“Come quickly, I have something special for you,” my Auntie Rita beckoned to me early this year. What could she be bringing from the barrio? I was in awe, it was anunas (Annona reticulata) – a sweet, heart-shaped and red-skinned fruit related to the unaba/gunaba (guyabano) and anatis (atis) which can be gleaned from the fruits’ morphology. I spent a reverent moment staring at the fruit not because it was spectacular but because it was the first time I’ve seen one in my life although I kept hearing about it for as long as I can remember.

As a child, I would listen intently to my grandmother and grandaunt when they would refer to it as one of their favourite fruits. My mother, her siblings, their cousins and most older people in our clan had fond memories eating anunas straight from the trees. Frustrated at being deprived of what I thought was such a wonderful fruit, I would often ask how it looked like and how it tasted. They would say it’s pinkish to almost red, the flesh looks like a soursop’s (guyabano in Tagalog, guanabana in Spanish – Annona muricata) but sweet without the sour taste. Oh indeed it was sweet and the flesh was creamy, unlike the fibrous soursop and much less grainy than the atis (sugar/custard apple, sweetsop – Annona squamosa). It is one of the ‘migrant fruits’ which made their way to the country through the Galleon Trade.

Due to its shape, it is called corazón in Spanish and Bullock’s heart in English. It’s interesting to find out that anunas is also known as custard apple. I grew up using the term to refer to atis, which is in turn called sugar apple. The business of naming… here we go again!

According to the Department of Agriculture1:

“Native of tropical America and widely cultivated in the Philippines. It is also known locally as ‘salikaya’ and ‘sarikaya’. The fruit is heart-shaped and reddish or yellow when ripe; pulp is white, sweet, slightly granular toward the skin and contains many large, dark-brown seeds that adhere closely to the pulp.”

In Tikim2, Doreen Fernandez notes:

ANONAS. Although not as popular as its relatives, the atis and the guyabano, the custard apple is referred to as early as 1609 by Antonio de Morga, and in 1751 Fr. Delgado writes: “Asi en Visayas como en tagalos se da muy bien el arbol llamado anonas, aunque tambien en raro, y pienso que es traido de la Nueva España.” He blames its comparative rarity on the fact that “los naturales no logran utilidad positiva, cual se alcanza por la venta, principalmente en Visayas; si alguno cuida y cultiva algun arbol de estos… es para comer de su fruta o regalaria” (518-519)

It is eaten fresh, or made into desserts, jams and jellies. The green fruits are used to treat diarrhea and dysentery, the leaves as external suppurants, or plastered on the stomachs of children suffering from indigestion. The herbolario (native healer) is said to tie up the toes and fingers of patients with anonas bark to drive away evil spirits.

[Rough translation: "The fruit tree anonas (translates into soursop in Spanish) brought from New Spain (Mexico), although rare, grows very well in the Visayas as well as in the Tagalog area." He blames its comparative rarity on the fact that "the natives do not find much value in it, based on sales, mainly in the Visayas; if anyone cultivates some of these trees... it is to eat their fruit or to give away as presents" - pardon my pidgin Spanish! More accurate translation from readers desperately needed. Italics mine.]

Not content with the fruit, I had to go to the village to see the tree which bore it. It is a very tall tree of around 9-10 metres, not too thick of trunk, around half a metre at the thickest point with numerous branches, verdant foliage. It had a profusion of flowers and fruits in late January. Sorry, my camera and photography skills couldn’t capture all that.

Anunas / Anonas / Salikaya / Sarikaya /Custard Apple (Annona reticulata)
Anunas is now seldom found in the marketplace – never, as far as I am concerned. This is the first time that we know of the tree in my late grandaunt’s lot in the barrio bore fruit. I did not find out if this is among the almost mythical pre-World War II trees, their offspring or an import from somewhere.

The mystery (fruit) of my childhood has ceased to be. If only for the wonderful feeling of finally knowing what it is – to hold, break open, savour and enjoy – I am now more connected to my forebears and the soil which nourished them.

 

  1. Department of Agriculture. 1995. PHILIPPINES: Country Report to the FAO Technical Conference on Genetic Resources (Leipzig, 1996). Quezon City, Philippines.[back]
  2. Fernandez, D. G. 1994. TIKIM: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture. Anvil Publishing, Pasig, Metro Manila, Philippines. [back]

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