OUR farm and the surrounding bush supply us with a fair span of fruit and vegetables. Otherwise, like most people in Uganda, we choose from what is laid out in piles under the shade of trees or at small market stalls. Mangoes come in numerous shapes, flavours and disguises – spherical and large, oblong with a protruding chin; peachy, aromatic or tart and citrusy; some with a flawless olive-green skin, others blushing or yellow, small ones lumpy and with ugly patches (these are often the tastiest).

There are consequences if you succumb to their delights. The juice stains clothing which helps pin down who ate that basketful meant as a gift for an uncle; gorging more than half a dozen leads to diarrhoea; a serious evening session round a full bucket with neighbours causes a euphoric collective dementia which may be mistaken for drunkenness.

Some years ago, one of our small trees in Swaziland produced a crop of such excellence that I numbered each large mango with a felt-tip indelible marker – 1 to 26, if I remember – to detect theft, the suspects being an over-attentive security guard on the one hand and our chief accountant, who lived next door and appeared in need of feeding after his wife left him, on the other.

Pawpaws are everywhere, thanks to their glutinous seeds being irresistible to birds, and heavy enough to stun unsuspecting children or chickens if they fall off the brittle-trunked tree. The fragrant orange red flesh is scooped out down to the skin, the latter being bitter, possibly from alkaloids, a family of organic chemicals related to local anaesthetics. In the 1980s a very dry white wine called Papaya was produced in Kenya for a brief, very brief, period – I recall that it left a curious numbness on the tongue and mouth and was made from pawpaws.

Another medical aspect is that the flesh of ripe pawpaws is useful when faced with large, deep, infected wounds which are not healing despite antibiotics and orthodox dressings; the fruit is packed into the wound, covered and completely renewed daily. Wild honey is similarly effective. With the current threat of hospital ‘superbugs’ resistant to most antibiotics and the outrageous expense of the latter, perhaps the First World should be less finicky.

Finally pineapples, lying in aromatic drifts, where you may request of the stall owner that your choice be topped and tailed, the prickly skin removed, the juicy flesh sliced, leaving you the delight of its tart mouthfuls. It has other applications. When I worked at a Church of Scotland mission hospital in Zululand, South Africa, we non-Calvanists tried to liven up what was usually a pretty joyless Christmas staff lunch by making a mildly alcoholic fruit punch. All would have gone well had it not been for pineapples – and a small, highly intelligent Zulu medical student called Mike Dlamini together with his blonde, blue-eyed colleague from St Bartholemews’ hospital in London.

Mike sniffed our punch on the previous day, shook his head and proceeded to the hospital kitchen for pineapples, brown sugar, some molasses and yeast. His fellow student persuaded the laboratory to part with their bottle of pure ethanol. The resulting brew was offered to all hospital staff before the celebratory lunch. I will draw a veil over the rest of that day except to say that the food was untouched.

Our dear cook, Elizabeth Du Pont, tipsy after two cups of bubbling punch, toppled backwards into a small vat of hot mealie porridge, sustaining minor burns of her bottom. The medical students rushed to her aid, suspicious in itself, and applied antiseptic solutions, leaving her happy – but quite unaware that she now had a piebald fundament, one half bright green, the other iridescent crimson...

Dr David Vost studied medicine at Glasgow University and is currently working at a hospital in Swaziland. He and his family live on a small farm in Northern Uganda near the Albert Nile. davidvostsz@gmail.com

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