These lovely, green bowling balls are not-yet-ripe coconuts, which are filled with ‘coconut water’ or agua de pipa, which the plant later uses during it’s maturing process to grow the coconut flesh or meat. Using a machete, skilled Ticos first harvest the baby nut, then trim it and put a small hole in the top for a straw, y aquí, your refreshing drink! Pipa vendors are everywhere, from the beaches to the cloud forest resorts. Don’t mistake agua de pipa for coconut milk. The milk is squeezed from the coconut flesh, the edible endosperm of the ripe seed or nut, which is really a drupe.
The next popular palm products are two delicious parts of the peach palm Bactris gasipaes, Arecaceae. The peach palm or chontaduro is native to Costa Rica. It grows wild in many places, but it is also widely cultivated for its fruit called pejibayes, as well as palmitos, palm hearts. CR is the leading exporter of palmito to North America and Europe. The peach palm lends itself to palm heart production because it can be grown in clusters. Many palms, especially the tall species, have only a single trunk. Since palmito, palm ‘hearts’, are the soft interior tissue of new growth, you kill the palm if you harvest its heart. Bactris gasipaes palms survive the harvest of hearts because it has many clustered stems, which together sustain the whole plant.
The farmer, who sells these bags of palmitos for $1.40, obviously has a bunch of peach palms, since he can offer this delicacy for such a low price. You can also see something else, which is very typical for CR. The fruits and vegetables for sale at the farmer’s markets are less uniform, less ‘matched’, compared to the waxed and polished displays of produce in a US supermarket. Here in Costa Rica, there’s usually this morning’s dirt still sticking to the produce, which I like very much.
Another Bactris gasipaes gift is its fruit. The palm fruit are called pejibayes, with many spelling variations. I’ve seen these three, pehibaje, pejiballe and pejivalle, which just illustrates a little more of pura vida. Those things are not important, you go with the flow. What’s important, is the taste!
The preparation of pejibayes involves cooking them in salt water for at least an hour, followed by peeling and stone removal. They’re eaten out of hand, purchased at one of many pejibaye stations at markets, bus stops, supermarkets, ambulatory carts, … Or you serve the cooked fruit at home with a dap of mayonnaise. Or you incorporate them into recipes. They are rich in nutrients and yummy. However, I stay far away from these funky, golf ball sized tidbits because each one supplies the human body with roughly 1 000 calories – just one of the darn things!