The green fruit would collect on the ground before we threw them to be devoured with the fervor we reserved for galas and granny smiths.
The following short essay is part of a special series of nonfiction pieces on the topic of Fruit guested edited by 2019 Margins Fellow Sabrina Imbler.
The pali we attended, one of the first Syro-Malabar parishes in the United States, was then a scrappy bricked building. It shared a fence with private property—a family’s small house, pond, stables—land which the congregation eventually encroached upon to build an event hall and then a parking lot.
We would stand there after catechism, eating donuts with thin textbooks and binders in hand. A row of horse apple trees lined this border. They stood, untouched for some purpose, as evidence of a thicket that had once existed, and the green fruit would collect on the ground before we threw them to be devoured with the fervor we reserved for galas and granny smiths. Even after the family complained about the actions of the children at the fence—our regard for their home as a sort of zoo—and erected one of a sturdier, more opaque variety, we would kick the fallen fruit around so that they would roll in the dirt, crack open, and seep a white sap.
Around this same time, I went to Kerala for a third time, though it was the first I could remember, the previous two rendered a haze by early childhood. In an Ambassador car, we snaked along a tar road, curtained on both sides by tropical flora. Most were tall, wiry rubber trees that climbed up and down hilly plots of land. In some places this was punctuated most vividly by a large green fruit. Oblong and clunky, they spilled from lean trunks disproportionate to their size. I identified them, so surely, as enormous horse apples, from their similarly bubbled rinds. There was something animated, alive about these fruit—exteriors that resembled a cluster of cells dividing to form some larger tissue. I would later see them ripe, arils on a platter, or boiled down to a mash. Its seeds were curried, it was fried into a snack.
Now, they can be found almost anywhere. Perhaps cut in half and covered in plastic wrap at an Asian grocery or, even more recently, a health food store overrun with Ayurveda-claiming yoga-practitioners. Its versatility has seen it barbecued into imitation pork; soon it will be incorporated into hackneyed ubiquity.
But as a six-year-old in an Ambassador car, I was yet to discover this; for moments I thought it inedible like its diminutive cousin. With my first trips reduced to a series of images, I was unable to recall anything of significance—my baptism, a grandfather, those first flights. Equipped with the little that I knew, the jackfruits that hung could do nothing other than return me home. And though this was not after a morning of mass or Sunday school, I wondered if horses would come.