Cocoplums all over Belize: The ONLY Way to Eat Them and How Caye Caulker was Named…
All along the shoreline of Belize, glossy green shrubs grow just a few feet from the salty water – the Cocopum, Chrysobalanus icaco or in Spanish, Hicaco. They are abundant along the beach and along the road on north Ambergris Caye…flowering, usually in the spring, and then producing pretty white and then blush-colored and then purple fruits (actually drupes)
The cocoplum flower from this website. Nothing showy but they smell sweet and the bees LOVE them.
A drupe is not a fruit or a nut or a berry…it’s a drupe. Pistachios, coffee beans, cherries, and peaches are drupes. I’ve read the definition a few times and I’m not 100% sure on this categorization but maybe this helps?
Coconut doesn’t seem to belong here. But let’s move on!
Back to the cocoplum.
We always know it is cocoplum season when Jeff or I exclaim: “A bunch of people are outside in the bushes!” It’s usually a Sunday (when people head northward on the island for a day at the beach”…it’s usually a family…and they are always picking cocoplums.
People, especially those who grew up on Ambergris Caye or any of the cayes, reminisce about gathering cocoplums and/or feasting on them at the beach but…
I’ve found…I am of the opinion…that they taste like wet cotton. Maybe tinged with sweetness if they are dark pink but…wet sweet cotton is not my cup of tea.
I’m not a fan…but I love to take pictures of them. And I love to see the green bushes bursting with pretty cocoplums growing in our area. .
But when I saw a friend of mine post about cocoplum sweets – that he was making in his outside fire hearth – fogon – I wanted to try. They look like prunes…
Photos and sweet by Mito Paz
I went over to his home – not too far from mine to have a taste. But before I even tasted them…I saw this near his house (Mito pointed it out to me – I would not have noticed this on my own!)
A saltwater palmetto – a pretty tree that grows all over North Ambergris Caye – with the frond folded strangely. Usually they are spread wide like a fan.
And then I pointed my camera up into the “tent” and…AHHHH!
The American Leaf Nosed Bat! LOOK AT THAT NOSE!
These guys are primarily fruit eaters. I bet they LOVE cocoplums! I retreated. Very cool but also…I can not have one of these touch me. Eek.
I went inside to try the sweets. Turning something into almost a candied jam usually with cinnamon and all-spice – is a popular way of making “sweets” here.
I’ve tried local pumpkin before and I’ve tried something called “supa” – a palm nut that is cooked down with spices and sugar. Mito told me that they used to cook green papaya down like this for November 2nd or Day of the Dead.
The cocoplum sweets were delicious! Very much like a prune but in a jam that tastes like spices. Yum.
And the best part? You can crunch into the seed in the middle – and there is a meat…similar to coconut in there. Delicious!
And NOW to the link between Caye Caulker and cocoplums. Many tell me that the name Caye Caulker was derived from the Spanish name of the island “Cayo Hicaco” which refers to the Hicaco plum – the coco plum!
In the past, the Spanish gathered the fruit to combat scurvy – a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C. This book – my bible when it comes to plants of Belize –
says that early settlers thought that the existence of cocoplum bushes indicated the presence of freshwater. Still to this day, the Coco Plum grows wild on the island. (The north side is COVERED with them)
But, that’s not the only theory about Caye Caulker’s name.
One theory says that boats were caulked in the protected bay, La Ensenada leading to the “Caulker” name. Another theory says that since Belize was part of England till 1981, on early British maps the island’s name is spelled “Cay Corker.” Back in the day, the island was known for the abundance of freshwater – this made the island a favorite stop for sailors to replenish and cork water bottles. (I’d be very curious where all this freshwater is today?)
You also see the island referred to as La Isla Carinosa – the friendly island.
And it is! It’s my #1 place to visit from Ambergris Caye. But if I have to pick a source for the name – I’m going to go with Cayo Hicaco. Island of (Stewed) Coco Plums. It’s just so pretty.