The pleasantly acid-sweet flesh of the fruit of the quenepa tree, macerated for a spell in clear rum, is the quintessential ingredient in Vieques’ official summer cocktail – bilí. Originally a native of Columbia and Venezuela, the fruit is cultivated widely throughout the Caribbean. They readily sprout from seed, and visitors can spot wild specimens growing all along our roads. It is called genip in the U.S.V.I. and in English it is often called honeyberry. The trees are dioecious – meaning there are male and female trees, like the familiar hollies up north.
- The quenepa belongs to a distinguished plant family; the Sapindaceae, making it a New World cousin of the Old World’s tropical lychee, longan and rambutan.
- The flowers are rich in nectar and a favorite of hummingbirds and bees.
- If you are here during quenepa season, you must procure some from roadside vendors. You simply pop open the leathery green skin and put the large, jelly-covered seed in your mouth. Roll it around and suck out the juice, then discard the pit. Everybody does it – and at certain times of the year it looks like the entire populace has jaw breaker candy in their mouths. It is another true island experience.
Compliments of Chef Eva Bolivar
8 cups of white rum
2 1/2 lbs. of quenepas
1 1/2 cups of brown sugar
1/2 tsp. of vanilla
1 stick of cinnamon
Cut the quenepas open and mix with sugar and vanilla. Continue combining until the sugar dissolves. Add the rum slowly and keep mixing until you have used all of it. Taste for sweetness, and if needed, add a little more sugar. Add the cinnamon stick and put it in a bottle; cover tightly.