Monday, December 11, 2006

Taste of the Tropics

I came back from Florida with a suitcase full of fruit. Not oranges and grapefruits, as might be expected this time of year. My selections were a little more unusual. Spiraling clockwise to the center from bottom left: kumquats, black sapote, papaya, guava, dragonfruit, passionfruit, atemoya and carambola. I'd tried some of these before, but others were completely new. I'd always rather share a new discovery than keep it to myself, so I invited a bunch of friends over for a Taste of the Tropics.

The black sapote was the most unusual fruit we tried, I think. It's ripe when the outside is green black and extremely soft. The inside contains several large seeds and a very soft, chocolate pudding colored pulp. In fact, the texture is a lot like chocolate pudding too - very creamy and custardy. Flavorwise, it's hard to describe. It's very mild and slightly sweet, but somehow also suprisingly addictive - we just keep going back to it until the skin was scooped clean!

This is the inside of the Atemoya. It contains several dark black and poisonous seeds, which I'd removed before taking this picture. It's a hybrid of two slightly better known tropical fruits, the sugar apple and the cherimoya. The rollinia pictured in my Fruit and Spice Park post is also in the same family. The flesh is cool and moist and smells a little bit like mango and pineapple. The flavors are in the same vein but mostly sweet with a mild tanginess. This one was many people's favorite.

I forgot to take pictures of our next two fruits. After the Atemoya we moved on to Carambola. You've probably seen it before - when cut across the fruit, it looks like a star (thus it's more common name of star fruit) and is commonly used to decorate fruit trays. They come in several varieties. This one was among the sweetest, and even then it wasn't very. It was a deep yellow color and smelled like green peppers. It was very juicy and mild, slightly sweet and slightly tangy.

The contrast with our next entry was certainly pronounced! Kumquats are very intense. The pith is not as powerfully bitter as oranges and lemons and the like, but it does impart a bitter aftertaste. The pulp is sour, but there's some sweetness in there too. We found that it was much better to pop one in your mouth whole and eat it all at once than to take bites of a single kumquat. Eaten all together, the flavors meld into a very harmonious whole.

Dragonfruit is the fruit of a cactus. It's more pretty than tasty - you can understand its importance as a desert fruit because the flesh is just bursting with water. It smells kind of melony and floral. With the crunchy seeds, it's very reminiscent of kiwi fruit, but without the acid tang of kiwi. Instead there's sort of a mild watery flowery sweetness. Coming after the pungent kumquat, this made for a nice palate cleanser, but I'd probably change the order were I to do this again.

Most of us weren't very fond of the papaya. It looks and smells very much like cantaloupe. It tastes like... well... papaya. There's a hint of something odd about it. We think it's the latex - green papaya is a prolific source of latex, from which the meat-tenderizing enzyme papaian is produced - and that flavor seems to stick around even in the ripe fruit. It was much better sprinkled with a little lime juice. We also tasted the seeds, which have a distinct peppery bite. It was easy to see see why in some countries dried papaya seeds are used to adulterate more expensive black peppercorns.

We had to move the guava off the table while we were tasting the earlier fruits, because its lovely fruity muskiness was overwhelming our attempts to smell the milder fruits. But upon cutting, what was a pleasant aroma in the whole fruit became quite acrid and sharp. Once we could get past the smell, however, the flavor was really nice. Something like a cross between an apple and pear with a hint of musky mystery. This was definitely one to eat cut into wedges, so everyone could experience the variety of flavors and textures. It went from a a pear like skin to a really creamy smooth bit right in the center.

Passionfruit is one of my favorite flavors. When I made some passionfruit chocolate truffles for a sale earlier in the year, I was surprised to hear that many of my customers were not familiar with passionfruit. People were really skeptical that this was going to be good - a passionfruit is ripe and ready to eat when the outside starts to get wrinkly and dessicated. They're very light, so it's easy to think that it's going to be all dried up. But instead, they're filled with a tart and tangy pulp that surrounds a bunch of seeds (which you can eat or not as you so desire). Mmm.

I bought all these fruits at a Homestead, FL fruit stand called Robert is Here. More details on this mecca for fruit lovers is still to come.


Anonymous said...

Hi Tammy, I'm will be traveling to florida in late july, early august. I was just wondering if you saw any pick-your-own fruit farm while you were in florida. If not, could you recommend any farm that would sell fruits for retail? I'm particularly interested in dragon fruit, longan, and guava. Thanks much for your help.

Tammy Coxen said...

Unfortunately, I'm not very familiar with Florida so don't have any recommendations for you. I expect that Googling "Florida pick your own fruit farm" would point you in the right direction. Enjoy your trip, and definitely stop by the Fruit and Spice Park if you get a chance - it was a highlight of my visit!