Botany of Caribbean Fruits and Vegetables
botanist Alix Monro and assistant Fern Lewis explore Caribbean foods available from Brixton market.
Part one.
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Caribbean Fruits and Vegetables at the London Natural History Museum, part 1
Hello everybody welcome to our Darwin centre events for today, my name is Sharn and I am going to be the host of this event, I would like to welcome our audience here in the studio, and welcome our web audience also. Today in conjunction with Black History Month we’re going to be looking at some of the cultural diversity we have here in London, in Britain, and especially London. And we are going to be looking at some of the fruits and veg that you can find on our doorstep which have been brought over from the Caribbean.
Now, with us today we have Alix Monro who is a botanist here at the Natural History Museum and also lives in Brixton, and we have Fern Lewis who (is) from Trinidad and is very familiar with lots of these fruits and vegetables that we are going to show you. Alex Manro went down to Brixton market to find some of these fruits and vegetables to show you today.

Alex how long have you been going to Brixton market to for your fruit and veg?
About ten years, I have lived in Brixton for 10 years.

And all these things are they all imported or are any of them grown here in Britain?
They are all imported and none of it was grown in a cold climate like ours, they need a lot of heat.

Nothing can grow here at all?
What we don’t have there which maybe we should have got is sweet potato which you can grow here in the summer, but you can’t really grow that in the winter here.

Because of course normal potatoes were introduced here weren’t they from South America?
Originally they come from the Andes, and the Andes being very high it’s very cold and freezes every night so they are used to our climate, but most of the fruit and vegetables in (grown in) Britain are low level species.

I must say you are brave because I like to think I am experimental with what I eat but I am intimidated by some of the stores (fruits and veg), I see these things and I’ve got no idea what they are and I’ve got no idea what to do with them, and I guess it’s fear of not knowing about them. But Fern you know about lots of these things here and how to cook them and prepare them. Can we first talk about this one (cassava)… Is this the one that’s got cyanide in the skin?
The skin has got quite a lot of cyanide as well, especially the ones that are originally from south America, but now it’s (they are) grown in Africa, it’s the main starch staple in Africa now, cassava . And the reason why they grow this one which is very bitter and has a lot of cyanide in the skin is because it has so much cyanide all the pests all the insect pests and other things that try and eat it in the field and in the stores, they die, so it has its own natural pesticide.
So its quite useful. I don’t like cyanide (in my food though). And what can you do with it, how do you prepare it? Fern.
You just peel it, you boil it, you can put it in soup, or you can just have it as a side dish, instead of having potatoes you can just have that (cassava) as your main dish.

I have actually tried it before without realising in another guise, because I lived in Spain central America for a while, and I know it as a different name, I know it a Yucca, but it is the same thing isn’t it? Quite a few of these things (fruits and vegetables) therefore have different names depending on where you are in the world, is that right?
Yes it is. As you know the Caribbean is made up of many different countries, a lot of the fruits (and vegetables) we have by the same name, a lot of them (are known by a local language), this in particular (cassava) has one international name.
You call it cassava as well?
Yes we do.

And how about this one, this one looks similar to cassava, is it?
No that’s yam, a tropical vine, and there are many, many kinds of yam. You get yams in Africa, there’s yams in south America, yams from Asia, and they are all different but they all look (the same) and are used in the same way.

When you say a vine (how) does it grow?
It can grow quite high up, I think it can grow several meters up. Naturally in the wild it would grow in forests.

Does it grow from a tree?
No that’s the root, that’s the tuber.