My Mouth is a Festival
My nose feels like it is on a ride in Disney world. I peddle my bike down a nice, flat, south Florida side street and suddenly I am slapped with the oh so welcoming fragrance of freshly mowed grass. It’s early February and folks back in Tennessee are digging out of snow, but here at the tip of the sunshine state, spring is in the air. It’s hard to tell really that there was ever a winter here. Most all the trees are evergreen and keep their leaves and just gradually push off the old ones and sprout a newer fresh version. The fields I bike past have something growing twelve months out of the year. I skid to a stop right in front of a plantation that is at least a mile wide filled with a million tomatoes. What? I never got to see one of these babies fresh on the vine until sometime after July 4 in Tennessee. I rub my hand along the tomato vine and bring my fingers up to my nose and inhale. I would know that sweet smell anywhere. I peddle on and my nostrils widen. I pull in the hint of savory smoke from a nearby grill and imagine the sizzling rib-eye that was just flipped over. I catch the scent of Hibiscus and then a waft of perfumed orange blossom or maybe it was a lemon or lime tree in bloom, but somewhere in this nose orgasm I decided that our next adventure today had to be a trip to the nearby Fruit and Spice Park that we have heard so much about.
“Would you like to sample some of the exotic fruits we currently have in season?” says the naturalist who is working in the welcome center of this 37 acre county park when we arrive. If he would have known about the bike ride and my nose “happy ending” that I had earlier, he could have guessed that we would be all over that. They are laid out in bite size pieces and some look down right tasty, some look familar and others just looked nasty, but being the adventurous type we are, we wanted to nibble on it all. “Now this one is called a Gamboge; and note the tartness.” WOW, my cheeks have sucked into each other. The naturalist laughs and tells us more about the tree this comes from but I kinda blocked his voice out as I tried to pry my cheeks apart. “So this is from the same family of trees, but I think you’ll like the sweetness.” I’m a bit hesitate and search his eyes for a hint of mischievousness but plop a chuck in anyway. It fascinates me how my mind kept trying to categorize flavors similar in the way it did with the smells I had on the bike ride. “This one tastes like a cross between custard, maybe a banana and is that a hint of mango too?” I say like I’m at a wine tasting. We chewed on a chunk that was as sweet and delicious as a pineapple, but was also called the snot plant because of the gooey, slimy texture. We use Popsicle sticks and dip into a Black Sapote fruit that in closer examination really looked like poop on a stick, but it did taste like chocolate pudding. “Try this one, I think you’ll both like the combination of sweet and tart, but DON’T chew or swallow the seeds”….. “it will probably kill you.” We look at each other and then slip another taste of goodness in. He ends our tasting with a watermelon sized slice of the best Avocado we have ever tasted and said, “If you’d like to join me, I’m going to take a tram around the park in about fifteen minutes and you are welcome to come along.” I nibble the last morsel I could find on the skin of the avocado while eagerly shaking my head YES!.
The Park’s tropical climate can be found nowhere else in the continental U.S. and is home to more than 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, and nuts, from around the world. We meander on our guided tram ride through thickets of banana trees while our naturalist teaches us how to distinguish between the 75 varieties which are edible and those that are just ornamental. (It’s actually in the direction the flower grows). We stop in the middle of 150 different mango trees and my mouth waters dreaming of the day when they are in season. My mind drifts a little and I go back to our anniversary trip to Costa Rica a few years back when we were hiking through the rain forest and noticed that we were smack dab in the middle of a papaya patch and every tree was loaded with limbs leaning down just right for the picking. There were so many to choose from, we just ate and ate until we had big orange juicy smiles and our bellies hurt. I am shaken back to the tram ride as our funny guide talks one of the other riders to taste a very inviting looking, grape sized fruit. She spits it out and he says, “Yes that one does taste like diesel fuel, but it won’t kill you.” He gives her a nibble of a cinnamon leaf to dull the nasty flavor of the gas grape and we roll on. Our hour long ride was filled with so much great information and was delivered so nicely and with a bit of wit and humor. Visitors to the park are allowed to eat any of the fruit that are on the ground so when our guided tram ride ended, we couldn’t wait to set out on foot.
We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon walking through the Avocado grove, playing with the Jack fruit, laughing under the Sausage trees. We nibbled in the herb garden, made our own allspice combination by combining Bay-rum, Patchouli and some other leaf our guide let us taste earlier that I forgot the name of. There were picnic tables and inviting waterfalls, paved walkways and little hidden paths. This amazing park, which is owned and operated by the Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department only costs $8.00 per adult, $2.00 per child 6-11, Children under 6 are FREE and so is the tram rides which happens daily at 11, 1:30 and 3:00.
We leave wanting more. My mouth is a festival of flavor and my nose is a symphony of smell. Can’t wait to come back when the mangoes are in season!