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Archive for the ‘Fruit’ Category

A few months ago, I headed to Bali with my family and met up with my mother-in-law there for a lovely holiday. As Bali is a cheap, overseas tropical playground for Australians, there are tons of western conveniences and experiences there if that is what you are looking for but I was determined to get a “off the beaten track” view of the island. We stayed part of our time in the mountains near Ubud and the rest of the time just north of Seminyak near the ocean but both of our freestanding villas were away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Kuta. Our villa in Ubud was in the jungle overlooking rice paddies and we were stared at by villagers as we were the only foreigners in town and I loved it.  I wanted to be away from the touristy bits for at least part of the time.

Every morning at both villas, we were served gorgeous tropical fruits. Made (pronounced ma-day), the cook at the villa in Ubud, would take her time to make a beautiful creation every morning and I absolutely loved it. We had mangoes, pineapple, mangosteen, papaya, rambutan, salak (snakeskin fruit) and lady finger bananas.  Salak was the only fruit I’d never seen or heard of.  It is a sort of triangular, brown fruit that feels like it’s covered in snakeskin, complete with scales.  Unlike all the other fruits mentioned, salak isn’t juicy or squishy but sweet and crunchy with an almost chalky mouth feel.  It tastes a lot like lychee or rambutan but denser and with a totally different texture.

There was this other fruit too, wish I remembered the name, a small brown and round fruit that is probably related to longans.  It was lighter than a longan but had one or two little black seeds inside that were very bitter so I’d pop them in my mouth and search for the seed or else it would ruin the sweetness that was happening from the soft flesh!  Very intriguing stuff.

The artistry of fruit every morning was such pure luxury and I was in awe of the talent of creating such a pretty plate for us everyday.

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Sadly during our stay on the Gold Coast on our holiday, the only partly sunny day we had was spent at Tropical Fruit World.  Why is that sad?  It’s not that it was a terrible experience or anything but we left feeling like we were trapped on a crappy tourist ride at Disneyland and it spit us out from one place to the next only to make us wait for the only thing I cared about – the fruit.

Tropical Fruit World is less than an hour south of Surfer’s Paradise on the New South Wales border.  Apparently they grow the most varieties of tropical fruit in the world and it’s also used as a research centre for scientists.  So with all that nerdy food stuff, I was excited to learn about different varieties of fruit that I’d never seen or eaten.

Upon arriving, you see that it’s sort of kitschy with a young female employee and someone dressed as half an avocado waving at me in front of the avocado statue (I didn’t expect anything less).  There is a little retail fruit shop that sells whatever ripe tropical fruit that is available that day and it’s interesting and reasonably priced.  We asked about the tour and were told that there was one leaving right away so we took advantage of it!

So off we go to hop onto an open-air bus with about 25 other people.  The bus drove inside the acres and acres of tropical fruit and I was getting really excited.  After a few minutes, I was annoyed because the driver was whizzing by the plants and spewing out information so fast that you barely had time to listen to all the facts much less take any clear photos of anything.

Whizzing by the lychee trees! There were dozens of varieties but I wouldn't know what the difference is since we just drove by so fast.

Our first stop was not to take a walk but to grab handfuls of raw macadamias and practice cracking the nuts and eating them.  He gave us about 5 minutes before we were ushered back onto the bus.  Ok, I had fun but I was hoping we’d get to see more than that.  The driver actually told us that we don’t have to come since we had a pram but heck no if I was going to miss out on anything!  Then we drove through more orchards and saw a lot of interesting things that I was desperate to see more clearly but was happy that I learned a few things here and there.  But then, it gets worse…our next stop was at their “petting zoo”.  Here, we were told to pet the kangaroos, sheep, horses and whatever else was there.  I was not very interested at all and I guess it was for the kids but we stayed there a lot longer than I cared to.  I took that opportunity to let my kid say hello to a kangaroo but only for a picture op.

Cracking Macadamia Nuts

Kangaroos for the Kids

Again, we were ushered off to yet another activity that had nothing to do with tropical fruits.  We were going on a boat ride…to where?  As we hopped onto this open-aired boat, we were all given huge hunks of bread to feed the ducks that beg alongside the boat since the actual boat ride and scenery are not that interesting.  At the end of the ride, we are taken to the “island” and then we hop onto a mini steam train that we straddle!  The train was fun, but again, it had nothing to do with tropical fruits and we were stuck there for longer than we cared to be.  The whole time that you’re taken to pet animals and ride trains, you have NO idea where you are and how to get out.  I had lost all sense of direction and positioning.

Finally, they asked how many people didn’t taste fruit yet and we raised our hands and they ushered a few of us out to yet another waiting bus that plopped us back to “reception”.  Once we got to reception, we were told that we were too late for this tasting and that we would have to wait for the next one in over an hour!!  Although annoyed, by that time we needed a break so we took the time to eat lunch and sit in the a/c.  Another family from Adelaide were also made to wait and were very angry because like me, that’s all they came for (to taste fruit) and they couldn’t believe that they had been taken to all this other shit and had to wait for this tasting.

Finally the Fruit Tasting

The cafe there is very interesting.  They serve some very interesting smoothies using really exotic tropical fruit that they grow and they also make interesting ice cream flavours.  What was amazing was that our lunch was the BEST part of the day!  Perhaps because both of us had such low expectations for the food (food at touristy places are often sooo average), we were amazed when my husband’s smoked salmon sandwich was huge and fresh with generous lashings of salmon and avocado and my chicken wrap was juicy and satisfying.  We ordered two interesting drinks – Babaco (Champagne fruit) ice cream float and Black Sapote (chocolate fruit) smoothie.

Thank Goodness for the Yummy Drinks

On our way out, we found a walking path along dozens of interesting varieties of mangoes and honestly, that was much more relaxing and informative than most of that tour and the walk was free.  We took a picture of the giant avocado and laughed about our experience and were thankful that I was able to get in for free (had a voucher) or else we would’ve felt the sting of wasting so much money!

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Lychees sold off the side of the road

 

A few years ago, we were on our way to Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast, and decided to take the scenic highway to get there. Back then it was called the “Glasshouse Mountains Highway” but they have since renamed it “Steve Irwin Way” since his death which is pretty apt since his Australia Zoo is on that road. Although we have never visited Australia Zoo, we’ve driven past it numerous times and it’s always very busy. One visit, we stopped at this fruit stand that stood next to a pineapple field that advertised “pineapple crush” and really good burgers. We not only had one of each but we also bought one of the largest pineapples I’d ever seen for really cheap! Pineapple crush is basically pineapple juice with crushed pineapple bits in it and that time, it was sooo sweet and so cold that I was hooked. The burger was huge and amazing with avocado in it and we took it to a nearby national park to eat it.

You know how sometimes it’s best not to return to a location so that your memory of the place stays in tact and it lives on like a happy dream forever? Well, I definitely understand that. On our way to catch our flight in Brisbane, we decided to find that fruit stand (I couldn’t remember what it was called) and at least get their pineapple crush. Well we found it alright but sometime was different….it lacked the character that it had. No more signs exclaiming about the best burgers in the world. No pineapple crush in sight and it was pretty dead. I went up to the counter and enquired about the pineapple crush and the woman said that yes, she still had some left. I ordered two large ones (pretty expensive $4.50AU each) and because we didn’t have time to eat burgers, we left with just that. The crush was not very sweet and it tasted watered down. I think they have changed ownership and it just lacked soul. It was so disappointing. Oh well, I still have the memories of the last time I went there and photos of that great burger.

Bought pineapple crush here

 

Luckily, just before we got to the fruit stand, I saw a guy selling fresh picked lychees off the back of his truck (we call ’em “utes” in Oz). Even though I was about to get on a flight, I just HAD to have them. I couldn’t believe that they were $5.00 for 1 KG (2.2 lbs) bag (here in Adelaide I saw one greengrocer selling them for 3 pieces for $1.00)!!  Because it’s illegal (because of quarantine issues) to bring in fresh fruit to South Australia, we peeled all of the lychees at the Sydney airport while waiting during our layover to go home.  We gorged ourselves on the lychees before getting on our flight home.  I haven’t had such fresh lychee since I was a kid in Hawaii picking them off trees in Nu’u’anu. So fresh and delicious that there was no hard skin that formed around the seed – instead the flesh was very soft and the seed easily slipped out.

I love going to Queensland because it reminds me of my childhood. It is tropical and the fruit that is available is amazing. As you drive along, you can see sugarcane fields, ginger fields, avocado farms and pineapple fields to name a few. If you go there during summer, be sure to eat some fresh lychees. If you are near the Sunshine Coast, “the Big Pineapple” is a hoot to stop at…just for the pictures at least. In late summer the mangoes are in season too and they are beautiful.  Enjoy!

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We went to a once a month market that sold clothes and other knick-knacks this past weekend and at the back were the food sellers (majority selling baked goods) and this young man had a stall piled with very attractive-looking, rustic and authentic items such as croissants, pannetone and banana bread.  But much to our surprise, a whole loaf of banana bread was going for $25!  Mind you, it was a very sexy and large banana bread but I thought…”wow!”  At home, I whip up banana bread so fast that I couldn’t imagine any banana bread being worth that much money.  Now I wish that I had bought a slice of it to see how good it was…next month perhaps.

I always keep bananas in my freezer ready to defrost and make into banana bread.  It started out one year with a market stallholder selling me 10 kilos (22 pounds) of bananas for $2AUD at the end of the day!!  We put two in a snack Ziploc bag and froze them – over a year later, we’re still eating them!

My standby foolproof banana bread recipe is an adaptation from the American Sunset magazines classic cookbook first published in 1963 called “Breads”.  It takes me less than an hour and a half from the prep to the baking and it tastes divine toasted under the grill with lashings of butter.  My recent find has been ground nut meals at the Wayville Sunday market and have been topping my banana bread with ground walnut meal as well as in the batter. The extra oils and texture add an extra dimension and crunch.

This was the first time I put chocolate chips on...

This was the first time I put chocolate chips on...

Foolproof Banana Bread

2 cups flour OR 1 2/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup walnut meal

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp each baking soda & salt

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

3/4 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 bananas)

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1/4 cup butter, melted

Chocolate chips are optional

In a bowl, stir together flour, nut meal (if using) baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and nuts until thoroughly blended.  In a separate bowl, combine bananas, milk, egg and butter; stir into dry ingredients just until well blended.  Pour batter into a greased 4 1/2 x 8 1/2 inch (10 x 20 cm) loaf pan.  Sprinkle top of loaf generously with walnut meal and/or chocolate chips if desired.

Bake in a preheated 350°F (175°C) oven for 1 1/4 hrs or until bread begins to pull away from sides of pan and a knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Makes one large loaf.

 

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It is probably no surprise that I don’t love winter, given that  I grew up in a place famous for its sunsets and beaches.  Frankly, I am too lazy to dress for winter, prefering summer dresses and sandals to boots and sweaters.  I also love summer stone fruits (peaches, apricots, nectarines) and berries, and can’t eat enough of them when they’re in season.  The gloomy days and cold nights make me a bit lethargic and achy but the one thing that I DO love about winter is the amazing array of citrus that is ripe and on offer.  I honestly think that citrus fruits, packed with Vitamin C, are nature’s way of providing foods that will protect us from colds during the wet and nasty flu season.

In my kitchen right now are no less than seven types of citrus fruits and because I thought they were so beautiful, I had to take a photo of them together!

Huge home-grown lemons, Huge home-grown oranges, Tangerines, Navel Oranges, Ruby Pink grapefruit, White grapefruit, Seville Oranges

From L to R Clockwise: Huge home-grown lemons, Huge home-grown oranges, Tangerines, Navel Oranges, Ruby Pink grapefruit, White grapefruit, Seville Oranges

My good friends gave me huge bags of home-grown oranges and lemons. I LOVE Meyer lemons – so sweet you can almost eat them like an orange. These are so huge that they look like they’re on steroids, and will make a beautiful lemon curd (when I get around to it).  The Seville oranges in the middle foreground were purchased at my local Adelaide Showground Farmer’s Market.  Seville oranges are not as common in the markets here as they are in Europe but many marmalade enthusiasts only use Seville oranges to get that traditional bitter marmalade flavour.  My husband likes bitter marmalade and I prefer it less bitter so we decided on a happy medium – use Seville oranges but remove excess white pith to prevent it from being extra bitter.

Winter is a great time for making jam because a) it’s miserable and wet outside, b) cooking heats up the house.  We spent last Sunday peeling, slicing and simmering marmalade all day.  2 kilos of fruit didn’t look like much, but it made a lot more jars of jam than we realised and as usual, I started giving them away to friends.  Among my neighbours, we all make jams and preserves so my pantry is filled with homemade jars of goodies.

There are literally hundreds of recipes for making citrus marmalade (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, pomelo) and everyone will make it a different way which is why I will not post a recipe here, but this link is a good standard recipe.  My husband remembers his mother cooking the oranges whole before slicing them when making marmalade, while I like peeling and slicing the peel separately from the fruit. Instead of juicing the oranges, I like chopping the pulp up and cooking it down.  I don’t think any one way is the best way – as long as it turns out well in the end.  Do remember to keep the seeds (pips) and place them in a muslin (cheesecloth) bag and boil it together with the rest of the mixture to add pectin to help the jam set.

I do have something I’d like to share though – a knife designed for citrus that I bought it over a decade ago at Lakeland in the UK but I don’t see it in their catalog anymore.  What’s great is that the blade is both smooth and serrated and the other side can be used to score the skin to make it easier to peel.  I know that there are all kinds of gadgets that also score citrus fruit for ease of peeling but I still love this knife:

Love this knife!

Scoring the Orange

Scoring the Orange Peel

Removing a little of the bitterness

Removing excess pith to lessen the bitterness

Prepping the Oranges

Skimming the Scum Off

Skimming the Scum Off

The Marmalade is Almost Done

Just Before the Sugar was Added

The Finished Product in Various Jars

The Finished Product in Various Jars

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U.S.P.S. "Tropical Stamps" Set

U.S.P.S. "Tropical Stamps" Set

I received a package from my friend in San Francisco a few weeks back and normally I don’t take much notice to the stamps on the envelope but this time, I noticed that the stamp looked like a picture of something edible and it was!  I couldn’t believe my eyes – it was a guava stamp!  Surprised to see one of my favorite fruits on a stamp, I looked up the specifics.

Seems that the United States Postal Service (USPS) issued a 27 cent postcard stamp set called “Tropical Stamps” on 25 April 2008.  It comprises of five beautifully illustrated stamps by Cuban-born artist Sergio Baradat and was revealed at the WESTPEX Stamp Show in San Francisco.  I have to admit, they are very aesthetically pleasing but here is what I DON’T get.  According to the press U.S.P.S. press release:

Baradat created art that visually slices or halves five tropical fruits – pomegranate, kiwi, star fruit*, papaya and guava – depicting them in eye-catching and mouth watering color.

OK, correct me if I’m wrong but last time I checked, pomegranates and kiwis are NOT tropical fruit – they may be “exotic” but tropical they are not – I know my tropical fruit!  I remember seeing guava trees growing wild all over the rainforest and papayas and starfruit in people’s yards.  I know that pomegranate trees can technically grow in the tropics but they don’t tend to get that really dark deep red and they definitely don’t thrive.  According to the California Rare Fruit Growers:

Pomegranates prefer a semi-arid mild-temperate to subtropical climate and are naturally adapted to regions with cool winters and hot summers.  A humid climate adversely affects the formation of fruit.

There you go, they don’t like humidity and do best in areas with cool winters and hot summers – i.e. anywhere with a “Mediterranean” climate – like in southern France, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sacramento Valley, Napa Valley…you get the idea.

As for kiwis, it is a native of China, from the Yangtze River valley of northern China and Zhejiang Province on the coast of eastern China.  Their seeds were taken out of China to New Zealand by missionaries and surprisingly today, Italy is the country that produces the most Kiwifruit in the world!  Kiwis grow best in areas where citrus and stone fruit grow and depending upon the cultivar, their needs vary dramatically but what’s certain is that kiwis need a certain period of winter chilling (for dormancy).

Although very pretty, I would honestly LOVE to find out who chose the fruits for the “tropical” stamps collection and why they chose the pomegranate and kiwi to be included!

*Starfruit is also known as Carambola and PLEASE don’t eat it if it’s green because it is not ripe!  I have seen some appaulling examples of starfruit sold at the supermarket.  I can just imagine someone who is curious to eat a starfruit and buys a green one and because they taste so horrible, thus writes them off for life!  Starfruit should be eaten when it’s a deep yellow color (when they are sweet and fragrant) and often when the outside edges (star tips) start to brown (as you see in the stamp illustration).  Those with kidney problems, gout or rheumatoid arthritis should avoid eating it due to its high level of oxalic acid.

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When most tourists go to Maui, they usually rent a car and go straight towards the resort areas of Ka’anapali, Wailea, Kihei or Lahaina and tend to bypass the town of Kahului – where the majority of the locals reside. I always like to stop by the Maui Mall to see what’s on offer at the farmer’s market and craft fair held from 7:00am to 4:00pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Fruit is what I usually look for as it is very fresh and locally grown. Because Maui has areas of farming that are at higher elevations than on Oahu, farmers on Maui are able to produce sweet strawberries, onions and other produce that cannot usually thrive in the steamy tropics. The first thing I do when I go home is to eat as many papayas as possible because they are cheaper than apples and far tastier to me. Papayas are so versatile – eaten ripe or green as in a Thai papaya salad. After eating the pulp, I usually keep the skins as a facial mask to soften and exfoliate using the papaya’s natural enzymes.

Lychees and longans were in season and I couldn’t resist buying a few ripe lychees. Boy was I surprised to see that the prices have shot up enormously and it cost me about 60 to 70 cents each! Long gone are those days when many people had lychee trees in their back yard and buying them didn’t cost a fortune!

I did come across two fruits that I was not that familiar with: the star apple and a yellow passionfruit of unknown variety. Star Apples are said to be originally from the West Indies, Haiti to be exact, and is a very dark purple fruit with a thin skin. When the fruit is cut crosswise, a star pattern is seen but I didn’t really realize this so when I cut the fruit to take a photo, I cut it lengthwise. The pulp is a milky lavender color and is creamy and tastes like a watered-down, less sweet version of a custard apple (cherimoya). I don’t know, I was so excited with the way it looked that I was expecting so much more with the flavor and it was a bit disappointing.

The yellow passionfruit that was sold had an almost spongy outer skin and it was full of pulp and seeds. The woman who sold it to me couldn’t even tell me what it was and until I cut it open I didn’t realize that it was a passionfruit. It had the most peculiar soapy, woody flavor yet with a passionfruit undertone. It was very floral and not something that I enjoyed immensely although I ate about three or four just to give it a chance. According to Julia F. Morton in her book Fruits of Warm Climates, she lists at least a half a dozen yellow varieties of passionfruit so I guess it could be one of these varieties. I honestly don’t have much desire to research further than this and was happy that I was able to try a new variety of tropical fruit that I had never tasted before.

This is a great stop to make while you wait for your hotel room to be ready and also it is much cheaper to buy fruit and veggies here than at any of the resort supermarkets. There are crafts and other food vendors selling other goodies. I personally always makes sure I buy Filipino sweets like suman (glutinous rice and sugar cakes) or puto (steamed cakes) to top off my market shopping there – yum!

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