Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Wild Fruits

I first met Hugh Skinner when he returned from Australia sometime in the early 1980's. He came to the publisher/advertising agency with paper bags full of seeds, bounty from the east. Because I lived on a farm at the time, he gave me a few precious seeds: a guava the size of a cherry (he said; but these seeds did not germinate) and winged beans. The winged beans grew like weeds, and although we did not acquire the taste for them, the horse ate all the beans and vines too.
Dr Hugh A. Skinner, environmentalist, conservationist, author

In the 80s, Dr Skinner may have been looking for an outlet for his acquired knowledge of the tropical trees and skills - permaculture - developed in Australia.  Bill Mollison was writing and teaching about permaculture which is an integrated system of design that Mollison developed with David Holmgren. It encompasses not only agriculture, horticulture, architecture, and ecology, but also economic systems, land access strategies, and legal systems for businesses and communities. In 1978, Mollison collaborated with Holmgren and they wrote a book called Permaculture One. Mollison founded The Permaculture Institute in Tasmania, and created a training system to train others under the umbrella of Permaculture. (wikipedia)

Over the years, Dr Skinner cultivated - and shared - all the seeds that he brought with him. He also shared the information with whoever would listen, and a weekly column was published in the Trinidad & Tobago Review. In those decades of the 80s and 90s, Trinidad and Tobago was not ready for Dr Skinner. He suffered major setbacks when some of his young trees were killed by uncured manure. But his vision was unclouded. He continued his work in the bush. He compiled and published Wild Fruits, Vegetables & Other Goodies of Trinidad and Tobago in 2000.

Wild Fruits might be considered modest or unsophisticated, but it is encyclopaedic in the wealth of knowledge of a single mind.  In his Preface, he writes simply of the demise of the natural in our diets, and the rise of agribusiness. The book, he hopes, "will help to fill a gap in our appreciation of the abundant natural resources with which our islands are blessed but which continue to be ignored and/or destroyed in favour of the foreign and artificial."

The book includes a selection of over 150 fruits (trees, leaves, roots) with photographs; recipes and food preservation (jams and jellies, ice cream; soups and wines). Most are familiar, though some are less well-known now: pois doux, fat pork, mamey sapote, governor plum (rolling cherry). But do you know canistel, laylay, coco macaque, coolie pistache, chalta, wild cress? There are photographs. And Dr Skinner describes the trees or plants and their fruits, and how they are used.

You must read the few thought-provoking chapters that eloquently convey the author's philosophy and passion. Gentle exhortations to treasure what grows wild or easily emerge in his essays on Native Food Resources Remain Untapped; The Next Ice Age; We are What We Eat; Disappearing Genetic Diversity; Myths of Monoculture and The Living Museum. These ought not to be ignored.

Wild Fruits includes Dr Skinner's odes to Leaves, Fruits, Flowers and Seeds. The new edition is peppered with quotations from Kahlil Gibran, tributes to Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein.

The second edition of Wild Fruits Vegetables & Other Goodies of Trinidad and Tobago by Dr Hugh A Skinner has a few improvements: excellent photography provided by fellow permaculturist Erle Rahaman; graphics and layout by Paxton Commissiong-Payne. But the text is largely the same - direct, easy to assimilate, eloquent in its simplicity.

It is a treasury that records some of what we may be losing, and may still have the effect of helping us to salvage some of nature's bounty for healthier lifestyles. Best of all, it distills the optimism and wisdom of a rare Trini treasure, Dr Skinner.

Cover of Wild Fruits, Vegetables & Other Goodies in Trinidad and Tobago, 2nd edition
First edition


  1. Hi wildgirl,
    very nice pictures you have on your blog.
    I'm interested in this book on wild fruit of Trinidad&Tobago but can only find it on Amazon as Kindle-book. But I'd prefer a real book. May I ask you where you found this 2nd edition? Cannot find it anywhere on the net.

    Thank you very much in advance
    Chris Hermann mail(at)

  2. Please contact Joan Dayal at Joan is a book seller in Trinidad who may be able to mail you a copy. She will advise cost of the book, handling and mailing charges.