Ah, spring—the time when a young cook’s fancy turns to exotic fruit. Ever on the prowl for fresh seasonal ingredients, looking for the extraordinary, cooks (both amateurs and pros) are finding an expanding selection of exotic produce on our local grocery shelves.
Pete’s Frootique led the charge, but other supermarkets, especially the larger Superstores, are beginning to stock more than the usual suspects in their produce departments. Some of the most interesting characters currently in season include durian, feijoa, ugli and jackfruits—and if those names don’t ring a bell, don’t be surprised.
Jackfruit is a favourite in Vietnamese restaurants, where jackfruit juice is a popular beverage. The juice is almost always made from canned jackfruit (available in many Asian markets), because a fresh jackfruit can weigh a whopping 100 pounds. Combine the weight with the spiny, ungainly appearance, and you have one tough customer. If you are intent on buying a fresh one, look for yellow to brown skin, with the spikes standing far apart. The fruit is used in curries when green; when ripe, in desserts and juice. It has a mild, sweet flavour, ideal for shakes, smoothies and sorbets.
The ugli fruit, of Jamaican origin, may be no beauty with its oversized wrinkled skin; sources disagree on whether or not its name and appearance are connected. About the size of a small grapefruit, this citrus fruit can be used anywhere you’d use grapefruit. Succulent and very pleasant tasting, it’s great for eating out of hand or in salads. When buying, look past the gnarly outer covering and choose heavy, full-feeling fruit.
An interesting fruit making a rare appearance around Metro is the feijoa, or pineapple guava. This South American native is absolutely delicious. Sweet and juicy, its complex flavours are reminiscent of pineapple and mint; its fragrance makes me wish the Body Shop would put out a feijoa scrub. Look for small, lime-green oval fruit; peel off the bumpy skin and enjoy. Ripe feijoas are firm with a little give, and can continue to ripen after purchase the same way many other fruits do: placed in a brown paper bag on your counter.
By far the most interesting fruit to hit Halifax this year is the durian. Known in southeast Asia as the “King of Fruit,” durian is prized for its exquisite, rich creamy texture—that is, if you can get past the smell. Even in its homeland, durian is banned on airplanes, hotel rooms and public transport because it stinks. Words I’ve heard used include repugnant, dirty socks, rotten fish, nauseating, vomit inducing, gag reflexive—you get the idea. I brought one home to see for myself what the fuss was about. My cats, used to strange cooking odours and always up for scraps, fled upstairs and refused to come back. It took three days of open windows to expunge the smell. And the taste? My cast-iron stomach and culinary bravado just couldn’t get around that stench. One tiny bite convinced me that the sought-after custard mouth-feel was not enough to induce me to sample any more. The taste is mild, not at all unpleasant, but my olfactory glands were screaming “no more!” Like Lady Macbeth, I stood at the sink scrubbing my hands, convinced that all of the perfumes of Arabia would not make them clean again.
But don’t let me discourage you from being adventurous at your local greengrocer. For plenty of information on what’s in season and how to buy and eat exotic produce, there’s a plethora of websites devoted to fruit (I enjoy the Pete’s Frootique site—it’s local and accurate). All you need is a shopping basket and a sense of adventure to enjoy the fruits of the season.
Find more of Liz Feltham’s reviews on the web, always in season: www.foodcritic.ca