One of the first things I noticed on the fruit stalls around Kingston was this odd-shaped fruit:
They are easy to spot from a distance with those distinctive black seeds busting out of what looks like an overripe casing. What on earth were they? I learnt quite quickly that they are the treasured Jamaican ackee fruit, which is used to make the national breakfast dish, Ackee and Saltfish. More on that later.
Then I started to notice Ackee trees around town. The unripe bell shaped fruits hang from trees everywhere. They aren’t ready to be picked until they split open and the black seeds are on display, as they are poisonous before they’re ripe. I understand that you can’t buy them fresh (or canned even) in the US as the FDA have classifed ackee as poisionous and even the canning process doesn’t destroy the toxins if the ackee being processed were picked underripe. However, this is not a concern here as locals know very well how to pick and process them.
The trees aren’t native to Jamaica but come originally from West Africa, probably along with the slaves that were also imported from there. Fruit grows abundantly and can produce a harvest all year long. I’ve read that the wood is termite resistant, so perhaps that’s another reason that so many people have them in their yards.
Preparation of the national dish, Ackee and Saltfish, starts by removing the fleshy arils from the open husks (taking care to also remove the toxic red membrane) and boiling them until they’re soft.
The arils look a little scrambled eggs when they are cooked and have a similar mild flavour and texture. They are mixed with flaked salt cod, onions, tomatoes and green peppers to make the famous dish. I’ve tried it a couple of times and its pretty good!