultry.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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