Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Passionfruit Plenty

 So many of my childhood memories of visiting my grandparents in Taiwan center around flavors and scents - many of them fruits.  Wax apple, star fruit, guava, papaya, loquat... all available on dooryard trees or at the open air markets.  My favorite of them all was the passionfruit, or more aptly, in Chinese, "fruit of a hundred fragrances". 

When we moved to Florida and discovered that in the warm climate we could grow all these childhood favorites, I went to the local nursery, and after picking out the obligatory citrus trees, brought home our first passionfruit.  Like all vines, it was a fast grower, even on the north side of a fence, and covered that fence in a season.  It didn't have as many flowers as I would have liked, and I had to fight the squirrels for the fruit, but it did well until winter, when a hard freeze killed it to the ground.  Not quite the same climate as Taiwan, after all.

 After a few years, I finally got it together enough to make a planter last year, and in May, picked up another passionfruit vine from the nursery.  Inside the screen porch and covered with a blanket during frosts, it survived the winter and didn't even lose all its leaves (we did have a mild winter.  In colder weather mini lights under the blanket and soaking the pot with water will probably keep it warm enough to survive).   Here it is this spring, covering the trellis.

I moved it outside into the full sun (your standard screen will cut sunlight - and UV - by a startling 50%) and the growth and flowering really took off.  Because of the shape of the large flower, pollination is most effective by a large pollinator like the carpenter bee, and not having an abundance of them around our yard, I had to hand pollinate with a paint brush to get the fruit to set.  It's a quick process, but needs to be done for every single blossom that the bees don't get, and since they only bloom for a single day, I missed about half of them.  All the same, I got over 100 fruits.  About two weeks ago, they started ripening and the real fun began.

Passionfruit, when they are ripe, fall off the vine with the slightest touch (about half the time I am picking them up off the ground since they dropped during the night).  Their rinds shrivel within a day or two to give you that characteristic wrinkly look you see in stores.
Cut the fruit in half with a sharp knife, and you see the flavorful pulp:  little pockets of juice surrounding each black seed.  Scoop it out with a spoon and use it immediately, or if you have too much, freeze it in ice cube trays to keep for future use.

 The easiest way to use them is in a smoothie, blended with other fruits.  The seeds are edible (if crunchy) and don't have much of a flavor of their own.  I prefer not to strain the pulp since I don't want to lose any of that juice, so we just eat it seeds and all.  If you want a smooth texture, you can always strain them out.

Another easy preparation is to make a simple syrup, with 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup passionfruit pulp.  Bring it to a boil and reduce until it is slightly thickened and syrupy.  This sweet, tangy concoction is perfect mixed into plain yoghurt, poured over shaved ice, or drizzled over a panna cotta.  Here are some recipes to get you started.  In all of them, you can increase the proportion of passionfruit pulp to get a stronger flavor.

Vanilla Honey Pannacotta with Passionfruit syrup

(1 cup plain yoghurt, 1 cup heavy cream, 4 tbsp honey, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 pkg powdered gelatin.  Sprinkle gelatin over cold cream, mix well, then heat until dissolved.  Mix in other ingredients, pour into molds, and chill until set.  Top with passionfruit syrup.)