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Lost Crops of Africa: Fruits, Volume III
5 GINGERBREAD PLUMS
Within the vast stretch of territory between Senegal and Madagascar there exist a number of interrelated wild fruits (Parinari or kindred genera) with very agreeable strawberry-like flavors. Usually red or yellow in color, these plum-sized delicacies lack the sourness typical of wild fruits (and of plums for that matter). These so-called gingerbread plums can have a texture firm enough to crunch like a crisp apple.1 Those who love the crunchy sugariness, especially children, consume them in large quantity.
These seem like fruits with a future. They do not bruise easily. Their colorful skins and bright yellow flesh appeal to the eye. Their sweetness appeals to the taste buds. All in all, millions of Africans like them a lot. Indeed, during the harvest season certain peoples rely on gingerbread plums almost as a dietary staple.
These fruits are used in a variety of ways. Many are eaten fresh or are boiled with cereal. Pounded with water, they create a colorful red counterpart to lemonades or orange crushes. And often this refreshing liquid is thickened with flour (from maize or cassava) and boiled into a widely enjoyed and tangy tasting gruel. Fragrant syrups are often prepared as well, and gingerbread plum is also the basis for some drinks that prove much stronger than any fruit squash.
With most of these botanically interrelated fruits, the kernels inside the seeds are eaten too. These somewhat oily “gingerbread nuts” are usually roasted and enjoyed like cashews or almonds. Some are consumed as snacks, others mixed into cooked dishes, and a few are pressed to yield cooking oil.
Beyond food, these trees provide a fairly hard wood that polishes to a bright luster and ends up in prized furniture, not to mention building materials, firewood, and charcoal.
No one has ever attempted to develop the various gingerbread plums into modern and reliable resources, not even to gather together representative
Traditionally, the name gingerbread plum has been applied to a couple of these species (especially Parinari excelsa and Neocarya macrophylla, see below). We recommend extending that usage as a collective name for all the various Parinari and related species with edible fruits. This is not without hesitation: these African delights are far from being soft and watery, and botanically they are only very distant cousins of plums.