This is a report on a talk presented at a meeting of the R.F.C.I. Tampa Bay Chapter by Tom Economou.
We are fortunate to have with us again this year, that world traveler, Tom Economou, with an impressive array of tropical fruit. Tom emphasized the fact that tropical fruit will grow in Florida, and at any time of the year he can assemble an extensive display, but he reminded us that they are tropical fruit and central Florida is hardly a tropical area. Tom's fruit display was collected at the University of Florida Homestead experimental station, or IFAS, and also from the Fruit and Spice Park.
The first fruit that Tom displayed for us was a papaya which was grown in Clearwater by Joe Constantine. Joe Constantine donated two papayas from his own trees for Tom to show at this meeting and for the members to taste. It is a variety developed by the University of Florida at Homestead by Dr. Conover and Dr. Litz. Seeds were available from both papayas for those who wish to cultivate them through the winter and plant them in their yard next spring.
Tom next showed us an interesting and attractive fruit called the pincushion fruit (Nauclea latifolios). He cut it for us and indicated that we could taste it after the talk.
The next fruit he showed us was the hog plum, or spondias. The spondias is very popular in the tropics, although it has a large seed and little flesh. There are a number of different varieties of spondias but they are available throughout the tropics in every country in Latin America.
Tom next showed us the flower of the banana tree, which is edible and is eaten in the Orient. It is also canned as a delicacy. Another interesting fruit which Tom collected from the Fruit and Spice Park is the candlestick or Parmentiera edulis. The fruit is borne on the trunk of the tree instead of at the ends of the branches. It is edible, but not a very tasty plant. Tom described it as stringy celery.
Another interesting fruit, a berry, which grows on a very large tree, is the antidesma, Antidesma bunius. It is a black berry that matures about this time of the year. It makes a delicious jelly and an excellent wine.
He next showed us the star apple, Chrysophyllum cainito, which matures either green or purple. The tree has very beautiful leaves, being dark green on the top side and brown velvet on the bottom, but the tree is very cold-sensitive. Another interesting fruit which we can grow in this area is the Chinese jujube. There are several varieties and they grow on a small, sometimes thorny tree which is very cold hardy in this area.
He next showed us a relative of the mangosteen, the Garcinia tinctoria. In taste, it certainly doesn't equal the mangosteen, which is considered by some as the ultimate tropical fruit.
Another very popular fruit in the tropics, a tree which comes in male and female, is the Spanish lime, Melicoccus bijugatus. The Spanish lime is an excellent fruit somewhat resembling the lichee, with a hard skin like the lichee and a juicy white pulp which is very delicious. This is another fruit which is sold on the street corners in all Latin American countries.
Tom next showed us the fruit of the lipstick tree (Bixa orellana) which grows to about the size of a cherry tomato and is used in the tropics as a food coloring.
We were next introduced to the Chinese raisin (Hovenia dulcis). The edible part of the tree is the stem which tastes very similar to a dried raisin. He then showed us the Barbados cherry, (Malpighia glabra), which will grow in central Florida with some protection in the winter. It is a heavy producer of cherry-like fruit, bearing throughout the warm summer months from May all the way to October. Each cherry is purported to have as much Vitamin C as an orange.
He next showed us some Macadamia nuts. The tree will stand about 25ºF without damage. The Macadamia tree is a beautiful tree and the nuts are exceptionally fine, and are one of the most important nuts in the world. The next display was the jak fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus). The jak fruit grows to 60 or 80 pounds, and maybe even more. Tom has seen a 60-pound fruit himself. The jak fruit is an exceptionally important fruit in Southeast Asia where they cultivate as many as 25 varieties. In Brazil they have the same quality and variety of jak fruit as in Southeast Asia. The fruit is delicious and they preserve it or make a drink with it.
Tom then presented us with the miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum), and we were fortunate enough that he could bring some samples from Joe Constantine's gardens. Tom passed the miracle fruit out to those in the audience who had never eaten a miracle fruit and then gave them a Persian lime to taste. All the members agreed the Persian lime was extremely sour but after eating the miracle fruit, they all had to agree that the Persian lime had become very sweet. This, of course, is the gift of the miracle fruit, which tends to deaden the taste buds which taste the sour and allow the taste buds which taste the sweet in a fruit to function.
The next fruit that Tom showed us was the most popular fruit in Jamaica, the akee (Blighia sapida), the fruit of which is deadly poison except at one stage of its development when it is 'ripe'. It is the akee that killed Popenoe's wife many years ago. So to eat the akee safely, you must know what you are doing. When the fruit opens naturally and before it is over-ripe, the yellow part of the fruit is eaten extensively in Jamaica and other Central American countries. In Jamaica, they prepare the akee with codfish and it's a very popular dish.
He next showed us the chayote (Sechium edule), which is a member of the squash family and is grown extensively in Cuba and South Florida. It is very subject to nematodes but is being grown successfully in this area. The chayote is a rampant vining plant and is very easy to grow. The fruit, the seed, the tips of the vines and the root are all edible in the chayote.
Tom next mentioned the fact that we have 200 different commercial varieties of avocado in Florida and displayed several varieties on the table for us. Avocados range from cold-hardy Mexican varieties to cold-tender West Indian varieties.
Another interesting fruit is the sapodilla (Manilkara achras). It has been grown in south Florida for many years. In the tropics of the Latin American countries, it is very popular, where it is called chico, among other things. This is the tree that produces chiclet, which is the base for chewing gum. It is a very delicious fruit, reminiscent of brown sugar. It may be picked unripe and allowed to soften indoors.
The carambola (Averrhoa carambola) is a fascinating fruit with a star-shaped cross-section. It is very versatile, can be eaten fresh in salads, used in punch and relishes, can be cooked in pies and made into wine and jellies or it can be eaten out of hand. The carambola will grow in central Florida. It is more cold-hardy than many of our other tropical fruits.
Our next fruit was the wampee (Clausena lansium). It grows on a very attractive tree but it is somewhat cold-tender. The fruit is brown and resembles a lichee nut and is somewhat smaller, about the size of a marble, but it grows in bunches and bears heavily throughout the summer. It has a very sweet, tart flavor.
Next, Tom showed us a cas (Psidium friedrichsthalianum), which is a relative of the guava, sometimes called a Costa Rican guava. It is a favourite for fruit drinks of Costa Rica. Again we had samples to taste and Tom advised us that the fruit is rather sour but it is also sweet and probably would be good with the miracle fruit first. You might wonder why it would be a favourite for making drinks, but with sugar it is very delicious. It does make an excellent drink and it is one of Tom's favourites.
The next fruit was the black sapote (Diospyros digyna), a native of Mexico, a fruit to be eaten out-of-hand. It is green on the outside, even when it's ripe, black on the inside and has been called the chocolate pudding fruit or the black persimmon because it is a relative of the persimmon. In addition to being a delicious fruit which is definitely different, it also is a beautiful tree. In the jungles of Mexico and Central America. it is said that the hunters and the monkeys fight for this fruit because of its delicious taste. But like the persimmon, it has to be eaten when it is dead ripe, so soft you can stick your finger right through it.
Another very popular and very interesting fruit is a member of the annona family, the atemoya, which is a cross between the cherimoya and the sugar apple ((Annona squamosa x Annona cherimola)). The fruit is a commercial crop in south Florida. It is an excellent fruit, very sweet and very tasty. The flower is unusual, being a female in the afternoon and a male in the morning, so the pollen has to be carried over from the morning to fertilize the flowers in the afternoon.
Another interesting fruit, a relative of the citrus family, is the bael fruit (Aegle marmelos), also called orange marmalade fruit, because when the fruit are mature, the pulp inside of the hard shell has a texture and taste somewhat like orange marmalade.
Next he showed us the governors plum (Flacourtia indica), a small tree or shrub with very tasty fruit, but this tree is also very tender. Another very interesting fruit from Southeast Asia, the Philippines, is the velvet apple (Diospyros discolor). It has a beautiful, dark-green leaf and the fruit itself is beautiful. The mature fruit is vivid red on the tree, although it fades somewhat after it's picked. The flesh has a nice texture and a delicious flavour.
Next was the egg fruit, or canistel (Pouteria campechiana). It is called the egg fruit because the flesh resembles the yolk of a boiled egg. It has a delicious flavour, but is somewhat dry and is used in making milk shakes and ice cream. It may be mixed with milk and a little sugar or honey, or it may be sweet enough to use with only milk to make an excellent drink.
Next, the most expensive fruit in the world, the mamey sapote (Pouteria sapota). The fruit may be picked green and allowed to ripen if it is mature. The fruit will range in size from two pounds to four pounds. It is one of the most popular fruits of the Tropics, a very delicious and desirable fruit.
DATE: March 1986
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