English name: Madras Thorn Fruit. Scientific name: Pithecellobium dulce, a species of flowering plant in the pea family.
Known across the Philippines in 10 documented dialects and at least 17 different names, “the Tagalog name camachile/kamatsili comes from the Nahuatle word cuauhmochitl, as do the variations in the other vernaculars,” writes culinary historian Doreen Fernandez in Fruits of the Philippines (Bookmark, 1997).
Fruit-bearing camachile trees can range from heights of 5 to 18 metres high. In the Philippines, they are mostly found in semi- to fully rural areas and are a well-regarded memory for many Filipinos on drives through the countryside highway, where camachile pods (the tree’s fruit) are packed into snack-sized bags and tacked to the tree’s thick, leather-tanning bark.
When ripe, camachile pods become pink (from their unripe green) and split in half to expose a sweet yet simultaneously sour pulp. As Fernandez writes, “the fruits are usually taken down by means of poles and hooks. The white flowers come in dense heads, and the fruits are distinct: green pods with white pulp segments, each enclosing a shiny black seed. As they ripen they split open, the valves may become red, and the flesh not sweet, even slightly acrid.”
Admittedly, I cannot remember what camachile fruit taste like, though I’m certain I’ve had them at some point growing up in the Philippines. Currently, a search for “camachile recipes” yields mostly recipes for cookies – where the buttery pod-shaped cookies (with the snap of a crisp ladyfinger) are a favoured match with the thick, rice sauce of aligue (crab-fat) laden Pancit Malabon.
Claude Tayag’s Still Life in Watercolor series. What a lovely set of prints (which would look great up on a wall!).