Readers may recall the Colombian Evening at Baroc a few years ago. Britain’s “Bar Tender of the year” award winner, an expert cocktail mixer and great fan of Fruto Del Espiritu tropical Colombian fruit purees, demonstrated her magnificent cocktail mixing skills and an enthusiastic audience tasted the results free.
At a recent event in Islesburgh, a lively crowd gathered to watch two short films about Colombia and to taste a variety of food and drink recipes. Bo Simmons, formerly of Burrastow House and Deli Direct, well known from the Olive Tree in Lerwick and her writings and recipes, created mouth watering pavlova and cheesecakes. Jill Slee Blackadder had a drinks bar with the full range of pureed fruits, where people could mix their own non-alcoholic drinks.
The key ingredients were the rich fruit purees of guava, Andean blackberry, or “mora”, mango, passion fruit, pineapple and lulo. Lulo and mora are new to the western market. But there was more to the evening than just feasting as the two films made clear and Shetland has its own, dark link to the troubles of Colombia.
The purees are produced by Fruto Del Espiritu, a business with a mission in Colombia, and was set up by English architect Ruti Stranach, who is working in the country.
While designing new housing schemes for displaced people living in poverty, she realised that they needed more than just a place to retreat to. They needed work, safe homes and a future. Maybe the production of high quality, additive and sugar free fruit could help create new hope. Years of research and work has borne fruit and transformed a growing number of lives.
The stories of violence and misery in Colombia have been all too familiar for years, and much of it is created by the illegal drug industry. Drugs consumed and dealt here, illegally, are directly connected to the growing of cocaine and its manufacture in Colombia. Most addicts will know this. What they and their long suffering families may not know is the bloody histories of the farmers who are shot and whose families are driven from the land so that agents can come in and start forcing people to cultivate the drugs crops. Even children are forced to help in the manufacture of the drugs. Rival militias fight over land and peasant families get caught in the crossfire.
The broken and distressed remnants of these families drift into the cities, into homelessness and poverty. The films set the scene and one, a moving and impressive, award-winning animation film, was created from the drawings made by children whose families and homes had been destroyed, during counselling sessions.
Recent initiatives by Fruto Del Espiritu (Fruits of the Spirit) are beginning to turn some of the victims’ lives around. Where displaced women can find work the Colombian government is now involved with a new “Shared Responsibility” scheme, which assists the women’s return to safe farms, provided that the women can guarantee a market for their produce. If more people in the west buy and use the purees, more displaced families will be able to return to the land.
There are many good causes to be supported and Shetland is legendary in its role as generous donor to projects of all kinds, all over the world. But supporters of Fruto Del Espiritu are unusual. They support this cause – the returning of destitute families, displaced by drugs trade militias, to the land and a secure farming future – not by fund raising and donations, but by buying and enjoying the fruit produce which the families then grow and process. For the last four years Shetland has seen a growing number of people buying and using the Fruto Del Espiritu purees but despite this, things may have to change in the future. Transport costs have proved too great and future shipments of the Fruto Del Espiritu puree will depend on individual pledges to purchase.
Throughout Britain, Fruto Del Espiritu is forging links with many schools that are now using the purees in enterprise projects and non-alcoholic cocktail bars at break times. Healthy eating programmes in some schools are including Fruto recipes and Ruti Stranach hopes that instead of the recreational drugs industry, a recreational fruit culture can grow and gain popularity, helping transform the present crisis. She has coined the phrase “cordon verde”, a Colombian fruit equivalent of “cordon bleu”. She hopes too that new pen pal exchanges between Colombian women, now working again, and their consumer counterparts will grow into more and more friendships between Britain and Colombia.
Anyone interested in seeing the films, anyone who enjoys cooking and tasting tropical flavours, those interested in the wider picture of Shetland’s drug problem, or who wish to add their name to future shipments of Fruto, should contact Jill Slee Blackadder c/o Trola, East Voe, Scalloway.
Fruto Del Espiritu has an excellent web site, www.cordonverde.com for more recipes, with more information about the problems, and images of the people and the progress being made in Colombia.
Jill Slee Blackadder