Today the local food supply situation was brought to my attention once again, by an acquaintance and journalist. I have been pretty busy working in our native bush and my local food fascination sometime slides a little to the sidelines. Today I started making contacts about wanting to re-boost our local food stories and featuring local food cooks to inspire others. The above journalist thought I had heard about her complaint- one of a well known cafe, who served her some floury browning pears and apples when ordering a fruit salad.
I always mention that 97% of our (fresh) food is from more than 3000 kms away. I need to get some more startling and well backed up statistics to back up the importance of connecting with climate and getting into local food, but lets just say a f***ing load (like truck and truck and train loads comes from a very long way away, and when those trains come off the rails, the shelves of the stupid markets are empty (yes you know the duopoly market I am talking about) and you may go very hungry and even eat your cyclone kit or suck green ants. I am trying to get some solid stats on this from government departments.
As I have written about before, I do market tours and gently inspire people to slip some sweet leaf in the salad or carve up some cassava for a curry- these are incredibly easily grown, but a little unfamiliar, but tropical fruit – what could you not like about it, and why not embrace it. The commitment to initially planting a fruit tree, where a lot of the classic sweet fruit grows from, is a little more than a herb box, but in the long run the maintenance is less and you probably end up with a lovely shade tree or some screening from your neighbours.
I get confused when our Tropical fruit is called “Exotic fruit” because lets face it an apple is exotic to Darwin right? Well I would be blown away to see one growing, but for many people it won’t cross their mind, because they stick to what they know and often that is a temperate up bringing.
And lets get this straight too, before someone makes a comment, any vessel holding the seeds of a plant is fruit, so that means, eggplants, beans, gourds, pumpkins and so on, but in this instance we are talking sweet, generally juicy fruits, which often, but not always grow on trees and can be popped into a salad…(OK geeky plant paragraph over)
So guys get those damn long distance “Exotic fruits”, that are a little bit old from the journey out of your mind and lets appreciate the amazing array of local FRESH (sweet tree) fruit.
Here is just a snap shot of some lovely local fruit, some familiar, some maybe not, in no particular order, but chosen as they can be added to a yummy fruit salad or desert.
1)- The Mangosteen, Garcinia mangostana. (Guttiferae)
From a tree growing 4- 6 m which takes a long time to fruit, making it kind of pricey. It fruits in or at the end of the dry season.
I put this at number one, because it seems to be a favourite of many and called “Queen of fruits”, but wow, so sweet. It is a tree fruit with a very purple outer thick skin and the most sweet white juicy segment of flesh and is fairly difficult to grow- well it takes a long time for fruit mature. It is a beautiful tree too. They seem to be in season at the end of our dry season in September.
2) The Star Apple, Chrysophyllum cainito (Sapotaceae)
The fruit of a large tree (which can reach 20m), originally from the Caribbean. A sweet juicy almost milky fruit with a sweet taste and very slightly fibrous inside and found in purple and green blush varieties.
3) Pawpaw, Carica papaya (CARICACEAE) is probably one of the most well known Tropical fruits, it is hardly a tree and more of a herb as it is not truly a woody trunk. Probably originally from Mexico or Central America this is so easy to grow and fruits within a few months of growing from seed. The plants are either male or female and you need both flowering in an area to get female plants to produce fruit. You can buy tissue cultured bisexual plants that have male and female flowers together. Make sure they are in full sun or they will grow very tall towards it!
The fruit can come in red (more like dark orange) and yellow- a yellow/ orange variety. Many people say the red is sweeter and tastier, I think this definitely seems so. I love ripe pawpaw with a squeeze of lime and not too ripe, sometimes if it is too ripe and not a great variety it reminds me a little of vomit, but otherwise I LOVE it and grow many as an easy crop. When green they can be used like a veggie, with a clear firm taste and roasted, added to soups or grated in a classic green pawpaw salad. The ripe dried seeds can be used as a spicy pepper like condiment.
4) The Rambutan, Nephelium lappaceum SAPINDACEAE
From a tree that is potentially huge (up to 20 m tall) and produces fruit for up to 50 years. This can be grown well in the Darwin rural area, I think the cooler nights help away from the sea. I have managed not grow one (yes I killed it) and have not seen many near the coast but could be wrong. It originates from the lowlands of Indonesia and Malaysia.
Often seen at the markets throughout the wet season (probably not the best tree for a small garden) These fascinating rubbery coated hairy monster fruit are fantastic in salads and can be made into syrups for drinks or put with seafood or chicken in a number of delicious meddles of Asian flavours with salty, sweet, spicy and fragrant herbs.
5) Longan, Dimocarpus longan, SAPINDACEAE
The longan can get fairly big (15m) and its fruits are sold in the local markets in Rapid Creek and beyond around January, in the mid wet season, but I have read they fruit twice a year elsewhere, originating in China.
They are fairly similar to the texture and flavour of Rambutan and less tasty than the cooler loving lychee, but are quite thin on flesh. Best sucked of their shiny stone and eaten like that, they can also be peeled, pipped and popped into salads or fancy drinks- like soda, lime, Thai Basil and Longan or cocktails.
6) Sapodilla, Mailkara zapota, SAPOTACEAE
Grown from a medium tree originating in Central America the Sapodilla fruits a few times a year, and is seen sold in abundance in the mid wet season. It has a taste of caramel, sweet and juicy and can be added to the old classic fruit salad, sucked from the skin or baked into fabulous deserts (including some great raw tarts) and can be made into ice cream and juice. The sap of this tree is the original source of chewing gum!
We are lucky to grow these fruit in the Darwin region as they often do not transport very well and so are not often sold on a grand scale out of growing regions.
7) Guava, Psidium guajava MYRTACEAE
A small to medium tree from the Tropical Americas, that has a distinct taste, almost medicinal and a bright pink or greeny inside, with many varieties. It is high in vitamin C, A, iron and potassium and fruit all year, but I have seem them mainly for sale in the dry season. They can be eaten just as they are o made into drinks, jams and in salad or savoury dishes.
Their bark can be used as a dye!
8) Jackfruit, Atrocarpus heterophyllus. MORACEAE
Its claim to fame is it is the largest tree fruit in the world! Yes often as large as a very large several month old human baby, these fruit are massive. They cling to the trunk and inner branches of the tree. I have planted one and it fruited within 2- 3 years and prolifically fruits all year. When ripe the fruit has a sweet hum and you have to get in quick before the birds and mammals grab their chance.
The fruit are pulled from the pith in their yellowy amazingness and eaten like chewy sweet bubble gum (that is kind of their flavour). Inside this ripe fruit is an amazing seed that sits loosely in the yellow nose like envelope and can be boiled and roasted and made into crazily yummy and creamy roasted nut snacks, dips or pestos. At the markets you can find the fruit and seeds separated for you, probably by someone more skillfull than yourself and popped into seperate containers. If you do dissect this fruit yourself, be warned of the sticky white sap and cover yourself and your knife in oil so it does not stick to you!
If the fruit is picked small it can be made into savoury dishes and has a chicken like texture to be skilfully added into curries and Asian salads.
9) Pineapple, Ananas comosus , BROMELIACEAE
What tropical salad would not be complete without pineapple ?
This amazing fruit is not from a tree, but a bromeliad, a spiky ground level or epiphytic plant that collects water and other nutritious supplements in its leaves. This may sound obvious, but until I moved to the Tropics when I was 18 (18 years ago now) I thought pineapples grew on trees, and had mainly eaten them from cans. What a delight that we can grow them quite easily and on neglect. They don’t need heaps of water and fruit mid wet season. They take about 2 years to fruit from a top cutting and one from a pup- so not especially space saving for volume of fruit per area as they also enjoy full sun. The fruit is famously sharp, sweet and juicy all at once.
10) Passionfruit, Passiflora edulis, PASSIFLORACEAE
Now how could you not have a truly tropical fruit salad without passionfruit on top?
Originally from Paraguay passionfruit is found growing all over the world in many varieties. It is a vine and as well as having a sweet delicious fruit it also has an very beautiful flower. The pulpy seeds inside can be incorporated into all kinds of sauces for sweets, drinks or scooped out just like that.
In Darwin they fruit sporadically throughout the year and need quite a lot of nutrients and full sun to set fruit.
11) Watermelon, Citrullus lanatus, CURCUBACEAE
Yep in the cucumber family, a vine that grows along the ground, originating from Africa and has its season here at the end of the dry season. This fruit is one of the few grown on a huge scale in large plantation fields (usually near Katherine) and then sent interstate. You can grow your own watermelons or they can be grown on a small scale in raised beds. Generally they are a watery red sweet fruit dotted with a few black seeds inside a giant green ball. I have seen yellow varieties too!. To know if the watermelon is ready you can tap the outside and hear a more hollow sound, too ripe and they become powdery. Incredible in fruit salads, drinks and eaten in chunky slices with drips down the chin and bear chest on a build up afternoon.
12) Pomello, Citrus grandis, RUTACEAE
A giant sweet grapefruit with origins in Indonesia and immensely popular in Pacific Islands. Breaks open the pithy segments and pull the sea creature like tentacle which are sweet sacs of citrus. Fabulous in seafood salads, sweet and sour fruit salads or any fruit salad really. IN the photo above the pomelo is on the left, they can be pink or yellowy and have a huge pith. On the right is a pink grapefruit rather than a pomelo. There are many fantastic citrus to be grown in the Darwin area, lemonade fruit, various slimes and lemons. The main season for citrus variety is the early dry season in May.
13) Starfruit, Averrhoa carambola
Native to South East Asia these have got to be one of my favourite fruit, and as well as being very tasty they look stunning in a fruit salad, getting their name from the star shape they take when sliced. Oh you can them into very pretty arrangements and they are so sweet and tasty with a crispy crunchy and juicy taste when ripe. They can be used just less than ripe in a great variety of savoury dishes. The medium tree (5- 8 m) is stunning with tiny pink flowers and weeping branches, which fruits throughout the year in the Darwin region. Some varieties taste better than others and often it is hard to stop little insects getting inside them.
You can make great wine and drinks from them too.
14) Rose apple, Syzygium samarangense MYRTACEAE
Last but not least this little perfumed powdery number, one of my favourites. In the Lilly Pilly family, but from Asia, apparently Java. There are a few types of fruit called “Rose Apple” and all Syzygiums. These are another fruit that don’t travel too well, so better fresh and probably not seen taken too far from where they are grown. They grow from an attractive medium sized tree.
Diced with a squeeze of lime they give a fragrant taste and a hint of coulour to any salad. You can eat the middle of the fruit, just under the bell is a little harder than the rest of the fruit and can be cut off, they also add a crunch and slight sweetness to savoury salads. If you don’t want to grow a tree yourself they are sold at markets at the end of the dry season and I think they fruit throughout the year.
If you want to buy fruit trees the best place is Tropiculture Darwin run by the incredibly knowledgeable and long time fruit grower Chris Nathaniel.
110 Horne Rd, Bees Creek NT 0822
Chris is open on Saturday mornings
My favourite Tropical Fruit book is Tropical Fruit by Desmond Tate (available online published in Singapore) It has wonderful illustrations.
I also have a few fantastic books I collected in the Pacific Islands, from Tahiti and Vanuatu, including-
Fruits de Tahiti et ses isles
and Fruits of Oceana
I hope you get to enjoy a local Tropical salad soon!