Quenepas - Tasty but Dangerous


Ponce is famous for its quenepas, a very tasty fruit extremely rich in phosphorus and iron.  In fact, it is the city’s official fruit and Ponce hosts an annual quenepa festival in the town plaza. Of course, I had to include something about them in Sebastián. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 19.

Late one Saturday afternoon in July, Sebastián and Francisco were relaxing on the Laboys’ front porch and supervising Pilar while Sebastiana cooked their supper and Deli napped in her crib. Both men enjoyed this time of unwinding and catching up with each other after their long six-day work week. The tinkling of a bell and an intermittent calling out of “¡Quenepas!” announced an approaching fruit peddler. Sebastián walked out to the gate to purchase a bunch from the elderly man. He had tried them for the first time the previous year and had been looking forward to the start of quenepa season this year.

“Taste one to see how good it is,” the peddler offered, and Sebastián willingly obliged. The small, round fruit was encased in a thick, green skin, similar to that of an avocado. Sebastián bit into the smooth skin to open it and popped the fleshy orange orb into his mouth. He was instantly rewarded with a burst of sweet/tart flavor from the gelatinous pulp.

“Mmm!” he said, nodding his approval. He paid the man and returned to the front porch with the hefty bunch of quenepas. As he was ascending the porch steps, he could hear Deli wailing from her crib. Francisco got up to tend to her since he knew that his wife was busy in the kitchen.

“¿Qué son esos, Tío Tan?” asked a curious Pilar, as she got up from the porch floor where she had been playing.

“What are these? You never tasted a quenepa? You have to try one, Mija.” So saying, Sebastián snapped one from its stem, split the skin open and handed the fruit to his niece. He sat down in one of the rocking chairs to observe her reaction when she tasted it. Pilar popped the fruit into her mouth. Her eyes widened, and she emitted a delighted, “Mmm!” Sebastián grinned at her.

A moment later, he gasped as he heard a gurgling sound coming from Pilar’s throat. The slippery pit had gone down into her throat and she was choking! The little girl’s eyes showed her panic. She had one hand in her mouth and was reaching out with the other hand to clutch frantically at her uncle’s arm.