Custard Apples

lumpy geen fruit in foliage
Custard apples on our tree. The odd-looking pale thing at lower right is a flower.

I mentioned custard apples recently in my post about the Mangosteen and now it’s time to feature them.

We planted a few exotic fruit trees 10 – 15 years ago, not with any great ambitions of producing much of our own food but more for the interest in seeing how they went. Mostly, I have to say, the trees have been more decorative than useful. Often they don’t produce at all and when they do, the possums often get to the fruit long before we think it is ripe enough to pick. This year, though, the custard apple tree looked promising: when I took this photo a month ago, there were at least half a dozen healthy-looking fist-sized fruit. They were quite hard, however, so we still had to wait and watch.

Yesterday I looked at one of them and saw the bumps had separated, showing yellow between them. That’s the sign of ripeness, so I squeezed it – and it was so soft it almost collapsed in my hand. I picked it at once and it turned out to be a little over-ripe but still delicious. It may not have been the first we’ve ever had from the tree but it was certainly the first for some years – as I’ve said, the bananas provide more fruit than all the rest of our garden put together.

“Custard apple” is a name which is used quite loosely in our area to refer to a group of related species, all apparently native to South and Central America. A bit of research suggests our tree is more correctly called a “sugar apple” – that it is an Annona squamosa rather than the custard apple proper (Annona reticulata), cherimoya (Annona cherimola)  or an atemoya (a cross of A. squamosa and A. cherimola).

The Soursop (Annona muricata) is another member of the family but is the odd one out in terms of its fruit – no-one would ever call it a custard apple!

The in-line links above all take you to wikipedia pages.

Update, October 2015: I recommended The Australian Tropical Fruits Portal Custard Apple page when I wrote my article but it seems to have vanished. The Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia may be a useful alternative.

The mangosteen

When I first arrived in Townsville from Melbourne I investigated the “exotic” tropical fruits with cautious enthusiasm until I had tried most of what was readily available. Many of them, I decided, weren’t worth eating: I thought soursops, for instance, were like cotton wool soaked in lemon juice. Others were better than that but not better than the familiar European fruit – black sapote comes to mind – and never became regular items in the fruit bowl. Others again, like custard apples, were good enough to grab whenever they came our way or, like bananas and pineapples, were already part of our diet.

mangosteens, whole and cut open.
mangosteens, whole and cut open.

In the last few months I have renewed my exploration of the exotics, partly because I so enjoyed the unfamiliar local food in Laos last year and partly because I have become  more interested in growing and eating local produce. Last time around I somehow missed mangosteens – I knew the name but not the fruit – so when I saw some on a Cotters Market stall last week I grabbed them.

Each fruit is about the size of a large plum or smallish nectarine. The very dark purple skin is quite hard and leathery, and cutting into it is like cutting into a passionfruit although the fruit inside is totally different. One cuts carefully around the equator to reveal it: white, segmented like an orange, but with a single large seed in each segment. The flavour is very pleasant in a citrus-crossed-with-lychee kind of way. Other writers have called it the “Queen of Tropical Fruits” … perhaps a bit excessive? Not according to this enthusiast’s site.

white flesh inside purple-red shell
The cut mangosteen, showing the segmented fruit inside the tough shell

For all the basic information – origins, cultivation, botanical name, uses – wikipedia is, as usual, fine but the mangosteen page on the Australian Tropical Fruits Portal is just about the ideal introduction for Australian readers.

Update, October 2015: The Australian Tropical Fruits Portal seems to have vanished. The Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia may be a useful alternative.

Monstera deliciosa

Monstera deliciosa plant growing along the edge of our lawn.
Monstera deliciosa plant growing along the edge of our lawn.

Monstera deliciosa is commonly grown in northern Australia as an ornamental creeper, and it is great in that role: the huge leaves are dramatic in their sculpted form and the whole plant will grow for many metres up a tree or along the ground. It is a member of the Araceae family which includes the Arum lily. The flower is impressively large and its similarity to arum lilies is very obvious once the relationship is considered.

white lily-like flower and tall green bud
Monstera flower, showing the white hood, with a large bud (almost ready to open) just in front of it

But the species name ‘deliciosa’ means ‘delicious’  and the fruit is, in fact edible. Wikipedia describes it concisely as, ‘up to 25 cm long and 3–4 cm diameter, looking like a green ear of maize covered with hexagonal scales.’ (I reckon ours grow beyond 30cm but, hey, this is Queensland.) It also notes – and this is an important warning – that, ‘the unripe green fruits can irritate the throat and the latex of the leaves and vines can create rashes in the skin, because both contain potassium oxalate.’

The fruit takes a very long time, perhaps as long as a year, to mature and is ripe when the hexagonal plates fall off. That happens slowly, from the base of the fruit upwards, and the fruit may be eaten in stages for this reason. We picked some fruit recently after (frankly) not bothering for years:

monstera fruit
Monstera fruit on my now-standard chopping board – an almost-ripe whole fruit and ripe cut fruit with a few fallen scales.

The flavour and texture were quite pleasant in a banana-pineapple kind of way but a bit ‘grippy’ on the tongue, and it is a bit fiddly to eat; those facts, in conjunction with the long wait for each fruit to ripen, probably explain why we haven’t bothered harvesting them for so long. A friend told us that local people used them in jellies so we tried that, too; it was pleasant enough and suggests that fruit segments would go well in fruit salad.

After all that, would I ever grow the plant just for the fruit? No, but but I will keep on growing it as an ornamental and if I spot another ripe fruit I will pick it.

If you want to investigate further, the NSW Agriculture Agfacts brochure gives such a great summary of its growth, and how to treat the fruit, that I suggest you download their pdf. Boston Food and Whine (that’s not a typo!) was quite challenged by it; their post doesn’t add much but is quite entertaining.

Finally, close-up photos of the developing flower. As usual, click on them for larger versions.

white monstera flower close-up
A recently-opened flower, with tiny flies and (out of focus in the lower right) a native bee (sweat bee)
monstera flower growing green and tiles separating
The lower part of an older monstera flower showing the separation of the hexagonal ’tiles’. The hood dries up and falls off as the fruit begins to mature.

 

Jaboticaba!

No, it’s not a Latin-American cry of encouragement, nor the Argentinean answer to polo, nor a hooded mediaeval gown. It’s an exotic tropical fruit we have been enjoying recently.

Jaboticaba fruit on the tree
Jaboticaba fruit on the tree

We planted the tree years ago and have mostly ignored it ever since, but it has produced worthwhile numbers of blossoms and some fruit in the last few weeks. Buds, flowers and finally fruit emerge directly from the stems. The cherry-sized fruit go from green to purple-brown to black and have a single seed a bit smaller than a cherry pip. The flesh is very soft and sweet, more like a grape than anything else; the skin is thin and edible, but tough and bitter enough that we tend to spit it out.

The tree, Myrciara cauliflora, ‘grows to 10 to 12 metres in its native southern Brazil,’ according to Glenn Tankard’s invaluable Tropical Fruit, ‘but is more commonly seen in Australian gardens as a large bush growing up to 5 metres high.’ From the description of ideal growing conditions I suspect ours doesn’t get as much sun as it should – I will see what I can do about that.

Jaboticaba buds and flowers
Buds and flowers