Gardening Articles by Russell Fransham
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Imagine a richly-flavoured, seedless, brightly coloured, sour-sweet tropical fruit which ripens every day of the year. Here in NZ.
Impossible you say.
Not at all. This describes the extraordinary "tropical apricot", a seedless hybrid between the Sri-lankan gooseberry or "Kitembilla" and its close relative the Abyssinian "Kashun". Both these parents are seriously thorny shrubs with seriously sour fruit, but their offspring, a natural hybrid that occurred in Florida in the last few decades and now known as the tropical apricot, is much more friendly to both skin and palate! There are a few spines scattered randomly along some of the branches.
It grows like a weed, two metres a year in good conditions, is wind and frost-hardy... well, in light Northland/Auckland sort of frosts.
Its a rambunctious, sprawly big bushy shrub with glossy, deep green foliage and fruit at every stage of development all year long. We can pick a kilo or more every day off our six-year-old specimen... but of course after a while I just don't get around to it and the wax-eyes do the honours.
The little buggars.
There are times when the ripe fruit are few and far between but they are always there.
The flavour is intense, sour but rich and reminiscent of apricot and tamarind.
The skin is like fine velvet and pulls away easily from the seedless juicy red-orange pulp, making it ideal as a fruit cocktail base. A delightful aperitif for summer barbecues consists of half a bowl of tropical apricots squished out of their skins with an equal quantity of water(or a little more) and a couple of spoons of brown sugar, whisked till it is like a thin soup. Ladel this into big wine goblets with a capful of cointreau over crushed ice with a sliver of mint or lime.. heavenly stuff.
Then there are possibilities with ice cream. Semi-freeze the skinless pulp after whizzing with sugar or honey and cointreau(no water) or Tia Maria and pour as a thick tangy topping over ice cream and papaya.. or rock melon.. or any soft fruit.
Tropical apricot is said to have more vitamin C than any other fruit on the planet. And probably for this reason makes the best chutney I have ever tasted. Reminds me of apricots and limes reduced to a dark rust-brown jam with a powerful fruity "zing" factor which makes even the best feijoa chutney seem a bit flat. Tropical apricot makes a zesty flavour base for fruity curries and other meat dishes.
Start with a handful of the whole ripe fruits in a pan with garlic, oil and ginger then a couple of minutes later add several skinned tamarillos or apricots. The fruit breaks down into a glassy reddish orange sauce with a wonderful sweet and sour tang which goes deliciously with chicken or red meats. Chili and other curry spices can all combine well to add more depth to an already colourful palette of flavour possibilities.
In fact the possibilities with such a distinctive fruit are endless.
The ripe fruit is too soft to ever be available fresh in the markets, but it freezes perfectly which allows you to stock up during the abundant months to cover the low volume times. A friend makes the most beautiful brandy from our tropical apricots and keeps our liquor cabinet stocked in return for as many fruit as he can carry away to the still. Every home should have one.
(Copyright Russell Fransham 2003)
(Copyright Russell Fransham 2003)