Deliplants

Deliplants
Image from Steve Bowers
Hambush

Deliplants are splice or neogen plants. The originals were designed to provide equivalents to the animal products once consumed by human baselines on Old Earth: not only the muscle or fatty tissue and various edible organs of various animal species, but also other products such as eggs, milk, blood or cheese. The name was intended to suggest the Late Information Age English words "delicatessen" and "delicious."

The product of a deliplant is usually in the form of a seed or fruit that is either held well off the ground or protected by a thick rind. The fruit of deliplants is designed to be harvested and eaten (or in some cases dried or otherwise preserved) within a few weeks of maturity. Occasional experiments over the years with plants that produce similar tissues in their stems or roots have not generally been a success; they are too vulnerable to spoilage, especially if they are in contact with the soil, unless their "meat" is sufficiently dry and hard to discourage bacterial growth. A deliplant may be a vine, bush, herb or tree. Originally these were descendants of Old Earth's domesticated food plants and recognisable as such. The fruit was also recognisable from its form and colour as some traditional animal product (though of course today only students of Old Earth history could reliably make that identification). Since then, of course, the designs for deliplants and their fruits have diversified. They may be far removed from their ancestors both in the form of the plant and in the appearance, taste and texture of the fruit.

For millennia now, especially in cultures that prefer "natural" to nanofactured food, deliplants have been an essential part of the diet for any bionts who are of carnivorous or omnivorous stock. This is especially true in the civilized portions of the Terragen sphere, where the use of even low-grade sentient beings for food may be prohibited by local law or custom.

Deliplants are of ancient derivation; the first introductions date back to the dawn of the Interplanetary Age in the 2nd century. Their genesis followed hard on the widespread availability of safe and reliable genetic engineering (earlier genetic manipulations being so chancy as not to be worthy of the term "engineering"). In the waning years of the 1st century the precursors of true gengineers had already introduced standard grains such as rice or wheat that carried the full range of amino acids that are necessary for human baseline health. They had also introduced genes for other essential vitamins into the vegetable crops of the time. Though this made reliance on a vegetable diet practical and convenient for the first time in human history, it did not satisfy the carnivorous tastes of a species that had evolved as a hunter as well as a gatherer. In consequence many humans still raised and killed animals for food if they could afford to do so, despite ethical pressure from some groups to cease the practice and despite the considerable cost involved in doing so on the crowded surface of Old Earth or in the thickly settled habs of the day. Some early gengineered fungi, the meatshrooms, were intended to provide a cheap alternative, but unfortunately the introductory versions were grown on waste matter. Though they were perfectly delicious and wholesome and have been widely used and highly esteemed in times since, they acquired the stigma of being "sewerfoods" and were avoided even by the poorest folk of the day. The first deliplants, on the other hand, were attractive to the eye and were grown in the sunlight and open air in ordinary soil. The ready acceptance of deliplants changed Terragen biont eating habits forever.

At first, for marketing reasons, the most popular deliplants imitated the texture, colour and even the shape of popular animal products. These early products had names that were suggestive of animal origins. Today's eggplants, shrimp bushes, porkpear trees, chedurian trees, salmonberry bushes, crabapples trees and the various kinds of sausagevine go back to these ancient times. Not long afterward there was an explosion of new varieties and each month saw the introduction of some novelty. On the one hand an ever-increasing range of plant species was used as primary stock. On the other hand the genome records from the Burning Library Project were used to reproduce the tastes and textures of such exotica as the meat of elephants, whales, swordfish, turtles or bustards; such meats had long been forbidden or simply unavailable because the species involved were protected or extinct (dodo proved to be particularly popular). There was also a small explosion in the niche markets for some of the less usual tissue types. Larkstongue plants and brainberries date from this period and not many moderns remember now that in the English of the 1st century "marrow" once referred to a variety of squash, or that "liverwort" once referred to a simple plant. Many of these early favourites became extinct during the Nanoswarms, but many were preserved and many more invented in isolated habs and enclaves during those dark times. Deliplants of one sort or another have since been planted wherever Terragen bionts have settled and have continued to diversify. There are many millions of species and varieties now on record.

Some religious and ethnic groups chose to extend their dietary prohibitions to gengineered plants according to the gene sequences the plants carried. Thus, many Jewish and Moslem and some variant Christian groups abstained from the early porkapple trees and hambushes, Hindus would not eat steakoak fruit and the most conservative Jews refused nearly the entire suite of deliplant meats excepting those that qualified as kosher. Likewise some Jains and some Nuagers refused to ingest anything that even so much as contained the genetic material of any animal (many Nuagers also refused to eat any gengineered materials at all on the principle that they were not natural). On the other hand, some other vegan and vegetarian Buddhists, Jains and Nuagers rejoiced in the advent of species that could provide such attractive sustenance without inducing suffering in any other sentient being. In Old Earth's English-speaking cultures the consumption of dog- or horse-derived deliplants was considered unacceptable by some. Religious or cultural prohibitions of a similar kind continue to this day. The Francisclarans, for instance, object to the "use" of any sentient being, even in something so remotely removed as its genome. In parts of the Stellar Umma there are fairly elaborate lists of permissible and forbidden fruits based on their genetic assays. In some branches of today's Evangelical Orthodox Catholic Christianity it is customary for believers from omnivorous clades to abstain from certain kinds of deliplant fruits on certain days or seasons. There are also some continuing cultural and clade-based biases. Many modern human nearbaseline cultures avoid deliplants that carry code from the human genome, though as early as the Interplanetary Age such early deliplants as "Carib Delight" have been popular in certain circles. The Long Pig series of cultivars is eaten with great enthusiasm by some carnivorous or omnivorous bionts, particularly by provolves and splices derived from the larger canids, hyaenids and felids of Old Earth and by the various "dragon" and "manticore" neogens. Splices from some reform sects of the Children of Moreau movement still consume blood oranges with human or other flavours in their rites, much to the discomfort of other neighbouring sophonts. Every year a small percentage of Reform Moreauvians find this symbolic food insufficient and progress to some more fundamentalist expression of their faith and in some places blood oranges are illegal on the theory that they encourage such thoughts.

Many modern deliplants are not immediately identifiable as an imitation of any particular original animal product. This has been partly a response to some of the dominant cultures in the time since, many of which would have been repulsed at the idea of eating animals at all. However for the most part it has simply been an exploration of new culinary and genetic combinations. The crunchy texture and meaty taste of the steakapples popular today would be a good example. Though the various early varieties of deliplant were not capable of reproduction (in part in an attempt to protect patents), it has long been the custom to create varieties that set seed or can be propagated by cuttings. Many a modern prim society grows deliplants alongside more conventional Old Earth crops and on many terraformed worlds varieties of deliplant have escaped into the wilds or have been purposely designed to thrive there.

Much attention has gone into making deliplants attractive in leaf, flower and fruit according to the aesthetic standards of the local clade and culture, and some are highly valued as ornamentals. The flavours and odours of most modern deliplants are also designed to be attractive. A few, of course, are unpopular outside their original context, and there are some niche specialties that are appreciated only by a few. The Alchemists, for instance, have some distinctly tumourous-looking varieties that are quite repulsive to most other clades; the soft rubbery flesh-coloured stems of their bloodapple trees are particularly disgusting to outsiders. Cultivating or consuming the "Limburger" variety of chedurian, with its hints of ripe durian and various powerfully flavoured Old Earth cheeses, is illegal in some small habs or even in public spaces within larger habs and colonies; the odour is simply too powerful, penetrating and persistent. Limburger chedurians remain very popular with human nearbaselines and various hyena and canid provolves in spite of this. Beetlenuts are quite popular with Tavi and with other bionts who have insectivorous ancestors. The same is true of grub-berries, particularly those designed to wriggle when picked. Some human cultures find this sort of active food distasteful, while others regard it to be a great delicacy.

Though there are many exceptions to the general rule, deliplants are still traditionally created with waxy or leathery skins, most often in white, brown, or pink tones, to help distinguish them from more conventional sweet or starchy fruits. The old fashioned cheesefruits may have the ancient wheel-like shape, waxy covering and soft oily flesh, while the ancient shrimp bush bears pinkish fruit with a hard casing reminiscent of chitin and eggplant fruit is oval and white.

There are zero-g and even vacuum adapted deliplants that have become part of orwood habitats. Some of these cannot be identified as to their ancestors because they follow the growth habits appropriate to their environment. Many orwoods have been designed to produce a variety of deliplant fruits, and some deliplants have been altered to grow on orwoods as a kind of epiphyte.

Deliplants do not produce as abundantly as some more conventional Old Earth fruits because of the high nitrogen requirement for their protein component and the metabolic expense of producing their various fats and oils. Nevertheless, given moderately good soil, water and sunlight even a small patch or orchard can produce more than sufficient for the needs of a typical human nearbaseline.

Common stocks for the vegetable ancestor of early varieties of deliplants included apple, pear, fig, avocado, durian, breadfruit, cocoa and mulberry trees, coconut or date palm trees, various representatives of the genus Rubus (raspberries and blackberries), akebia and grape vines and aubergine, tomato, or pineapple plants, as well as squash, gourd and melon varieties. Since then they have diversified a great deal. The first wave of animal-like flavours and textures included thousands of types and subtypes. Some of the most notable were various fish (halibut, tuna, salmon, oolichan, swordfish), a variety of birds (emu, ostrich, lark, bustard, egret and gull in addition to the more traditional ducks, geese, turkeys, quail, pheasant and chickens), a few of the tastier reptiles and amphibians (mostly varieties of turtle or iguana, plus some frogs) and a huge range of mammals (agouti, walrus, beaver, human, eland, bear, elephant and whale in addition to the more traditional venison, goat, beef, dog, pork, horse and the like), as well as some of the invertebrates that had been traditional human foods (shrimp, crabs, lobster and other decapods, squid and octopus, clams and oysters of various kinds). Some organ meats were also replicated (marrow, liver, sweetbreads, etc.). So were numerous animal products, (mostly dairy products such as yoghurts, cheeses, milk, butter; all popular with humans who had the ability to digest them), sausages, eggs of all kinds from bird to crocodile, blood, fish roe and derived fermented items such as shrimp paste or fish sauce.

Typical Old-fashioned Deliplants

Beetlenut: Actually a legume; the chitinous fruit have the texture and appearance of the abdomen of a large beetle; very popular in most Tavi of almost any sort, but less so in many human nearbaseline cultures.
Blood Orange: A citrus derivative that has juice with the taste and nutritional content of blood in a round brownish fruit. Extremely juicy and bright red when immature, but ripens to a thick blackish pudding-like consistency.
Chedurian: The original of this was derived from the durian fruits popular in Old Earth's Asia, but the fruit had the flavour, texture and odour of cheddar cheese. Several variants have since been developed, from soft to hard and from mild to extremely pungent, some of them containing the same "rotten" odours found in durians and in the smellier cheeses.
Eggplant: Bears fruits resembling the eggs of Old Earth birds, reptiles, or monotremes in various sizes shapes, colours and flavours depending on the variety, sometimes with a hard calcareous shell and sometimes in a leathery sack and sometimes as a semi liquid and sometimes as a solid. "Dinosaur" eggplants became popular at about the time of the first dinosaur lazurogenes, though of course only size distinguishes them from bird or crocodile eggs. Eggplants are derived, oddly enough, from a plant that once bore the same name, now commonly known as the aubergine.
Guananut: The original tree, like the cocoa tree from which it is descended, bears its fruit on the main trunk. The fruits themselves are green and scaly and taste of iguana.
Hambush: A bizarre hybrid of the security bush with the porkpear.
Liverwort: A tomato-like plant bearing brownish mango-shaped fruit, each having the flavour, texture and nutrient value of uncooked liver.
Marrow: A sprawling annual plant related to squashes and melons; the hard calcareous outer shell contains juicy and fatty tissue comparable to bone marrow. Carnivores particularly enjoy this plant; some enjoy chewing the rind as much as the soft interior.
Milknut: Derivative of the coconut, though most varieties have much thinner shells. The mature fruit contains a rich milky fluid that resembles mammalian milk of one sort or another. In some varieties this hardens into various cheese-like substances as the nut ripens.
Porkpear: Actually a plant derived from the avocado. The flesh around the large central seed has the taste and texture of pork. Some later variants are spiced with oil of clove or other complex aromatic substances.
Salmonberry: A small raspberry-like bush with thimble-shaped compound fruit that taste of coho salmon; often eaten fresh, or dried for storage.
Sausagevine: The original plant, Akebia quinata, had a small sausage-shaped fruit. This was developed into many hundreds of sub-varieties, some of which may be safely dried for storage.
Shrimpbush: A small bush (under 2 metres) bearing chains of yellow flowers that develop into long pods; the immature pods taste like Old Earth crustaceans.
Steakoak: A large tree ultimately derived from oaks. A central acorn remains on the fruit, but it is enclosed in a large fleshy pericarp about the size of a mango that has the flavour and texture of tender beef.
 
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Development Notes
Text by Stephen Inniss

Initially published on 03 November 2005.