Banana flowers, custard apples, fresh coconut and much more

One in a series on vegetable markets around the world: this one in ‘Little India’, Singapore.

Fresh vegetables, unpackaged, mean local production, short food chains, fine taste and a high nutritional content. The Living Field encourages local growing and use of vegetables, most recently through its Vegetable Map of Scotland.

But we also enjoy visiting fresh vegetable markets in other places, for example in Bangkok, Inle Lake Burma and Carsassonne in France.

Here we look at some of what’s on offer at Tekka, in the district of Singapore known as Little India [1]. As in most other vegetable markets, the goods offer a range of storage times from a few days to weeks or even months.

Here are some unusual ones … unusual to us that is. They are widely eaten throughout the tropics and sub-tropics. To the left of the three above are flowers of the banana or another plantain, encased in their reddish sheaths. The tough outer layers are usually discarded then the softer inners used in soups, salads and curries.

To the right are custard apples, not so appetising on the outside but split them with a knife to get at soft tasty fruits inside. In the middle, fresh coconuts, pared ready for extracting the ‘milk’, jostle on the central shelf, gourds above them and more banana products below. Just visible above the banana flowers (left) are two jackfruit, their rough surfaces protecting luscious, tasty, orange fruits inside.

Next are two types of fruit that will be more familiar in European supermarkets. Lower right in the panel above is a mass of gooseberries and above them the shiny purple fruits of brinjal (also known as aubergine and eggplant) of which there are many forms. The brinjal’s botanical name is Solanum melongena, relative of the potato therefore (Solanum tuberosum) and some poisonous nightshades. The wall poster to the left of them is advertising a vegetable mart.

And here are some more unusual ones. To the right of the flower stall (centre) are spiny gourds Momordica dioica, a fruit usually cooked as a vegetable, fried with meat for example. They are a little larger than a golf ball.

To the left are clusters of green ‘berries’ – the fruit of the pea eggplant or turkey berry Solanum torvum, used to give some bitterness to various dishes including curries.

So brinjal, pea aubergine and potato are part of the same plant group. People throughout the world have learnt to eat the safe parts of these Solanum species and leave or neutralise the inedible or poisonous parts (usually the leaves). Potato’s edible parts are tubers rather than fruits – though if left to flower and fruit, potato produces berries similar in appearance to those of pea aubergine [3].

And finally there are things both familiar and exotic. To the left are limes and next to them sections of banana stem. Then in the panel of three to the right are what looks like a type of okra or cucumber, green but characteristically streaked with white, then tomato in the centre and at the bottom a collection of carrots, beans and what are probably long tubers locally called ‘radishes’ but which are not a bit like the small oval radish grown in Britain.

Further sources and links

[1] Little India, Singapore: vegetables, herbs and spices at and around the Tekka Centre off Serangoon Road and Bukit Timah Road.

[2] Information on the trees and shrubs mentioned above can be found in several searchable databases: e.g., see entries for custard apple Annona reticulata at the Agroforestree database of the World Agroforestry Centre and the CABI Invasive Species Compendium.

[3] Potato plants can form fruits in fields in Scotland and if dropped, persist in the soil for many years, giving rise to ‘volunteer’ populations that occur as weeds in subsequent crops of potato or other species. The role of potato as a weed is described on this web site at Crop-weeds.

All images by Living Field.

The Library of Innerpeffray

On a bank high above a branch of the Earn and overlooking agricultural grazing land sits The Library of Innerpeffray. It is a Library of old books, open to the public and with a remarkable ethos of access before conservation. You have to travel along twisting roads, between Perth and Crieff, to get there …. but what a place!

The founding of the Library in the late 1600s by a local landowner is described at the Library’s web site [1]. The people – not just the gentry – could read and borrow books. That tradition continues.

Andrew Wight’s travels published 1778-1784

The Living Field has often referred to The Current State of Agriculture in Scotland – anonymous but written by Wight – as a source of knowledgeable and first hand appraisal of the agricultural Improvements instigated by certain farmers and landowners [2]. And here it is on the shelves to be opened, the pages turned. Some sentences from the Preface, not by Wight, justify his years-long mission .

Improvements to land use and production had been made by some but not widely taken up. So in an age of slow communication between widely separated and sometimes isolated farming regions, there needed to be a means to share knowledge and good practice.

Quite possibly, the sentiments written above could apply to any age!

Mundified barlie, oates and Durer’s rhinoceros

L’Agriculture et Maison Rustique was published first in Italian, then in French and English [3]. The Library had copies of the latter two, the front page of the one examined dated 1593. It’s an early account of crops and their uses. On pages devoted to cereals, it explains how to mundify barley, to convert it to the consistency of papmeate and to add fruits and seeds for taste as available or desired [4].

Then on oats, the book refers to the property of oat seed to emerge in other crops (known today as ‘volunteer’ weeds).

But which oats were they – possibly a more primitive variety such as black oat Avena strigosa, known by some in Britain as ‘famine food’? The writers then refer to the use of oatmeal boiled and enriched with meat into a porridge-like consistency.

There is no end to the interest and fascination. The celebrated wood engravings of the rhinoceros by the artist Albrecht Durer [5] were there for visitors to see, unphotoshopped, the ink lettering coming through from the back of the page.


[1] The Library of Innerpeffray, by Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland. Web: The Library of Innerpeffray.

[2] Andrew Wight’s journals referenced by the Living Field: Great quantities of aquavitae, Great quantities of aquavitae II, The Mill at Atholl; and various articles in the Bere line – rhymes with hairline.

[3] L’Agriculture et Maison Rustique by C Estienne and J Liebault, various editions from the 1500s and 1600s in French and English available online, e.g. see Dumbarton Oaks or search the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

[4] Ready steady mundify – a short note on mundified barley this web site).

[5] Albrecht Durer (1471-1578), a German Renaissance artist, engraved an image of an Indian rhinoceros, which he had not seen directly but crafted from verbal descriptions and a drawing. There are several versions, the one above photographed from an book of unusual animals at The Library of Innerpeffray.