Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Harvest Ingredient 2: The Custard Apples

The Custard Apple Family

The "custard apple" family is huge.  On the largest scale they belong to the Annonaceae, which has upwards of 2500 species in a whopping 130 genera and span the globe in tropical and semi-tropical environment.  Strictly the group that I am most concerned here with is the Annona, although 6 other genera produce edible fruits.  Also of interest, since I live in it's native range is the Assimina, which includes the Papaw, or true Pawpaw trees (not to be confused with Papaya, which are also called Pawpaws by the British); these genera are often lumped in with the Annona in cookbooks.  In the Annona genera alone there are dozens of species, some of them quite commercially important.

The word "annona" is actually derived from the Taino language, and specifically from the Hispaniola dialect that was first heard by Europeans in 1493 on Columbus' second voyage.  Most of the genera are, in fact, native to the New World; certainly the most commercially viable species are.  As the age of cultivation of these fruit bearing trees, paleoethnobotanical research suggest that it dates back to at least 1000BC, with clear evidence of it's cultivation along the Yautepec river in the present day state of Morelos in the Valley of Mexico.  The antiquity of the date would suggest that it cultivation belongs to the ancestors of the people now known only as Olmec; the area one of the oldest continuously inhabited regions in the valley, with first evidence of habitation dating back to around 6000 BC.  As far as Annona cultivation is concerned, I personally have to wonder about the Andean region.  The most well known native cultivar species of the genera comes from there:  the Cherimoya.  The word is derived from the Quechua (Incan) word cherimuyu.  I have to wonder how long the fruit was under cultivation there before the rise of the Incan Empire.  In any case, the Cherimoya remains the most common commercially available fruit from the genera, as does it's hybridized off-spring the Atemoya.

Currently around 7 species are grown for commercial use, while the Papaw is widely grown for home consumption in the southern parts of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and all of Florida.  Additionally, many lesser known fruits are used in various native medical ways in a very wide ranging area of the New World that includes Mexico, the Caribbean, all of Central America and parts of South America.  Modern research on some of these fruits suggests that all Annona have various levels of acetogenins, which fall under the category Polyketide; which just means that they carry gut beneficial bacteria.  So, that would account for their generalized wide spread use as a digestive.

Leaves from the Annona reticulata, a species used by the ancient  Maya

The following are listed as critically endangered:

Annona asplundiana From lowland Peru, Amazon
Annona atabapensis From Venezuela
Annona cristalensis From Cuba
Annona deceptrix  From Ecuador
Annona deminuta  From Peru
Annona dolichophylla From Peru
Annona ecuadorensis  From Ecuador

Annona ekmanii  From Cuba

Annona hystricoides  From Ecuador
Annona jamaicensis  From Jamaica
Annona manabiensis  From Ecuador
Annona oligocarpa  From Ecuador
Annona praetermissa  From Jamaica 
Annona trunciflora  From Venezuela

Below Is A Rundown Of The Family

Atemoya currently the only intentional hybrid developed specifically for commercial use.  It has a much longer shelf life than does it's commercially grown parent, the Cherimoya.  It's other parent is the Sugar Apple.

Araticum-pacari from the Tupi language meaning which roughly translates as "soft fruit of Paca"  It is one of the only smooth skinned varieties in the family and is, despite it's food value, critically endangered in it's native range in Brazil due severe deforestation.  Also grows in Paraguay.

Annona conica, it's not hard to see where this fruit gets it's name, and it is deceidely not smooth skinned!  It is native to Ecuador, and like Araticum-pacari, it is also critically endangered.

This is a Brazilian Soursop AKA a Sweetsop, known in Brazil Fruta de Conde.  It is stated in some sources as having been hybridized by the Count of Miranda in 1626, however new information about the fruit suggests that it from parts of the Amazon deforested long ago, and if it hadn't been for the Count's greenhouse and his prestige attached to it, it might have gone extinct centuries ago.  In Brazil it is considered a rich delicacy, and is usually served as is, with a spoon and a glass of dessert wine.  It is rarely eaten otherwise, but is sometimes pureed or put into ices or puddings.  It also makes a great addition to dessert sauces or layered fruit purees.  The tree has a high quality of wood, which is used in everything from construction to toys.

This is the Cherimoya.  Before the Atemoyo hit the markets, this was the most commercially valuable "custard apple" out there.  Widely grown, now all over the world, and highly prized, it has the draw back of not traveling well.  So if you live in a non-tropical area, chances are that you will pay a serious amount of money for one that is bruised and over-ripe, if you can find one at all.  In Incan times, they were eaten as is.  The Quechua name for them, as mentioned above, is Cherimuyu.

The Caritu-cuí from the Amazon in Brazil.  The name, again, is Tupi and roughly translates as "soft blood red fruit."  It is edible.  The plant, or tree, has some commercial value as an attractive yard shrub in tropical areas.

Marolo, native to a large portion of the Brazilian Amazon, where it is still a valuable food source for some native groups.  Despite that Wikipedia says that it hasn't been domesticated, it actually has on a limited scale.  It is true that it was considered a potentially important fruit for commercial cultivation, but has, of yet, been domesticated for that purpose.

Ilamatzopotl, a Nahuatl ("Aztec") word that translated literally to "old woman's zapote" (Zapote is a name often applied to indigenous fruits in the Nahuatl language).  It is more popularly known as the Ilama, which is a shortened named used in Spanish for the fruit.  Although it is lighter in color on the outside, the flesh is darker that most custard apple.  Despite is Nahuatl name, it is actually native to Central America.  It is commonly served "on the half shell" with a spoon, although the flesh is firm enough to scoop out like melon balls.  To accentuate the sweet, a little cream and sugar is added; to accentuate the bitter, lime or lemon juice is added.  It best chilled.

This is another custard apple endemic to my area of growing up.  We know them as Pond Apples, they are also called Alligator Apple in FLA., also Swamp Apple. In central American they are called Monkey Apples in English speaking areas.  This one is tolerant of poor soil conditions and can tolerate a high degree of salt water.  It is in NO DANGER of going extinct, and has, in fact, been declared an invasive plant in Australia.  Although it grows in great abundance in Florida, it is probably native to the Caribbean, possibly Cuba or The Bahamas.  Because of it hardiness, recent horticultural attempts have been made to use it as a root stock for less hardy cultivars.  Recent research has found that an alcohol extract of it's seeds may have cancer fighting qualities for medical use.

The Mountain Soursop, grows, as it name implies at high elevations, and as such has developed a heartiness that is almost the opposite, but just as tough as, the Pond Apple.  It has successfully been used as root stock for less hearty Annona types.  The fruits are edible, but not that tasty.  They are, however, used to make a bitter juice that are drunk at meals with foods that perceived to be hard to digest.

This is the granddaddy of them all, it is cultivated more than any other custard apple, including the Cherimoya; it's just that a very large amount of the cultivated fruit goes into processed products.  As a result, this is by far the easiest to cook with, since the juice is highly prized in Latin cooking and it is readily available bottled or fact, I have some cans of it in my cupboard.  Outside of outdoor tropical markets, however, you will rarely find it fresh.  In Latin sections of your "local" you will likely find it listed under Guanabana.  In Mexico it is sometimes listed as Zapote agrio, after the "Aztec" fashion of calling such soft fruits Zapotl.  In English speaking areas of the Caribbean and Central American, this is the famed Soursop; despite that title the taste is not really sour, just pleasantly sweet with sour undertones.  It makes a great sorbet!!  Heck they even put this into supplements, I would guess for indigestion.  The leaves and seeds have been reported used in various indigenous medicines.  Both, especially the seeds, are toxic.

The Annonilla is a related Annona from the lowland of Peru in the Amazon jungle.  They are a great source of food for local tribes in the wet season, when they gathered from canoes while the water is high.  Eaten raw, and some are sent to market to make extra money.

This is truly a native of Mexico and is popularly known by the name of soncoya. Looking a bit like a miniature durian, it is a true custard apple with bright orange flesh and a lot of white seeds, unusual for the genera, which usually sports shiny black seeds.

It's easy to see where how this particular Annona came to be called "Bullock's Heart!"  Though some varieties, are green with small spikes, all Annona reticulata, are heart shaped.  This is also the fruit that is most often also referred to a "Custard Apple."  Some of crop goes to processing, and it can occasionally be found frozen in the south, but most is sold fresh, though not in the US.

This is the Beach Sugar Apple, native to the Bahia in Brazil.  It was formerly a favorite fruit of coastal Tupi's, until they were killed and displaced.  It is still vigorous in it's native range and it popular with people living their now.  The flesh is pale translucent white, with those characteristic big smooth black seeds, the fruit is typically orange when ripe, but can also be green.  The skin surface too ranges from smoothish to spiked.  This tree has the distinction of being one of the tallest of the Annona, which can have trees that are more like shrubs.  It typically grows at least 30 feet and can reach the height of 45 feet.  Despite the delicious fruit, this tree is not under cultivation.

Known by it's native names of Poshe-te and Cawesh, this is an Annona native exclusively to a small part of Central America, in mostly Maya speaking areas.  It is another tree that grows to great height and the fruit is highly prized in native communities, with the flavor reportedly being a strong combination of pineapple and banana.

Now this is truly a strange one!!  And, an endangered one to boot.  The above photo shows the fruit in both it's ripe and unripe state....the kicker here is that the brown fruit in is the immature one, and the green fruit is ripe!  Now who ever heard of the fruit that turns from brown to green when it's ripe??  This is indigenous to Panama.  It was already under threat due to the construction of the Panama Canal, but further issues of deforestation and the fact the Panama is facing real threat from rising seas has threatened it further.  Fortunately it is being studied and propagated outside areas where it grows naturally.

This is another heavy weight in the custard apple family and confusingly gets called by some of the same names as fruits like the Guanabana and the Sourpsop (Bullock's Heart).  It's proper Latin name is Ammona squamosa, and is most often called Sugar Apple when it is identified right at markets.  It's a bit confusing to me why anyone with mistake this for the two fruits mentioned here by the same name; for me, this looks a lot like the Fruta de Conde.  The two trees are in no way alike, but their fruit is similar.  This is one of the smallest of the Annona trees, so small in fact, that is more often referred to as a shrub than a tree.  It is closely related to the Cherimoya, but grows at much lower altitudes and isn't picky about growing conditions.  It's popular with home gardeners, as much as it is with fruit farmers.

Another native of Brazil, it's generic indigenous name of Ariticum is Tupi and translates to "soft fruit."  It is under cultivation and is not currently listed as highly endangered.

This is the Common Pawpaw which is actually not in the Annona family; and though it does prefer southerly growing areas above all others, it has been found growing as far north as southern New York state to southern Michigan.  It's Latin name is Asimina triloba.  It is considered to be completely indigenous to the US and ranks among the largest fruits native to the North American continent north of Mexico.  The first European who stumbled on the fruit was Hernando de Soto, who reported that he found it under cultivation in what is now Mississippi.  The chilled fruit was apparently a favorite dessert of Thomas Jefferson, who grew it Monticello.

The Biriba aka Rollinia mucosa is also native to Brazil.  As you can see the fruit looks like it has a bunch of little bananas growing off it!  Not only is it's fruit edible, it is delicious by most standards.  It is often described as "Lemon Meringue Fruit."  Additionally the wood of it's tree is so durable that it is used in boat construction.

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