Ark of taste
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The cambuci tree, a native of the Atlantic Forest at risk of extinction, has a green ovoid-rhomboidal fruit, with a horizontal ridge dividing it in two parts. This distinctive shape is the origin of the name, which derives from the native Tupi word kamu’si meaning ‘clay pot’ or ‘funerary urn’. The fruit used to be so abundant that it gave its name to an old neighborhood of São Paulo but the name is all that remains of the fruit and very few people in the area know what a cambuci is. The cambuci is a hygrophytic and heliophytic semi-deciduous tree in the Mirtacee family, a relative of the guava, pitanga, guabiroba and jabuticaba. It can reach a height of 8 meters, but grows slowly. It has a pyramidal shape with smooth trunk and elliptic leaves. The white, elegant flowers are hermaphroditic and blossom from August to November, while the fruit matures from January to April. The thin green skin of the fruit does not change color as the fruit ripens, but just becomes a little yellower. The fruit is ripe when it gets soft and begins to detach from the branches. The fruit is about 6 centimeters in diameter with juicy creamy flesh and not many seeds. With a slightly sweet but very acidic flavor like a lemon, the cambuci is not usually eaten raw. However its strong flavor and aroma have meant that since Colonial times it has been used to flavor cachaça liquor, a still widespread application in areas where it grows. Though the fruit is eaten by jaú catfish, paca, monkeys and toucans, the seeds do not have a long-lasting capacity to germinate. For this reason or due to a reduction in native fauna, the dispersion of cambuci by birds and fruit eating animals has not been enough to allow the species to maintain its numbers. Fortunately the tree still survives in various domestic orchards in the towns of the Serra do Mar, such as Rio Grande da Serra, Paranapiacaba (a village in the town of Santo André), Salesópolis, Biritiba-Mirim, Paraibuna and other towns with remnants of the Atlantic Forest. The inhabitants have been given incentives to plant it and keep it in home gardens, thanks to recent gastronomic interest and the discovery that the cambuci has many different uses and not just to flavor cachaça. It can now be considered a sustainable alternative for areas that have adopted it as a traditional product. Rich in fiber, cambuci is also an excellent source of vitamin C, other vitamins and mineral salts, as well as having antioxidant properties and tannins to combat free radicals, delay aging and strengthen the immune system. The cambuci is a native tree of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, on the mountainous side towards the coast facing the plateau of São Paulo. Since Colonial times the fruit has been used to flavor cachaça liquor, though it is very nutritious and versatile as a foodstuff. The inhabitants of Serra Mar, who have seen the supply and consumption of this fruit decrease, have begun to recognize the value of the trees growing in private gardens, along with the discovery of the fruit’s culinary attractions. Each tree can produce about 300 kilograms of fruit per year, providing a potential income at harvest time. As not much fresh fruit is eaten and it has a very acid flavor and strong aroma which do not diminish when the fruit is processed, it has been found that cambuci is an excellent product for freezing and preparing delicious food products. When liquidized or frozen whole, the fruit can be used to produce beverages and various sweet or savory dishes which are beginning to be discovered and recorded as a result of competitions organized as part of various festivals. The town of Paranapiacaba, Santo André, was the first to highlight this fruit at harvest time and in 2004 started a festival with a cooking competition for inhabitants of the village, emerging cooks and recognized chefs. Two years later a festival was started in Rio Grande da Serra, which every year attracts thousands of visitors. The model was seen to be so successful that it has been copied in a number of other towns which now constitute the Cambuci Food Trail, comprising Vila de Paranapiacaba, Santo André, Rio Grande da Serra, Paraibuna, Natividade da Serra, Salesópolis, Biritiba-Mirim, and Caraguatatuba. For a long time the fruit was only used for flavoring various types of cachaça liquor. But recognizing the fruit’s great versatility shown in various festival competitions, in 2006 some small producers owning a few trees in their gardens created the Cooper Cambucy da Serra in Rio Grande da Serra, now with 24 members. Each member has from 2 to 10 cambuci trees in their garden and they also buy fruit at fair prices from other inhabitants wanting to sell their produce. The cooperative is also actively involved with CATI (Coordenadoria de Assistência Técnica Integral), in producing new trees, which are donated to festival participants or sold to the public during the year either at their office or at fairs. In the past an extractive activity, cambuci are now also grown in small domestic orchards stimulated by the Cooperative. To ensure that flavor and aroma are maintained, one of the cooperative’s activities is to train members and small producers in recognizing when to harvest fruit, since it does not change color when ripe and is often picked unripe. As it does not ripen once picked, the fruit has an excessively tannic and sour flavor if picked too early, giving the product a bad reputation and affecting consumption. Fruit have reached ideal ripeness when they spontaneously fall from the tree but are then usually very soft and can get damaged from hitting the ground. Producers are trained to spread a layer of straw to cushion the fall during harvesting.

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São Paulo

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Fruit, nuts and fruit preserves

Nominated by:Cooper Cambucy da Serra