After only four years, my West Indian cherry tree is producing a load of cherries. Last year was its first bearing of only a handful.
The most popular tropical cherry has a variety of names. It is the acerola cherry, and also known as the West Indian or Barbados cherry.
It is a relatively small fruit tree and may be trimmed to a conveniently-sized shrub. Mine is about ten feet tall.
I pick all the cherries, even the green ones because immature green cherries actually have twice the vitamin C than the fully-grown red. The acerola has recently become famous since it has the highest vitamin C content of all fruits, and is now cultivated for medicinal purposes. In 1945 the West Indian cherry was found to be extremely high in ascorbic acid. A single cherry has 81 milligrammes, 25 per cent more than the recommended daily allowance.
This is an excellent backyard tree because with proper fertilising and watering, an acerola cherry tree can bear in its third year. At five or six it will fruit three times a year, and can bear fruit for 20 years.
Botanists believe this fruit tree originated in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Acerola cherries can be found in all of Central America, throughout the Caribbean, and parts of South America and Southeast Asia. The acerola—Barbados cherry is relatively common to the Lesser Antilles from St Croix to Trinidad, also Curacao, Margarita, and neighbouring northern South America as far south as Brazil.
The acerola cherry is grown from seed, cuttings, or grafts.
I just looked around the base of another cherry tree and found my sprout. It can adapt to most environments found in tropical regions and is able to withstand even a severe drought. Its shallow root system can be uprooted by strong winds. For the tree to produce abundant fruit regular watering is necessary with adequate drainage.
This tree can also be grown in sizeable pots where it will get sun. The pots should have good drain holes and the potting soil kept slightly alkaline. The acerola is an attractive tree with dark green leaves and pink or white blossoms. It will grow to about 15 feet and can be shaped by pruning. Keep the tree to a height that can be easily picked. Otherwise the birds and bats will get most of the cherries. It is self-pollinating and loves the sun.
Acerola fruit are brilliant red and juicy with a slightly sweet taste. They mature from blossoms in about one month. Fertilise immature trees every three months with 12-24-12 and water regularly.
Once blossoms appear, use 12-12-17-2 and increase water until the fruits appear. For a better harvest, lime the soil once a year.
Acerola cherries’ high vitamin C content has been used to treat dysentery, severe colds, and fever. These cherries can also reduce joint inflammation from arthritis and prevent infections. One hundred grammes has 32 calories and is high in vitamin C, potassium, and iron.
The juice is tasty diluted with water and added sugar. Add another favourite juice such as orange, pineapple or a banana. Add ice and blend until smooth. Pitted cherry pulp can be frozen with additional sweeteners and blended into a sorbet. Milk may be added to either make a shake or to refreeze into ice cream.
DID YOU KNOW?
M Punicifolia L is generally accepted as the correct botanical name for the acerola—Barbados cherry—which is also called West Indian cherry, sweet, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, the native cherry, garden cherry, or French cherry. In Spanish it is named acerola, cereza, or cereza colorada. The wood is surprisingly hard and heavy, and won’t ignite even when treated with flammable fluid unless perfectly dried.
Strain seeded cherries until you have two cups of juice. Mix with an equal amount of water. It is slightly acidic so add sugar to taste. Pour over ice and enjoy.
Strain seeded cherries until you have two cups. Put into an uncovered pot over medium heat. Stir constantly as half of the liquid evaporates. Remove from heat and cool before pouring into containers for freezing. Keep as a cold remedy or as flavourings for drinks, cakes, and frozen desserts.
TROPICAL FROZEN BLEND
Strain seeded cherries until you have a cup of juice. Mix in a blender with a cup of orange juice, a quarter cup of pineapple, and two ripe bananas. Add ice to the blender’s capacity. Cover and blend until smooth. Guava and apple are also good combinations with acerola cherries.
Get two cups of seeded cherry pulp. Add two tablespoons of sugar, one teaspoon of lime juice, and blend with a tray of ice cubes. Freeze until slushy, blend again and refreeze. A cup of milk may be added, but the amount of ice should be reduced by half.
• 1 cup cherry pulp
• 1 cup milk
• 3 tbsp butter
• 3 tsp active dry yeast
• 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
• 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
• 1/4 cup fresh cherry juice
• 1 tsp salt
• 4 cups baker’s flour, divided
• 1 cup toasted coconut
• 1 tsp grated lemon peel
• 1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
• Combine milk and butter in a
small pan and heat just until but-
ter melts. Remove from heat, pour
into a large bowl and stir in yeast.
• Let sit for five minutes before add-
ing brown sugar, lemon and cherry
juices, salt, and two cups of the
• Combine thoroughly, electric
mixer preferred. Add remaining
two cups of flour and mix until the
dough doesn’t stick to the bowl. Add
tablespoons of water if too dry.
Blend in cherry pulp, a quarter
cup coconut, grated lemon peel,
• Knead dough until it is elastic and
let sit in a warm place until it dou-
bles in size—usually about an hour.
Punch it down and place in a
greased baking pan and let it sit for
another hour. Rub grated coconut
into the top.
• Bake at 350 for an hour or until a
toothpick or knife pulls out without
Shirley Hall is the author of The New
Caribbean Home Garden Handbook