It’s juju season here, and every chance I get I’m in the yard of my childhood home, hunting for ripe fruit to pop into my mouth and stuff into my purse. The house is vacant now, and the garden is overgrown. I’m always a tiny bit nervous that someone is going to stop and ask me what I’m doing. One day someone did. The realtor was driving by and when he saw my car in the driveway he pulled in and started yelling ‘Hello?’ ‘Hello!’ to confront the possible trespasser. He didn’t see me in the corner, reaching for fruit.
Juju tree on our old street
In college, jujus were among the food I missed; I was never home when they were in season. The blossoms appear in December and though the fruit starts ripening in January, tantalising me with the possibility that that year I might taste a few, my break was never long enough to watch them mature. Last year this time, I didn’t even get that close – I was in New York.
This year, not only am I at home, but I have free and clear access to the best juju tree. I swing by the house, walk carefully through the prickles in the grass, and have a small feast. The fruit is small, smaller than the North American cherry, and with a similarly hard pit. Its flesh is like that of an apple: the skin pops open under your teeth. I love my jujus just ripe, when the skin is a pale yellow green, or beginning to turn orange. With those colours, the flesh is crunchy and sweet-tart. As jujus get older, their skin turns to a burnt orange, or red-brown. The flesh becomes soft, moist and fully sweet.
Our juju tree
Juju trees grow tall, have what seems to me like very hard wood, and thorns along their branches. Picking jujus is not the same as picking most other fruit. You have to move cautiously, otherwise you’ll get pricked. You’ll likely be pricked even with cautious movements. Luckily for my family, a hurricane two years ago blew over the tree in our yard, making the task much easier. There’s no shaking branches or trying to wack them with a stick, no need to even attempt to climb. Most of the fruit is in arm’s reach.
After scouring the branches, pulling the high ones down towards me, avoiding the winged insects I see sometimes among the leaves, I crouch down into the grass. There more treasures wait, if I look closely. I walk around to the underside, fold my body in half to enter the canopy that the bent-over tree has created. Typically, I get twigs stuck in my hair. There I find perfectly ripe jujus, sitting pretty, cushioned from bruising by the crab grass. I scoop them up with delight; an adult’s Easter egg hunt.
My family owes thanks to my youngest brother for our tree. He was a cub scout when he was little, and somehow, related to his troop activities, he brought home a juju seed. Maybe it was more than one. He planted it in our garden and my mum and I waited excitedly for it to grow. This is the first year that I’m tasting its fruits, and they are delicious. Anyone who has ever had them remarks on how good they are. I’m sad that soon we won’t be able to enjoy the fruit anymore, when the house belongs to someone else. Maybe this year will be my first and last.
This post is about how much fun I’m having picking and eating jujus. It’s also a way for me to say goodbye: to the house, to Jeremy’s juju tree, to my pear tree, to the green mango tree and the other fruit and flowering trees I loved in our yard. Goodbye to the poinciana that grew up with me, that I eventually was able to climb, and read in and play games on. I save my juju seeds to scatter in the yard where Mummy lives now, and she has saved seeds from the mango and pear trees too. With any luck, they’ll grow, and they’ll be part of the new memories we make in that home and wherever we end up next.