For months I've been eyeing the Tamarind trees' abundant, dangling legumes, wondering when they would ripen so I could make tamarind tea. The time has come. We now have more tamarind fruits than we can deal with. At the right you can see some of them. Notice the leaves' feathry texture. They provide a very pleasant shade.
The legumes are like large snapbeans, but brown and very plump. Their brown skin is hard and brittle like thin plastic. You know the legumes are mature when you can squeeze them with your fingers and the skin shatters revealing a honey-colored, gummy mass inside which are embedded several very hard, dark-chestnut-colored seeds the size and shape of baby lima beans. Below you can see such a legume on which the brittle shell has been shattered.
Whenever I'm conducting a tour of the hacienda we stop beneath a Tamarind tree. Sharper visitors often remark that the Tamarind's feathery, doubly compound leaves remind them of the Mimosas or Albizias back home, or of the acacias they've seen during travels in other lands. It's true that Tamarinds are closely related to those trees, all being members of the Bean Family. In the Tamarind's dense shade we pull off a few Tamarind legumes, pick away the brown rind, and snack on the honey-colored, gummy pulp. It's pleasantly sour with a slight taste of raw snapbeans.
Local people here also snack on Tamarind fruits right from the tree but mainly they make a lemonade-like cold drink. They crush fruits in the bottom of a large pitcher, pour in water, let it sit overnight or at least two or three hours until the pulp softens and can be smushed, and then the hard parts are strained out. What's left is an acidy, somewhat murky looking, honey-colored liquid which, when sweetened and kept cold, really hits the spot on a hot afternoon.
Tamarinds are very commonly planted in towns and haciendas here, as well as all through the world's tropics. They're grown for both their fruits and the tree's pretty form and shade. The species is thought to be originally from Africa and maybe southern Asia. Its Latin name is TAMARINDUS INDICA. "Indica" means "from India," and "tamarindus" is from the Arabic "tamar-Hindi" meaning "date-fruit from India."
FROM THE AUGUST 18, 2008 NEWSLETTER: