Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Edible stars and other tropical wonders

One of the things I did while I was at home for the holidays was pick a bunch of carambolas or starfruit, and dry them to take back to DC with me. Carambolas can be found in most Whole Foods or even some "regular" grocery stores in the USA these days, but the specimens that I have seen there are a far cry from the ones that I picked off our tree in Belize. Unfortunately when starfruit are ripe they bruise and smash easily and so they are picked unripe (and mouth puckeringly sour) in order to be shipped to more temperate climes. I would hate to think that people judge this fruit by the shriveled miserable representatives huddled in the "tropical exotics" corner of the produce section, but the only other option is to fly somewhere warm and seek them out in a local market.

A good ripe carambola is pleasantly tart, very juicy, slightly crisp, and absolutely beautiful when sliced crosswise as you can see below. Aside from eating them out of hand, they make great juice (usually sweetened with a little sugar), wonderful jam and preserves, and a nice dried product that retains the tart character of the fruit. Carambolas are also excellent in stirfries and rice dishes as well as both fruit and vegetable salads, adding colour, character and their happy star shape everywhere they go.

Pineapples are another favorite of mine. Unlike the starfruit, these came from the market in town, as our 2 acres only ripen in June. They had been grown in another district a couple hours away, where, thanks to some microclimatic quirk, pineapples are available in December. Although the quality of pineapples in the US market has improved in the past decade or so, I have yet to find one state-side that could compete with these beauties. A perfectly ripe pineapple is like a perfect strawberry-one can smell their delicious fragrance from over 15 feet away. Needless to say, these babies got gobbled up within 24 hours of their arrival in our kitchen.


Apple bananas! I mentioned these in a previous post, and true to my word I ate plenty of them during my stay. These bananas are not usually cooked (we have other kinds that we use for baking and frying), but are excellent out of hand. You will never find them in the USA as they have very thin skins and tend to drop off of the bunch when they ripen (we usually tie a mesh bag around the bunch when it reaches this stage so as not to lose any on our dirt floor).

For some reason I didn't take any photos of the excellent tangerines and oranges that we stuffed ourselves with during my visit, nor did I get around to photographing the enormous papaya (around 10 pounds) that we purchased in town along with the pineapples. Even the soursops that we picked from the tree by the cookhouse doorway didn't get their moment of fame. But I can assure you that they were all beautiful and delicious-even more so because most of them were free for the picking on our farm.

9 comments:

Mrs. W said...

When I lived in South Florida I used to eat starfruit all the time--love it! And I've eaten bananas that sort of look like that but not sure if they're the same things.

Lyra said...

Thanks for the comment Mrs. W. Yes, there are so many varieties of bananas that its hard sometimes to know whats what. Certainly though most grocery stores in the USA do not carry anywhere near the full range available for our eating pleasure.

Mrs. W said...

No doubt! The only reason the grocery carried the little fat bananas in Key West was because of the large cuban population there. But I loved it for just that reason--such diversity and variety!

Brilynn said...

It must have been absolutely wonderful to have had all that fresh fruit!

I've never eaten a starfruit other than from the grocery store and I know I'm missing out huge!

Lyra said...

Pretty much:) But since you are the travelling type maybe someday you will go to Belize or some other tropical climate and try a starfruit. I can imagine tropical anything would be welcome in Toronto's winter.

Cynthia said...

We call the star fruit carambola too and also five-finger :D I made drink with some the other day which I'll be posting about this weekend. That bowl of it you have their looks like priceless jewels.

Chennette said...

I love the pictures in this post!

Lyra said...

Cynthia: I've heard of the five finger name, but we don't use it in Belize. Have you tried bilimbi, the sour sour cousin of star fruit? It makes a great juice, but you have to add some sugar.

Chennette: Yeah, you can't beat some good tropical sunshine to make your fruit look good. My photos are suffering here in DC in the winter because I don't have a good photography light yet.

Rachel said...

My friend received a juicer as a gift, and we gave starfruit a try. Sour and disappointing. Now I see why. While I won't be lugging a Jack Lalanne power juicer with me when I next take a trip to the tropics, I will give this fruit another taste now that I know why my experience in the US was so lackluster.
Thanks for sharing your insights on the seaweed shakes article on The Ambler! Always love to learn more about the overlap between food, health, and culture.