"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Monday, 11 August 2008

Leaf of the Day: Tamarind Pod

Superstition and the power of suggestion are strange things. Once you know something it is hard to 'unknow' it especially, if it is an unsettling fact.
The innocent Tamarind is an unprepossessing looking fruit...very. I don't think I should repeat Susan's robust and accurate description, rather, if it is unfamiliar to you, it looks like a big peanut shell covered in cocoa powder. The pod is brittle, and, not knowing anything about them, I wasn't really ready for the soft sticky date like fruit inside. If I had known another name for the Tamarind was Indian Date I would perhaps have been prepared for this delicious experience. Inside the flesh are beautiful brown glossy hard-as-stones seeds which are encased in a slightly chewy membrane. You really have to watch your teeth! The most curious things are the fibrous net like strings which run along the length of the fruit, like some sort of life giving vein structure, which embeds itself in the fruit, it really does look like the surface of a brain or some alien pod. If you were just to pump some blood through these veins who knows what would happen.



But it really is delicious and is like a tangy date. This is an ancient fruit, known to the Egyptians and Greeks, it is a native of Africa and was introduced to India long ago where it found a happy and welcoming home, and is an important ingredient of many Indian dishes and Worcestershire sauce.

However, it has an associated superstition, which, once lodged in your mind would, I think prevent you naming a hotel or restaurant "The Tamarind Tree", although there are quite a few. I presume the owners cannot be familiar with its reputation because the Tamarind tree, despite being a very useful and much loved tree is thought to be the haunt of dark spirits, the night spirits.
I quote from my copy of the lovely " Flowering Trees and Shrubs in India, by D V Cowen."

"Country people have a prejudice against sleeping under the Tamarinds because they say the trees exude unhealthy vapours. This is no doubt correct to a degree as the cloth of tents pitched under Tamarinds in wet weather becomes discoloured and rotten after a time and there is a legend concerning these acid exhalations..
A woman whose husband was about to set out on a voyage wished to ensure his early return. She consulted a medical man who told her she must advise her husband to sleep under a Tamarind tree every night of the outward journey and under a Nim tree every night of the homeward journey. This he agreed to do and as the Tamarind tree is reputed to exude unhealthy acid vapours so, before many days the unfortunate man found himself too sick to continue his travels . He returned back and the healing power of the Nim trees under which he then slept each night worked to such effect that by the time he reached home his sickness was cured. "

This seems a canny bit of knowledge for us girls to have up our sleeves. So when your loved one is getting a bit of wanderlust or any other kind of wandering lust, and needs that weekend 'alone' in the Caribbean,suggest he tries the charms of the Tamarind Tree Hotel on Dominica. He may be back the very next day.
There are other versions of the story and many other superstitions regarding this tree, one very sweet one is that in Malaya the bark and fruit of the Tamarind are given to elephants to make them wise. Ahhh.

There are recipes galore on the Internet. I will be trying some because this is a really delicious (and cheap) fruit. The ones I bought were in a box and are the sweet Thai Tamarinds. Do try them if you can find them. I may even try my own version of Worcestershire Sauce.

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Tamarind Pod and Seeds


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