It’seasy to be dismayed by the stuff people are eating these days.Junk-food consumption is reaching epidemic proportions, but folks whoeat their fruits and veggies are hearing lots of bad news aboutwhat’s in (or on) the imported produce on the market. China andCalifornia have recently been tarred with that brush, leaving diehardherbivores to look for other secure sources for healthy foods.
Thanksto NAFTA, the US and Mexico seem to get the lion’s share of importsinto Canada. It’s worked out well for us, providing reliablegoodies, for the most part, on the shelf. Who grows sweeterwatermelons than Mexico? And if you prefer your fruit seedless, noproblem. Those varieties are regularly supplied by producers inArizona and Texas.
Brazilhas become a serious contender in the fruit-export industry. It’snot just the land of bikinis and cosmetic surgery any more! I havebeen buying Brazilian fruit for years and never suffered from any ofmy purchases. The stuff is delicious, exotic and certified free of“grey water” germs and toxic chemicals. On a recent tour ofnortheast Brazil, I witnessed the life of a melon destined for exportfirst-hand, from where and how it was grown to how it was packed andshipped to Canada. I was impressed with the great care with which thefruit was treated — almost twice as impressed as how delicious ittasted.
I’vespoken with produce buyers from across Canada to find out whattropical fruit has gained in popularity of the past few years —bananas are still the number-one purchase. They stand out for being afruit that can be quickly digested and is rich in fiber, potassiumand vitamins. And yes, according to these buyers, we still eatbananas under-ripe, before the skin is flecked with brown spots.
TonyDiMarco, who has been buying tropical fruit for over thirty years forhis Harvest Wagon stores in Ontario, tells me that mangos importedfrom Mexico and Brazil in particular are extremely popular. Here inthe Great White North, folks have discovered that mangoes are greatin fruit salad or in salads that contain poultry. This fruit alsocompliments pork dishes; it can also be grated or cubed whileunder-ripe and eaten with salt and pepper.
Mangoesare oval-shaped and about the size of a large pear. The thin leatheryskin of ripe mangoes varies in colour according to the variety, fromlight yellow to a reddish or purplish tint. The flesh is sweet, juicyand golden yellow in colour and it contains a large flat pit. TommyAtkins and Haden are the most popular varieties.
Theyare usually sold firm and will need time to soften. Look for clear,unblemished, taut skins and an aromatic scent. Leave at roomtemperature for a few days, until the fruit yields to gentle pressureand gives off a heady, sweet, tropical aroma. Speckled fruitindicates advanced ripeness, not spoilage. Refrigerated mangoes (onlyrefrigerate when ripe) will last for a week or more.
Withouta doubt the most popular and delicious papayas are the Hawaiian Soloand Sunrise and the Brazilian Red Amazon varieties. Their flavoursare sweet, and the interior colour alone makes you smile. With thisvariety, there’s no need for lime juice to perk up the flavour.
Papayascontain anti-oxidants such as beta-carotene, a high level of vitaminC, minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium; they’re alsovery low in sodium. And it is the fruit with the highest-known levelof alkalinity. Papayas contain the enzyme papain, which is anexcellent meat tenderizer, because it breaks down the meat’sprotein.
Theskin of the papaya is very delicate and can be easily bruised,spoiling the fruit. When the fruit is unripe, it is green and hard;little by little the colour changes to yellow or light orange insplotches, until it completely loses any traces of green. Papayas aregreat in salads, fruit kebabs, salsas and breakfast drinks.
Whenthe papaya is sliced open to be consumed, you’ll notice its seedsare connected by fibres to the pulp and can be found in largequantities. They are small and shiny-black, and though they are oftendiscarded, they are edible and can be dried to use as you wouldcrushed black pepper.
Thelarger varieties of papaya can be used as a vegetable while stillgreen and hard. Bake or cook it like squash.
I heardthat a good Crenshaw melon is probably the most delicious melon inthe world. While in Brazil, I had the opportunity to taste Pele deSapo (“frog skin”) melons, which look like an elongated pumpkin.These beauties certainly don’t take a back seat to any melon I haveever served. Right now, they are being exported to Europe, but I lookforward to their appearance next to the popular Galia, which you canfind now in Canadian supermarkets.
Lookfor a well-shaped, unbruised melon. Don’t depend on squeezing thestem end: you may be feeling the softness resulting only from othercustomers’ squeezing! There is no infallible method for choosing agreat melon, as it always depends on the melon being harvested at theprecise point when all its sugars have developed but it is not yettoo ripe. When the melon is unripe, it ends up tasting like acucumber!
Keepmelons at room temperature until ripe. Cut in half, remove the seedsfrom the sections you are planning on eating. Then cut each half intowedges. Melons are best when eaten at room temperature or justslightly chilled. Spanish melons are often served with prosciutto orsmoked fish. Or cut into cubes and sprinkle with Sherry to serve as atapas.
Refrigerateuneaten melon for a day or two at most. Wrap it to prevent itsethylene gas from affecting other foods in the refrigerator.
Rich invitamin C with some B vitamins, and low in calories and sodium, themassive pomelo is believed to be the ancestor of the grapefruit. It’sthe largest of all citrus fruits, with a very thick aromatic rind anda sweetish yellow or pink flesh, much sweeter and generally morecoarsely textured than grapefruit.
Choosefirm, not hard, pomelos — the heavier, the better. If they are verylight in weight, they won’t be juicy. Avoid those that look driedout at the stem end.
Theycan be refrigerated for about a week, but are juiciest when eaten asfresh as possible. Though it can be used to make juice, it’s greatin salads; the peel can be used to make candies. You can also tryheating pomelo segments for a minute or two in the microwave, thenflavouring them with a splash of Pernod and honey.
Beadventurous with your fruit! Just make sure that it’s properlyripened when you eat it. One of my biggest complaints aboutrestaurants is that they rush tropical fruit to the table, serving upgreat-looking slices of what tastes like acid-treated Styrofoam!We’ve all had an unwelcome surprise pucker from unripe tropicalfruit here in North America, but I was surprised to find it inBrazilian restaurants as well. What a shame!
(Thanksto Julia Richardson for allowing me to use her sources.)