Erythrina berteroana is a genus of tropical and subtropical flowering trees in the family Fabaceae. This tree is native to Mexico, Central America, the Greater Antilles, Colombia and Venezuela. Pito tree is a common species in Cuba and Hispaniola, where it grows wild and it is cultivated and naturalized in Panama. Coral Bean Tree blooms all summer, and its crimson flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds, making for quite a stunning show. Though perhaps toxic or narcotic, in Guatemala, El Salvador and other parts of Central America, the young flowers and new growth are added to soups and other food preparations as a vegetable. It is use in traditional medicine too. A decoction of young shoots is employed as a narcotic. There is a belief that the leaves placed under the pillow, induce deep and refreshing sleep. It is an interesting plant for many reasons, one of which is that it always turns it leaves towards the sun. The showy red blossoms and bright coral seeds of Coral bean make this species a popular ornamental accent plant in sunny gardens. Coral bean plants contain alkaloids that are toxic when ingested. While they are generally not fatal, eating the leaves or seeds may cause severe diarrhea or vomiting. The poisonous seeds are strung into bracelets, necklaces, and novelties. The bark yields a yellow dye, while the crushed branches are used to intoxicate fish.
Erythrina berteroana is a tree to 10 m tall, trunk to 48 cm dbh, crown low, spreading, profusely branched; bark pale, smooth, with many or few broad and conical spines; branchlets smooth, lustrous, spines occasional, pyramidal, to 0.6 cm long, often reflexed at the apex. Leaves alternate, trifoliate, 10-35 cm long, the leaflets ovate or deltoid, 5-17 cm long, 4-20 cm wide, margin entire, shortly acute or acuminate at the apex; stalks swollen at the base, 7.5-15 cm; blades usually coated with whitish bloom beneath. Flowers pinkish to red, appearing with the leaves, in terminal racemes, 12.5-25 cm long; each flower 5-10 cm long, embracing 10 stamens, the anthers protruding; ovary stalked, pubescent. Pod dark brown, semi-woody, curved, moniliform, 10-30 cm long, 1-1.5 cm broad, the beak 2-4 cm long, the several seeds. Seed 5 mm long, oblongoid, bright orange red, with a conspicuous black hilum. Erythrina comes from the Greek word ‘eruthros’-red, alluding to the showy red flowers of the Erythrina species. It flowers during winter and spring, after shedding most of its leaves. Pods open during spring. The generic name means red-colored, in reference to the flowers. The species name honors the Italian naturalist Carlo Giuseppe Bertero (1789-1831).
Machete, a common name, is suggested by the flowers with standard petal shaped like a machete blade and the calyx forming the handle. The common name piñón de pito in Cuba refers to the use of the flowers by small boys in making whistles or flutes. The corolla placed in a hollow petiole serves as a reed.
*Wash beans thoroughly and soak them overnight with enough water to cover*
2 cups dry black beans
1 pound of Pitos, de-veined
1 onion minced
3 Ajies verdes (Pepper Cambuci)
1 stalk of celery, chopped
2 small carrots, coarsely chopped
1/2 head of garlic peeled minced and or mashed to a paste
1 Can 8 oz. tomato sauce
1/2 pound of pork ham or pork meat cut into small 1/2 inch cubes (optional)
2 medium potatoes, diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon oregano
salt to taste.
In a soup kettle, bring beans to a boil in water, add bay leafs, salt and simmer, covered about ½ hour.
In a large saucepan, combine cubed pork meat or pork ham (remember the meat is optional), and frying it until it renders fat, when meat is browned add the pork into the boiling beans, then reduce to a bare simmer and cook for 1 hour. In remaining lard sauté the onions, garlic, celery, carrots, Pitos, potatoes, cumin and oregano stir until fragrant about 10 minutes, then add tomato sauce, reduce heat until sauce barely simmers. Then add the mixture to the boiling beans and the three Ajíes verdes, let it simmer uncovered on medium heat until thickened stirring occasionally until beans are tender.
Even if the red beans are being served as a side or soup to accompany other stuff, I still like adding a little bit of chopped up pork meat because it lends good flavor. You can leave out the meat completely if you wish and just make a bacon “sofrito” too. Red beans depend heavily on pork; they are usually always cooked with pork products. But if you are a vegan person, then you can substitute for a good quality olive oil, but it won’t be the same!