Extension Agent: A taste for the tropics

By Erika Bochat
April 10, 2012 at midnight
Updated April 9, 2012 at 11:10 p.m.

A slice of kiwifruit on a fruit platter feels like a trip to sunny California. A luscious mango in a broccoli salad can transport me straight to a pristine beach in the Caribbean.

Whether you grow these taste sensations in your backyard, or you anxiously pluck them off the table at your farmers market or grocery store, tropical fruit can take your palate to far away places.

If you haven't made tropical fruit part of your home canning plans, you're in for a treat. Stirred into jam, chopped into chutneys, mixed into fruit salad, or sliced into salsas, tropical fruits add exotic, refreshing notes that make the homemade extraordinary.

And going tropical has never been easier with items like kiwifruit, mangoes and papayas taking their place alongside all-American favorites like apples, pears and bananas.

Once only available in out-of-the-way specialty shops, tropical fruits are readily available because of improvements in methods for harvesting, cooling and transporting that keep delicate flavors fresh from the field to the local market or grocery.

The tropical effect is pure magic when you pair exotic fruits with home-grown from your backyard garden or local farmers market. Strawberry jam is just strawberry jam until you add an accent of diced, fresh kiwifruit.

Even canned fruit cocktail is just fruit cocktail until you mix in fresh papaya and passion fruit before serving. I harvested very few figs last year, but was able to freeze a little more than two gallon bags full and combined with kiwifruit, was able to make beautiful jars of jam.

Try adding some of these tropical treasures when it's time to put up the upcoming summer harvest:

Kiwifruit - Its fresh, juicy flavor makes kiwi a great stand-alone in jam and combined with strawberries and crystallized ginger, it's out of this world.

Mango - The sweet undertones and soft texture can go sweet or savory. Whether you chop it into salsa with onions and garlic or preserve it in a fresh fruit salad with ascorbic acid to preserve its sunny orange color.

Pineapple - The combination of sweet-and-tart adds interest to everything from peach jam to fruit compote. Its sweetness is especially useful in low or no-sugar recipes.

Papaya - Mellow, melon-like flavor and texture are excellent paired with acid or richly flavored fruits such as strawberry, lime or peaches. It's a standout in a mixed fruit medley.

Here's an easy way to get at the tangy tropical taste of a juicy mango:

Cut through fruit along each flat side of the pit.

Make criss-cross cuts up to, but not through, skin of the two pieces.

Push skin to turn fruit inside out. Slice off cubes and cut up flesh remaining on either edge of the pit.

Erika Bochat is a Victoria County extension agent-Family and Consumer Sciences.



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