Tuesday, January 20, 2009

First Papaya

Since I was four and cultivated a bean sprout from a seed, I have loved the miracle that is plants. And not just flowers and vegetables, but all plants; whether trees, weeds, or wild flowers, I’m fascinated by them all.

When I travel to new places, usually, the first thing I notice are the trees and flowers, after that, maybe the architecture, and way after that, perhaps the people. (I'm not a people person). If I see something green and growing that I’ve never seen before, I definitely take note, and probably a picture if I have a camera; I can’t help myself.

My first time in the tropics to Equatorial West Africa over three decades ago, one of the first things I remember noticing there were the crazy looking papayas with their long straight stalks and crowns of foliage at the top. Now THAT is one unique plant to someone who has mostly lived in temperate zones, as I always had up to that time.

Look carefully at the base of the wall in the above photo. Those are my papayas from last March.

The papaya is common, it’s everywhere you look in this country, but MAN, to me, it is SO cool. From my experience I can’t even think of another single plant to compare it to; I can only compare it to several others, as if the papaya is some kind of strange amalgamation of many kinds of plants. They grow like crazy almost anywhere, or not so crazy, depending on the soil and moisture conditions I suppose.

Check out the little papayas in the photo above. We planted them in late February or so and by March they were as you see. They got a little stunted from the boys as they put up that bamboo fence behind them, but once my little green guys got their roots under them, BAM!, up they shot.

xxxxxxxxxx By June they looked like this, about five feet high.
The girls were going to try and do a jump-and-snatch, but I insisted they use the dang ladder!

As I post this it is now mid-January, only ten months since we planted them. It’s taken quite some time for my largest and most robust papaya to finally bare an edible fruit, but it was definitely worth the wait.
But, before I talk about the fruit I have to confess that I’m not sure how to classify the plant. I mean, is it a bush, is it a tree, what IS it exactly? I guess it’s just a big fast growing plant. To me, it resembles a gigantic flower because of its over-sized flower-like center "stalk." My largest one of the four, at ten months has an honest-to-God trunk, exactly like a tree; but the huge long stemmed leaves all grow directly from this center “trunk,” which reminds me how leaves sprout from the main stalk of a flower plant.
So, no, I don’t think it’s a tree, at least not like any tree I can think of. Then again, maybe its related to the much slower growing palms or the similarly fast growing banana-types, all of which grow from the center, but the papaya just doesn't resemble these other types of plants as far as the fruit and leaves go. So, go figure...

That's the ripe papaya, the one below with the yellowish color, the others above are still green.
Then there’s the fruit itself… I’m trying to think of any other fruit that, depending on what stage it’s picked, or how it’s cooked, resembles either a fruit or a vegetable; and believe me, it CAN seem to be both.
For example, my favorite Filipino dish is chicken tinola cooked in a broth of stewed green papaya, which is definitely a vegetable; but then again, one of my favorite fruits are orangish-yellow, fully-ripened, delicately-juicy papaya slices. Eating it one way will not bring to mind the taste of it the other way. It’s as if they have two completely different taste and texture identities. Like I said, the papaya is really something!

I cannot get enough of the leaves, especially the view of them from directly below. Check it out; is there a God or what?
This particular papaya is only ten months old and it stands well over 15 feet. We just came from a visit to Cebu where I saw individual papaya "trees" that must have been at least twice that. These are not annuals or even biennials; one plant can evidently live for many years, and they seem able to continue to grow in height for the entirety of their life span.
Janine received "the honor" of picking the first papaya; plus she's young and spry enough not to get hurt too much if she falls off the ladder while picking it. Just kidding. No, she volunteered, when asked.
I think by next year, if we are still living here, we will have to get a taller ladder, that is if we are going to be able to keep plucking papayas from its ever higher heights.
xxxxxxxx The "fruit version," freshly sliced papaya chunks. My favorite!

Go here to check out the complete flickr set of "Papaya Picking."


Amadeo said...

Your being a chicken tinola lover you can complete your set of main ingredients by also planting the malunggay tree or plant.

Like the papaya, it grows anywhere and fast, and has soft trunk. And this you will also find commonly in most Filipino homes. And just like you, can't say whether it is a tree or bush. But it grows forever, too.

Its leaves make the tinola broth more flavorful and it takes on a definitely yellowish tint.

PhilippinesPhil said...

You bet! I got one. Now that is definitely a tree, a tree whose leaves are vegetables! Ya got to love this place!

KA said...

Very nice, very nice.

Ed said...

I had eaten quite a few papaya in my lifetime but when I went to the Philippines, I didn't recognice the fruit the first time I saw it. I have still never figured out why the papaya we get over here looks completely different than those found in the Philippines.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Probably a different species of papaya?