I could take down a whole can. Crack one open that is has been chilled, and I will wolf it down.
Am I talking about beer? No….its hearts-of-palm.
Sweet, briny stalks in perfect, crunchy cylinders have been a treat that I have enjoyed with my sister, Elisabeth. She and I love hearts of palm and each time I open a can, I think of her. She introduced me to them over 20 years ago. I remember all she did was open them up and put them on a plate.
“Here. Try these.” was what she said. We both devoured them – eating bite by bite through the layers, savoring each taste. “It kills the whole palm you know.” she went on. We both felt sadly decadent when we ended up eating a whole can to ourselves, imagining 12 palms laid to waste for our appetite.
I have never wanted her with me more than when I discovered them fresh from the field while touring in Toledo, Belize. I learned how quickly they regenerate themselves.
“Thank god!” I whispered to myself, feeling vindicated over years of vegetable guilt. “I wish Elisabeth could be here with me to see this.”
Hearts of palm, or Jippi Jappa in Belize, grow prolifically. The palm is used in Mopan and Kek’chi Maya basketry and adornment, and the shoots, or “hearts” are cooked and eaten as a daily veg.
“I have my sister pick them and we cook them.” said Rita Chi’quien. “You can also eat them right out of the field” said Eladio Pop. Pop showed me several varieties of edible “hearts” from the jippi jappa to the banana palm. Chi’quien washed and chopped them preparing them in both a curry and quick saute.
“I have a grocery store right here!” I said, as I walked through the fields at Eladio’s farm. He laughed. ” This is true.” The plant grows about 5 feet in height. The finger fan leaves are pulled out and the stalk is stripped, the white core pulled out and harvested to eat.
I couldn’t wait to call my sister and tell her, “Guess what I learned today?” I knew she would be happy.
Take a tour through Toledo, at the Agouti Cacao Farm, in a Maya Kitchen with Sustainable Harvest International, or at the Punta Gorda Market on Mon, Wed, Fri and Sat. Jippi Jappa can be found year round.
Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons