The History of Guavaberry
Guavaberry, the Legend
Guavaberry is the legendary folk liqueur of Sint Maarten/St. Martin. It was first made here centuries ago in private homes. People made what they needed for family and friends. It became an integral part of local culture and tradition. Guavaberry is our national liqueur. It is a cherished symbol of the olden days. There are folk songs and stories about it.
It is made from fine oak aged rum, cane sugar and wild Sint Maarten Guavaberries. The fruit is found high in the warm hills in the center of the island. They are rare. They are not at all like guavas. The aged liqueur has a woody, fruity, spicy bitter-sweet flavor all of its own. The name “Guavaberry” is of Caribbean Amer-Indian origin.
History, Botany, Folklore
It is a quirk of nature, a blessing we say. Yes, you can find Guavaberry trees scattered throughout the wide Caribbean basin. Yes, they are found in the Philippines and Hawaiian Islands and indeed you can handle dusty old samples of brittle Guavaberry branches (Eugenia or Myrciaria Floribunda) in the herbariums of the large natural history museums in Europe.
But there is only one known tree growing on the U.S. mainland, in a State Park in Florida where it is known as a “Rumberry.” There are trees in the US Virgin Islands and in the BVI where the same old time romantic folkloric traditions exist, but it is likely that there are more Guavaberry trees on Sint Maarten/St. Martin than anywhere else on earth.
The Guavaberry fruit has never been cultivated and with the exception of a recent revival on St. Maarten/St. Martin, it was more popular 100 years ago than it is today. The fruit could lie rotting on the trees to be enjoyed only by birds. The trees are irregular in size and shape. Some trees are full and bushy (10 feet high and wide) while others are tall and thin (60+ feet high).
They blossom with tiny delicate pink and white flowers. The flowers and the berries are attached directly to the branches without stems. The ripe berries are spherical from 9-14 mm (c. ½ inch) in diameter with a thin grape-like skin. There is a large irregular round seed or stone which is surrounded by a thin layer of translucent, juicy, and pungent, bitter-sweet flesh. All the berries are pale green when unripe but when they ripen, about half the trees bear bright orange colored fruit while the other half bears very dark red/black fruit. There is a very slight difference in taste between the orange and the black fruits, discernible only by an elite few, they say. The Guavaberry is considered by botanists as a curiosity.
First cousin to clove and eucalyptus, the trees are hard to grow, the fruit is difficult to harvest and there is little flesh on the Guavaberry. The trees bear fruit at completely different times each year and often, on Sint Maarten/St. Martin, there is not crop at all. In an eight hour day, a healthy person would have difficulty in picking and filling a five gallon basket with the tiny fruits.
We read that 100 years ago the Guavaberry was used to make fresh juice, jams, and tarts and cakes in the N.E. Caribbean and in Cuba and that in the late 1800s some Guavaberry wine or rum was exported from the Danish Virgin Islands (now the USVI) to Denmark. Aside from these references, until recently, no one found a way to turn the fruit into commerce.
To the indigenous Sint Maartener, Guavaberry conjures up warm and treasured memories of the good old days. There are folk-songs and stories about it. Guavaberry is an integral and distinguishing feature of local culture, heritage and tradition, a point of pride, a symbol of Sint Maarten/St. Martin, a living link to the past.
In the old days on Sint Maarten/St. Martin, Guavaberry was known as the drink of Christmas. In the 1950s, the population of Sint Maarten/St. Martin was at its lowest ebb, with only 1,600 people living on the Dutch side. In those days Guavaberry was an essential part of the annual Christmas festivities and people would go from door to door singing – “Good Morning, Good Morning, I come for me Guavaberry…” The host or hostess of each house would take the precious bottle from the cabinet and pour a little tot for the serenaders. These activities are most precious to those who remember them and they equate Guavaberry with everything that was unique and special and quiet about the island only one generation ago.
Below is the recipe for a Guavaberry Colada. Try it, you’ve find it tasty and refreshing.
Guavaberry Colada ingredients:
2oz. Sint Maarten Guavaberry
1oz. Coconut Cream
3oz Pineapple Juice or Pieces
How to Mix the Drink:
Put ice in blender, add Sint Maarten Guavaberry, cream of Coconut, pineapple pieces or juice. Blend well. Garnish with pineapple, toasted coconut and fresh nutmeg. Share with family or friends.
Sint Maarten Guavaberry Company
8-10 Frontstreet, Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
From the USA tel: 1.721.542.2965 Fax: 1.721.542.4598