Me Sweet Native Fruit
By Bill Fink While
“Good morning, good morning, I come for me guavaberry,” Saint Martin carolers sing at Christmas time for sips of the island's native fruit. At times it may seem that everything in St. Martin has been imported from France, one native product continues to enjoy fame: the noble guavaberry. The small berry (which actually has no relation to the guava) sprouts from wild trees growing in the central hills of the island. The round ½ inch (12mm) berry ripens to two different colors (orange and black), but they all taste almost the same: a little bitter, a little sweet, and don’t forget to spit out the seed. Although guavaberry has been a tradition on the island for a couple of hundred years, it’s never been cultivated in farms—and that’s part of the romance of the tiny fruit. To gather a full basket of the wild berries would take an entire day, or sometimes a week of wandering through the hills, hoping to find a ripening tree at just the right day. Guavaberry trees seem to have embraced “island time,” as there is no set season for the berries to appear.
Guavaberry is made into jams, juices, breads, tarts and cakes, and used as a garnish, but its most popular use by far is for guavaberry liqueur, so much so that the liqueur is simply known as “Guavaberry.” Until recently, the liqueur was largely home-brewed, an infusion of the berries in bottles of rum, with a healthy dose of sugar added. The resulting blend creates a sweet and sometimes sour concoction with a strong spicy aftertaste—but every recipe can taste quite different. Some locals would even bury their bottles in the ground for aging (or perhaps to hide from inspectors). Guavaberry liqueur is also popular as an ingredient in cocktails, including guavaberry coladas and a guavabery kir, where a splash is dropped into a chilled glass of champagne. And the fruit is high in vitamin C, so you can consider your cocktail health food. The liqueur has also been an island Christmas tradition for generations. Carolers would be rewarded with sips of the drink from each household they visited, after singing “Good morning, good morning, I come for me guavaberry.
” Nowadays, visitors too can come to St. Martin for their guavaberry, in all its forms. Jams and bottles of the liqueur can be bought at the Marigot market, which takes place every Wednesday and Sunday along the town’s waterfront. A small family-run rum maker called “Ma Doudou” sells their products, including guavaberry rum, in hand-painted bottles out of a colorful shack in Cul de Sac. On the Dutch side of the island, The Guavaberry Emporium on Front Street in Philipsburg offers all manner of guavaberry-infused liquors, rums, jams, and even hot sauces. Visit the Loterie Farm in the central hills of St. Martin for the botanical walking tour and see live guavaberry trees in their native habitat, some towering over fifty feet (15 meters) tall. If you’re lucky, they’ll be in bloom with their pink and white flowers. Then, retire to the Loterie bar and sip away at your guavaberry cocktail. Feel free to sing its praises.