Archive for the ‘Fruit’ Category

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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Remember how I mentioned the perfumed fragrance of Quince? Well, guavas are even more intense – more heady and intoxicating…just like the tropics.

About a month after we moved into this house, I had noticed a tree at one end of the car park that had an abundance of yellow round fruit on the tree as well as fallen and squished ones on the ground under it. It seemed as if every car that drove by this tree squished one on its way past. Upon closer examination, I must have gasped quietly when I realized that it was a guava tree and not just any old guava tree, it was the variety that I grew up with as a child in Hawaii – yellow on the outside and pink flesh on the inside. What other types of guavas are out there? One website, www.tropicalfruitworld.com.au on the Gold Coast in Australia has a great explanation on the different types of guavas (they list a total of 11) and I didn’t even know that there was one actually called “Hawaiian” which happens to be a green skinned, pink fleshed variety. Last year, the tree produced so much that I had enough to give away to people, to puree them and enough to make two batches of guava jelly. I don’t know what’s wrong this year but either the drought caused less fruit or perhaps it rained during flowering but there are very few on the tree and I am actually quite saddened by this. Ah well, this is nature and every year can’t be the same – I will just have to cherish the few that I do get this year. One of my favorite ways of eating guavas? Waiting until ripe and very fragrant, slicing in half and devouring it with just a tiny sprinkle of sugar.

A memorable childhood memory involving fresh guavas was going to my friend Sharyl’s house and making guava milkshakes:

Peel and puree guavas and pass through a mesh sieve to remove seeds. Add desired sugar to the guava puree and set aside. Then proceed to make a vanilla milkshake with a few scoops of good-quality vanilla ice cream, a splash of milk and add 2 to 4 Tbsp. of guava puree to taste. Enjoy!

Meanwhile, I’ve added some pictures of the bumper crop of guavas I had last year (since I didn’t have a food blog then). In bakeries throughout Hawaii, a regular feature is guava chiffon cake or liliko’i (passion fruit) chiffon cake. The chiffon cake is very airy and light and the sweet thickened guava puree on top and between the layers tastes amazing. My only complaint about commercial bakeries today is that to cut corners (in cost), so many use that “fake” cream that didn’t even get remotely close to a cow! I think so many people have forgotten what real whipped cream tastes like…and I digress (more on that topic another time). Anyway…I actually replicated the cake at home with REAL cream. The recipe I used was a basic chiffon recipe from The Joy of Cooking and the guava puree was thickened with corn starch (or arrowroot works too) and sugar, cooled and used to fill and top the cake – simple! Fabulous!

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Quince Paste Recipe

Quince Paste Recipe:

There are so many variations on this recipe as with anything else. Here is one that I know is foolproof and the pictures show the finished product:

Ripe Quince



Lemon Juice (optional but recommended)

Method: Peel and core quince, like you would an apple (some recipes tell you to reserve the skins and core and place into muslin bag while cooking the quince but I don’t find that this is necessary for paste). Cut quince into large chunks and cover with enough water to cook through until soft enough to pierce. Drain water and puree the fruit through a sieve, with a masher or in a food processor.  Weigh the puree and add equal amounts of sugar in weight as the puree in a pan and cook (while stirring constantly) until the mixture starts to get very thick. If you want a thick quince paste that can be sliced, cook until the mixture starts to pull away from the pan. Be careful, when fully boiling, it can be very hot and spurt out and stick to your skin so try to cook it on the lowest heat possible to avoid being scalded.  The best test is, if the paste does not come together again when you create a line through the mixture with a spoon, then it is done.  Pour paste it into a non-stick pan to cool or a pan lined with good parchment paper or even in individual muffin pans.

I have read recipes that say to place into a very low oven for 12 to 24 hours.  We tried the oven and stovetop method and the oven produces a much darker paste.  We opted for putting it on a higher oven setting (about 150C) and stirred it occasionally and it took roughly about 5 to 6 hours and honestly, although I had reservations about doing it this way, I find that it is easier in the oven.

A few tablespoons of lemon juice can be added to brighten the flavour.

Cooking the Quince Paste

The Finished Product

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Have you ever seen Quince blossoms? The beautiful salmon coloured flowers with its cluster of bright yellow stamens can brighten up any wet spring day and make wonderful cut flowers that lasts for a couple of weeks. I can barely resist buying a bunch if I see them at a florist.

The fruit is equally seductive – especially when they start to ripen and the perfume wafts throughout the room its in. The aroma is a cross between pineapple, guava, apple and pear and is an almost candy-like scent, sweet and floral at the same time. I could honestly sniff the fruit for hours as a form of aromatherapy!

Here in Australia, Barossa food icon Maggie Beer (http://www.maggiebeer.com.au/) is the queen of quince and has definitely brought the fruit back into fashion with her quince paste and a willingness to teach Australians to take advantage of the wonderful fruit that grows practically wild all over temperate areas of Australia. Quince are high in pectin so are great for jelly and fruit cheese. Most commercial varieties are yellow, slightly fuzzy and are too tannic (astringent) to eat raw and must be cooked. What’s amazing is that once cooked, Quince take on the most amazing transformation to a dark rose hue.

Quince picked green and less ripe are good for jelly but if you want to make quince paste or stew them, leave the in the fruit bowl to perfume up the house and ripen – just make sure the skin isn’t starting to wrinkle but if they are, you may still be able to salvage them for pureed quince. When I have an abundance of quince, I always make *quince paste and then with the remainder, I quarter the fruit and cook until tender and preserve them in a light syrup (with vanilla bean) made from the poaching liquid. Poached quince is gorgeous as an accompaniment to roast duck and pork and makes a change from the apples, cherries and plums used to go along with meat. Quince slices can also be added to apple pie and I once made a BBQ sauce for ribs with quince paste and it was lovely (if only I had written down the recipe!)

About three weeks ago, my chef friend from Hawaii (who now lives in Australia) came to visit and we took her to the Adelaide Hills wine region famous for their Sauvignon Blancs and also for their abundant produce and quaint little towns. We were on our way to a winery when I spotted at least three large quince trees by the side of the road (next to a huge vacant lot) right off the highway exit! I yelled out to my husband to turn around and go back. He is so used to me finding food growing wild by the side of the road that he doesn’t even question when I tell him to turn the car around. When we pulled up to the trees, the side that was easily accessible by passersby was a bit bare but my friend and husband climbed over the fence to get my loot of quince! I am very clumsy (and decided that it wasn’t worth a trip to hospital) so I stayed over the safe side and held out a bag for collection and took the photos. My friend had never seen quinces growing on a tree before (it doesn’t grow in the tropics) and when she grabbed her first one, she yelled out in surprise, “It’s fuzzy!” I guess since they look like apples, the fuzziness was a bit of a surprise.

*Quince paste is not as common in the USA (yet) but here in South Australia, you will find a small chunk of it on cheese platters and makes a very good accompaniment to many different cheeses. My favourite would probably be goat or blue cheese with quince paste.

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