I call it “fugly fruit” — you know, those odd-shaped or prickly things that sometimes look like a furry family pet that needs to be walked. We’re talking about fruits that grow right here in South Florida, in our own backyard. They are categorized as subtropical fruit (more common subtropicals are lemons, limes, mangos and oranges). They can be eaten unprocessed and without added sugars, which is a great attribute and a terrific pitching point for someone who is stuck on sugar cravings. Another reason to keep them onboard is that they are pretty hardy and can expand our culinary repertoire.
Next time you’re deciding which fruits to serve onboard, get out of that bananas-berries-melons rut! Fugly fruits can be found in Florida farmers markets, Caribbean grocers and sometimes even the big chain stores. Here are a few:
Atemoya is a light green fruit with white fleshy pulp and lots of dark seeds (10 to 40 per fruit). It grows in Florida from May to June, with some harvesting in August and September as well. The flower of this plant starts off as female and ends up male upon maturation five to six months from blooming. When ripe, the fruit turns a light yellow and the pulp is sweet with a custard-like consistency.
Guava, commonly found in the Bahamas and on certain Caribbean islands, is round or pear-shaped, with a yellow skin and flesh ranging from pink to red. Once cooked, the flesh is pink. It’s mainly used in breads, jams and cakes, or made into paste.
Bread fruit is actually native to the Malay Archipelago. It has a green exterior, a large conical to round shape, and is patterned with polygon-shaped bumps that smooth out upon maturity. It grows on trees and is a staple of many subtropical locales. The more mature the fruit, the softer it becomes. It’s ripe texture can range from Camembert to mashed plantains, but when unripe it is hard and very starchy. Treat it like you would a potato — simply peel and cut up, boil, broil, grill, mash, or use it to make breads and cakes.
Longan is spherical in shape and brown to light tan in color. The pulp is flavorful and sweet, and it has one seed. It usually grows in Florida from February to April.
Lychee, which resembles a mini porcupine, grows in Florida from May to mid-July. It is usually pink to red on the outside, with a milky white flesh on the inside and one nut. I remember buying lychees in the Caribbean and peeling the thick skin back to expose the white fleshy pulp and brownish nut.
Mamey sapote is berry-shaped, with up to four seeds depending on the variety. The skin is brownish, and the flesh is reddish or pink. It usually grows in summer, fall and winter, but when it will ripen depends on how it is cultivated.
Sappodilla is a round, brown, scurfy-appearing fruit with pulp that is light brown to brownish red to yellow. The tree is an evergreen, and the fruit ripens on the tree from May through September. In Florida, however, it can ripen all year long.
Budda’s hands are long-fingered, yellow citron fruit that looks like a human hand with fingers. It is commonly found in the imported fruit section of markets, but it is also grown in non-frost areas of Florida or in greenhouses. It’s often used in liquors as flavoring or in room deodorizers. It can be zested for baking or sliced up for salads — there are a lot of uses for this fruit. Simply slice off a finger. Sounds horrible to say, doesn’t it? As a chef, I am not sure I should say that again, given my track record in cutting my own hands. The aroma of this fruit is prolific and it is well worth having one sit on your counter or in an arrangement.
Tamarind is mainly used in chutneys, sauces, beverages and curries. It is a cinnamon brownish, seeded pod with a velvety feel. This tree normally grows from South Florida to the Keys, and it can reach heights of more than 90 feet. Here’s a little-known fact: It is a member of the bean family. You can usually find tamarind paste and pods in grocery stores.
Sugar apple is green and either heart-shaped, round or conical in appearance. The leaves are rounded, hairy and overlap each other, and can be pulled apart when ripe. The pulp inside is creamy white with a custard consistency, and it has several brown seeds. The fruit ripens midsummer through winter, and not all fruit ripens at the same time. The flavor is sweet, hence the name sugar apple.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.