Chocolate & Spice

chocolate, spice and the other pleasures in life

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Bountiful Harvest

What are "tamarillos"?

That was the question in our minds when shopping at our local grocery mart (a new one on Chapel Street, which is cheaper than Prahran Market). We were browsing the aisles, our favourite way to decide what to buy for a week's worth of dinners, and had spotted these little egg-shaped fruit. Neither of us had tasted a tamarillo, although I vaguely recalled reading about it in The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander, so we bought some to try. Actually, my real reason for buying them was 'cos the tamarillos looked so pretty in their golden-yellow skins. Taste-wise, I thought they might be a little like persimmons.

We also bought punnets of pygmy strawberries, which were the cheapest (high in antioxidant) fruits that day in the market. Much as I wanted some peaches to munch on, I walked on by when I saw that it was going at approximately A$11.99/kilo! No doubt due to the freaky weather Victoria and Australia in general is presently experiencing, in particular the severe drought in rural Victoria which had ruined quite a few harvests, which sent prices of stone fruits (such as plums and peaches) soaring. Just like the banana crop from Queensland I suppose (almost all of the banana harvest was destroyed because of a cyclone and bananas had to be imported, explaining the eye-popping A$12.99/kilo prices in the stores!).

Back home, I flip that useful food encyclopaedia that is The Cook's Companion, a veritable tome of "ingredients and recipes for the Australian kitchen". The way the book is structured is particularly useful as each chapter focuses on a particular food item, which means I can go a little berserk in the markets buying what I fancy and come home to flip the book for a way to turn it into a great dish. It's been really helpful so far when I'm stumped with what to do with celery (the bunches they sell here are the width of Mike Tyson's arm so go figure) other than putting them into stew, pasta sauce and salads, witlof and now tamarillos.

From the Cook's Companion, here is a short excerpt on tamarillos:

"Tamarillos are grown in tropical and subtropical climates throughout the world......A tamarillo tree cops very heavily and can yield 20kg of fruit each year. There is a yellow-organge variety.....as [well as] the crimson. Tamarillos are available from late May to November."

Useful hints on selection, preparation and cooking of tamarillos:

"Ripe tamarillos should be firm but with a slight suppleness. Reject any that are wrinkled. Hard fruit will continue to soften at room temperature, and once they feel right can be refrigerated for a week or two."

"The skin of a tamarillo is never eaten. Peel it away with a vegetable peeler, or treat the fruit like a tomato and make a cross on the pointed end and immerse it in boiling water for 1 minute and then in cold water. The skin will then strip away readily. There is no need to remove the seeds which are edible."

I learn also that tamarillos can be eaten like any other fresh fruit, except perhaps with the addition of some caster sugar on the side or honey drizzled over to soften its tartness. Reading through the recipes, it seems that tamarillo would work well in salsas (one would need to cut down on the vinegar though), in cakes, in chutneys, as a topping in place of passionfruit on the classic Australian dessert pavlova and even baked in a buttered gratin dish.

My favourite recipe though would be perfect for the occasional hot sultry days I am likely to see in the forthcoming weeks in Melbourne. Someone send me an icecream maker and a food processor!! Here is Stephanie Alexander's recipe for Tamarillo Sorbet.

Tamarillo Sorbet (makes 1 litre)

Ingredients:

8 tamarillos, halved lengthwise
2 cups Heavy Sugar Syrup**
½ cinnamon stick (optional)
Juice of 2 limes or 1 lemon

Method:

Using a sharp spoon, carefully spoon out tamarillo flesh, leaving shells intact. Wrap shells in plastic film and freeze.
Put sugar syrup and cinnamon stick, if using, into a non-reactive saucepan and bring to simmering point. Drop in tamarillo flesh and cook gently until tender. Discard cinnamon stick.
Puree fruit and syrup in a blender or food processor, then pass through a coarse strainer over a bowl to extract any hard seeds. Add lime juice to taste.
Refrigerate until cold, then churn in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Scoop sorbet into frozen shells to serve.

** For the Heavy Sugar Syrup, heat 1 part water to 1 part sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

This sorbet becomes a beautiful deep rose-pink. Store any leftover sorbet in an airtight container and use within a few days.

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