Ingredients

Winter is (not) Coming: 5 Fruits and Vegetables that Can’t be Grown in the Philippines

June 19, 2014

Having experienced just a bit more than two decades’ worth of Philippine summers in my lifetime, I’ve always felt a certain ambivalence towards the season. Sometimes, I’m aghast at how tap water comes out warm enough to brew weak coffee in, and how even the longest showers are rendered futile the moment you swing open the shower curtain this time of year. Two months of getting to and fro under an unforgiving sun is enough to actually make one long for House Stark’s ominous (and fictional) motto to come to pass. However, summer also means cartloads of various, succulent, and sweet tropical fruits. It’s no secret that the Philippines is blessed with an abundance of natural resources (just ask the foreign powers who occupied our country in the past few centuries), and the balmy weather coaxes out a cornucopia of some of the world’s best produce from our rich soil. For those of us who can’t quite afford to jet off to colder countries for months to escape the oppressive heat, we can at least attempt to cool down by eating and drinking our fill of iced, lush mangoes, watermelons, avocado, and pretty much every other kind of summer fruit out there.

Still, there are quite a few fruits, and vegetables that just can’t stand the heat, and while some local purveyors like Cavite’s Malipayon Farms have started to grow the world’s current vegetable du jour (i.e., kale), the following are a handful that, for one reason or another, remain conspicuously absent from your neighborhood weekend market or produce aisle.

1. Cranberries

cranberries

Claim-to-fame:

Dubbed by nutritionists as a “superfruit,” these elongated, bright red berries are known for their tart-sweet taste, chock-full of antioxidant qualities. When sweetened and dried, they make a great addition to cookies, and chocolate bars. Jellied cranberry sauce is also a mainstay at many traditional Thanksgiving spreads as an accompaniment to roasted turkey, while cranberry juice is prescribed by doctors as a remedy for urinary tract infections, and kidney stones.

Why it can’t be grown here:

Cranberry plants generally grow in the period between the last spring frost, and the first autumn frost. That might sound like the berries should thrive during the summer, and they do, but extremes in temperature (like the ones we experience during a Philippine summer) dry out their shallow roots, and kill them. They also require constant watering, and proper irrigation, which is rather difficult to provide during long, hot summer droughts, especially when our rice fields (which provide the country’s main food source and are thus the priority) are clamoring for the same thing.

How it would affect local culture if it could be grown here:

Given the fruit’s acidity, it wouldn’t be long before someone came up with a version of Thanksgiving turkey sinigang of sorts using the scarlet berries as a souring agent. Knorr or Mama Sita might even come out with a cranberry sinigang seasoning mix.

2. Brussels Sprouts

brussels sprouts

Claim-to-fame:

Believed to have been cultivated way back in the days of the Ancient Roman Empire, these sprouts take their name from their Belgian city of origin. The worst nightmare of every practically every American child at the school cafeteria or at the family dinner table, these vivid green, miniature cabbages turn gray, soft, and stinky once they are left in boiling water for too long (an unfortunate eventuality in the aforementioned scenarios).

Why it can’t be grown here:

Winter vegetables through and through, Brussels sprouts thrive in a cold climate.  They also require a long growing period, and mature in brisk fall weather, as low temperatures are crucial for the buds to form.

How it would affect local culture if it could be grown here:

Despite their rather unsavory reputation, Brussels sprouts are delicious when properly cooked. Roasted in a bit of oil and then generously seasoned with salt, they could give the local French fry stands a run for their money.

3. Peaches

peaches

Claim-to-fame:

Prized by the ancient Chinese as symbols of immortality, these beautiful, rosy mounds of deliciously scented flesh are also immensely popular in both Europe and America. While most of us grew up eating the canned, syrupy sweet variety, savoring a fresh peach in all its fragrant, fuzzy glory remains an elusive pleasure given our humid environment.

Why it can’t be grown here:

Although their skins are the color of a glorious summer sunset, growing peaches entails a chilling requirement, which is a minimum period of exposure to wintry weather. Without this crucial seasonal cue, the peach tree will not flower, and thus will not bear fruit.

How it would affect local culture if it could be grown here:

Let’s just say that a certain cheerful bumblebee’s famed pocket pie would probably have a different taste.

4.   Parsnips

parsnips

Claim-to-fame:

Like Brussels sprouts, parsnips were around in ancient Rome, and were even used as a sweetener in Europe prior to the discovery of cane sugar. With its long, tapering root, and alabaster skin and flesh, this tuber looks like a cross between a carrot, and a radish. While they’re usually eaten cooked, their raw form is just as edible. It is prized for both its crunchy texture, and high nutrient content.

Why it can’t be grown here:

Technically, parsnips can be grown here, but they can only be enjoyed fully when left to mature in the ground during winter, as light to moderate frosts are necessary to bring out their trademark sweetness.

How it would affect local culture if it could be grown here:

Parsnip-cue, anyone?

5. Yubari Melon / Yubari King

yubari

Claim-to-fame:

Prized by the Japanese (and the rest of the world, consequently) for its unique lattice-patterned skin, fragrantly honeyed flesh, exorbitant price tag, and cultural prestige, the Yubari melon is arguably the Hermes Birkin bag of luxury fruits. Grown exclusively in the small town of Yubari on the island of Hokkaido, this fruit is the traditional gift given to one’s superiors during the annual Chūgen Festival in Japan.

Why it can’t be grown here:

The astronomical prices commanded by these orange-fleshed melons aren’t all due to hype: a significant amount of painstaking work is required to produce a perfectly round, and smooth specimen bursting with sweet, perfumed juices. Only two at a time can be grown on a single vine (any more will diminish the sizes of the succeeding crops), and they need to be hung carefully so that the fruits can grow into a flawlessly circular shape without being disturbed by bugs so that the plant juices will be evenly distributed within the fruit. The insides of Yubari melons are also notorious for growing at a much faster rate than their exteriors, and this is what causes the skins to crack and the plant juices to leak out, thus repairing the breaches, and resulting in the intricate netting patterns that differentiate this rare breed from the others. Once the cracks are completely healed, you need to put on some thick cotton work gloves, and rub firmly around the melon about twice a week until it is ready for harvesting. This process is called Tama Fuki, and is key to the melon’s sought-after sweetness.

However, unlike the other fruits, and vegetables on this list, the reason why the Yubari melon can’t be grown here has more to do with certain legal, and cultural issues rather than any climate limitations. While it would flourish in tropical weather (as it enjoys full sun exposure), the amount of expense, effort, and space required to create few units of a fruit that only a privileged few could enjoy due to its prohibitive costs, would probably be frowned upon by a citizenry that would rather see the same devotion to the growing of crops that could be purchased, and consumed by the majority, especially given the rice shortages that occurred in the past. Also, the celebrated fruit’s name happens to be a registered trademark owned by the Yubari City Agricultural Cooperative, so that no such melon (no matter how perfectly-formed, delicious, and expensive) can technically be called a “Yubari melon” or a “Yubari King” unless it comes from the said organization anyway.

How it would affect local culture if it could be grown here:

In case some insanely rich person who owns acres and acres of fertile land, and an army of expert gardeners was successful in the attempt to grow the prized melons, s/he would have to do a Wildflour, and play around with the spelling of the melon’s name (i.e., add a couple of “h’s”) to get around the copyright. That’s if s/he was actually planning to sell the melons, of course, since they could also very well keep them for their own personal consumption or deploy them as gifts to their equally wealthy friends.

There are probably even more fruits, and vegetables out there that we can’t grow here (at least, not yet), but we can at least expand our horizons (and palates) with the exotic produce that internationally acclaimed restaurants, and food purveyors bring to our shores. Perhaps with time, such establishments can integrate our local crops into their product offerings, so that they too can have their moment of glory on the world stage.

References:
1. Audet, Marye. “Growing Cranberries.” Love to Know Garden. Retrieved May 8, 2014 fromhttp://garden.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Growing_Cranberries.
2. Borlongan, Josienita. “Cranberries: Planting Guide.” Yahoo! Voices. Retrieved May 8, 2014 fromhttp://voices.yahoo.com/cranberries-planting-guide-6678914.html3. Hosaka, Tomoko. “Slump Hits Japan’s Most Expensive Melons.” The Independent. Retrieved May 10, 2014 fromhttp://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/slump-hits-japans-most-expensive-melons-1685349.html
4. Our Farmer. “How to Cultivate Yubari King Melon.” Retrieved May 11, 2014 fromhttp://www.ourfarmerbd.com/yubari.php.
5. Royal Horticultural Society. “Grow Your Own Parsnips.” Retrieved May 11, 2014 fromhttp://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/grow-your-own/vegetables/parsnips.
6. University of Illinois Extension. “Brussels Sprouts.”  Retrieved May 10, 2014 fromhttp://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/brusselssprouts.cfm.
7. Whiteman, K. & Mayhew, M. (1998). The World Encyclopedia of Fruit. London: Lorenz Books.

Serna Estrella SEE AUTHOR Serna Estrella Serna is a slim piggy who heartily believes that salads are not real food and that desserts (fruit salad not included) should have their own food group. When she's not terrorizing people with her Grammar Nazi tendencies, she likes to hunt for the perfect afternoon tea spot that lets her pretend she's still in the age of Austen (albeit with electricity and better dental care).
9 comments in this post SHOW

Leave a Reply

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
hehehe
hehehe

I guess the closest thing to peaches we have locally is the mabolo.

Volts Sanchez
Volts Sanchez

Greenhouse with micro-controlled climate? Well, if you can afford to put one up you can afford to just import the original. I wonder what that melon tastes like, though.

Pamela Cortez
Pamela Cortez

Hanakazu in BF has those melons imported sometimes! It has a very hefty price tag though if I remember

Volts Sanchez
Volts Sanchez

Seriously? That’s 15 minutes away from my house, by foot. Hmm…

Wait, has Pepper done a review on Hanakazu?

Yuki

interestingly, cranberries remind me a whoole lot of this supposedly-local (though rare for city-dweller me) fruit called bignay (well, save for these annoying little seeds/micro-pits in the middle of each little bignay berry). turned into a sauce or a jam, it goes great with turkey and duck as well.

Geraldine

not sad we can’t grow these, i love tropical fruits more than these.

bluemoogle
bluemoogle
Bobet
Bobet
I have a neighbor here Cagayan de Oro who have 1000 Cranberry shrubs. Her own home/house with a fenced and planted on both sides with Cranberries are testimony to her labor. Cranberries cultivated and propagated in the Philippines. I myself am starting cranberry in my own farm. Her son makes cranberry wine, bottled and sold last Christmas thru FB. The mother makes cranberry jam and her daughter cranberry ice cream. The rest of the dried fruit was used for cookies, brownies and baked goods. So I beg to defer on your article here. If there is a will, there is… Read more »
Mia
Mia

Thanks for this article. I just watched a video about growing peaches.

wpDiscuz

Keep on

Reading