Book Review

Fruit in Brazil

by Silvestre Silva.
Text by Helena Tassara. 1997

Can be ordered from Empresa das Artes, Alameda Franca 1185- Conj. 21, Cerqueira Cesar, Sao Paulo 01422- 000, Brazil; Fax (011) 55-11-282-7122. R$89 (Brazilian currency). 230 pages.
(Price/availability info may have changed since original publication of review.)
Interested in tropical fruit? Here is a breathtakingly exquisite fruit book from the largest fruit-producing country in the world -- Brazil. Unfortunately, Brazil happens to be experiencing the destruction of the forests where many of these trees grow, but don't assume this is an issue for Brazil only. It is one that impacts the entire world, so please read on.

Silvestre Silva, Brazilian photojournalist, has made it his mission in life to photograph all of the fruit trees, their blossoms, leaves and fruit, in the forests of Brazil -- a mission that has become a race to document the vast number of Brazilian fruits before they become extinct as a result of the development that is gradually destroying the forests.

If the forests can't be saved, it is hoped that fruit growers in other countries can transplant the best of these threatened fruit varieties in other receptive areas, possibly California, Florida, Mexico, Hawaii, Australia, and elsewhere. Some of this is already being done successfully in Guyana and the Caribbean.

Sometimes the quest becomes a detective story. Take, for example, the case of the "pindaíba" (Duguetia lanceolata). The name of this member of the Annonaceae is already being dropped from Brazilian dictionaries. A "red, exuberant, custard apple...this beautiful delicacy," says Silva, is "practically extinct. I photographed a single tree on a ranch lost in the interior of the state of Sao Paulo. I arrived there thanks to a chain of clues involving four people, one of whom knew someone who knew where there was a pindaíba..."

Silva has been at his quest for 15 years, and so far there have been thousands of photographs, two valuable, beautiful, passionate and massive books -- the Portuguese-English Frutas Brasil Frutas, which introduces 69 different fruits, and Fruits in Brazil, just released in English translation, which covers nearly 100. A third book on fruit cookery with 200 recipes is already in progress.

The text of Fruits in Brazil was done by sociologist-documentarist Helena Tassara who has a graduate degree in arts from Sao Paulo University. There is no book like this. It is not a scientific book for a few academics. It can interest a much wider readership. It has extraordinary photography and much more.

But the world is still silent, the same world that united behind campaigns to recognize the dangers of smoking, the evils of drinking and driving, and the increasing pollution of the environment. Yet the destruction of Brazilian forests will also have consequences for the entire world, from cosmopolitan New York to emerging Third World countries.

Perhaps that lack of interest is partly because the world is unaware of the enormous economic potential, natural beauty, incomparable flavors and other benefits being lost -- gastronomic, medicinal, nutritional, and ornamental. If the destruction of the forests continues, craftsmen will lose the natural materials they use for rustic carpentry, children's toys and very much more. Hundreds of thousands of poor families who gather highly nutritious seeds and sell them as a snack would lose their only source of income. Homeless children -- street children who are such a serious problem in Brazil -- would no longer have access to the various forest foods they gather to survive. For an example of how little is known, representatives of EMBRAPA (Agro-Forestry Research Center of Western Amazonia) point to the Cerrado ecosystem, which "has been attacked and destroyed by fire and tractors, placing various species of plants on the brink of extinction, including some native fruit trees before they have even had a chance to become known."

These books are for Silva the attainment of his dream. "A hankering for the world," he says, led him from the small town he came from, but he was always drawn back to his roots, "left behind with the dewdrops in the forests of the Piedade mountains," to which he kept returning.

The search has taken Silva over mountains and plains, along rivers and roadways, by plane, boat, car, horse and even on foot into the forests, always with his camera.

Fabio Avila, publisher of these extraordinary books, will soon arrive in the U.S. in search of an American publisher interested in publishing or co-publishing these books. He has recently been in Europe at the invitation of publishers in France, Germany and Spain.

Grace Kirschenbaum is the publisher of World of Cookbooks, The International Cookbook Newsletter, a quarterly review of cookbooks and other food-related books, $40.00 annually. For more information please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Grace Kirschenbaum, World of Cookbooks, 1645 So. Vineyard Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90019.

© Copyright 1997, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
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