From any tree of the garden, you may eat freely.
In 1954, near Montego Bay, Jamaica, 151 people were overcome with a debilitating sickness that caused weakness, altered consciousness, rapid breathing, and most notably, vomiting. Within twelve and a half hours, 32 people were dead.
This affliction wasn’t novel on the tropical island –in fact, this exact sort of illness had first been noted in 1875, and between 1880 and 1955, hundreds of people fell ill with the deadly sickness that bore the name “Jamaican Vomiting Sickness.” Until the mid 1950s, it was without a definite cause. There seemed to be an association between it and the consumption of ackee, a rich, nutty fruit that had been on the island since Thomas Clarke, a colonial botanist, brought it over from West Africa in 1778. In 1937, scientists identified toxic material in the fruit; in 1954, others isolated the two toxic compounds: hypoglycin A and hypoglycin B.
“You tek aekee boil soup, gal you want fe come kill me?” goes an old Jamaican saying recorded by K. Leigh Evans in her 1938 report Experimental Studies of Poisoning with Ackee. Today, the threat of death is still there, but Jamaicans have learned what to avoid: consuming underripe ackee or water in which underripe ackee has been cooked. If caught early, there is treatment. Which, is good because even with the threat of death, Jamaicans never stopped eating ackee. Instead, it’s actually eaten, and eaten often. Typically boiled and sauteed with salt cod, it’s not just a popular Jamaican breakfast –it’s the island’s national dish.