Nance is native from southern Mexico through the Pacific side of Central America to Peru and Brazil; also occurs in Trinidad, Barbados, Curacao, St. Martin, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and throughout Cuba and the Isle of Pines. The tree grows well in sandy and rocky soil, and tolerates extended droughts, so that’s probably another reason it’s so commonly grown. Dr. David Fairchild brought seeds from Panama to the United States Department of Agriculture in 1899. A few specimens exist in special collections in southern Florida. The species was introduced into the Philippines in 1918.
Byrsonima crassifolia is a slow-growing large shrub or tree to 33 ft high, or, in certain situations, even reaching 66 ft; varying in form from round-topped and spreading to narrow and compact; the trunk short or tall, crooked or straight. Young branches are densely coated with russet hairs. The opposite leaves, ovate to elliptic or oblong-elliptic, may be 1 1/4 to 6 1/2 in long and 1 1/2 to 2 3/4 in wide, rounded or pointed at the apex, blunt or pointed at the base; leathery, usually glossy on the upper surface and more or less brown- or gray-hairy on the underside.
The flowers, borne in thinly or conspicuously red-hairy, erect racemes 4 to 8 in long, are 1/2 to 3/4 in wide; the 5 petals yellow at first, changing to dull orange-red. The fruit is peculiarly odorous, orange-yellow, round, 5/16 to 7/16 in wide, with thin skin and white, juicy, oily pulp varying in flavor from insipid to sweet, acid, or cheese-like. There is a single, fairly large, stone containing 1 to 3 white seeds.
The fruit is high in tannin, especially when unripe. Its fruit is traditionally eaten raw or cooked as dessert, or may be included in soup or in stuffing for meats. By distillation, there is produced in Costa Rica, a rum-like liquor called Crema de Nance. The Nances are often used to prepare carbonated beverages, or an acid, oily, fermented beverage known by the standard term chicha applied to assorted beer-like drinks made of fruits or maize.
Nance has a black pit and the pulp needs to be squeezed off it- either by hand or pulsing it in a blender. It is then strained and used to make frescos (drinks). In Panama people make chichas drinks that are served with every meal. Unlike Mexican aguas frescas, theirs chichas are 70% fresh fruit juice, 20% water and 10% sugar. Panamanians make chichas with almost any fruit.
The other common use for Nance is Pesada, a pudding-like dessert made with the pulp, fresh corn and sometimes coconut milk. This is then served with crumbled queso blanco (white cheese similar to queso fresco). Throughout its natural range, the Nance is mainly consumed by children, birds, and wild and domesticated animals. In some regions, large quantities are sold in native markets at very low prices. Medicinally the Nance tree’s bark is astringent and in Mexico has been used traditionally to firm up loose teeth and control diarrhea.
Pesada of Nance
2 cups frozen Nance, pulp
2 cups water
1 cup fresh corn, purée
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup coconut milk
1 lb Mexican style Queso fresco (cheese)
Pinch of salt
In a heavy saucepan, heat the condensed and coco milk, water and salt. Stir constantly to make sure that the mixture does not stick. Once the mixture begins to cook, add the Nance pulp. Allow the mix to cook for about 20 minutes (stirring constantly) more, without moving the saucepan from the burner.
Pour the mixture into individual-serving cups, ramekins, glasses or whatever you like. Next, sprinkle crushed cheese all over on top. Chill in the refrigerator for at least half hour before serving. It can be served warm or cold, though it is usually served cold.