|Fruit of Temptation|
|Written by Jeff Shimonski -- BT Contributor|
Once you’ve tasted black sapote, it’s hard to say no to more
Ialways enjoy evaluating trees in older Miami neighborhoods because I never know when I’ll come across one that’s not very common to our area, or maybe one that is just unfamiliar to me. Last month I visited a property that had the most interesting collection of fruit trees, with many of them in bloom or in fruit. What a find!
One of the larger trees on this property was a relative of the persimmon. I immediately recognized it as a black sapote or Diospyros digyna. What was most rewarding was the fact the tree was full of mature fruit, which do, in fact, resemble the persimmon, so I helped myself to a small quantity (strictly for “scientific purposes,” of course).
I spent several hours on this property measuring and inspecting trees, and also taking lots of photos. I saw some of the neighbors outside their houses so I went over to them and asked if they had ever eaten the fruit of the black sapote. Since this tree is native to Mexico and parts of Central America, I naturally assumed the neighbors, who were Hispanic, were familiar with it. I was wrong.
The people I spoke with not only had never tried the fruit, they did not even know it. When I told them it was called black sapote, they said they knew the other sapote fruits, which come from completely unrelated families of trees. Perhaps they never tried the black sapote because, when it ripens, the green color of the fruit only changes slightly -- to a lighter shade of green -- so many people don’t realize it’s ready to eat.
Regarding the other sapotes, there is the white sapote, Casimiroa edulis, that is in the citrus family, and mamey sapote, Pouteria sapota, from a totally different plant family (and a favorite of Cubans, who make milkshakes with it). All of the different sapotes are native to Mexico. In Spanish, black sapote can be called (at least by those familiar with the fruit) sapote negro, sapote prieto, sapote de mico, or ebano. In English, I’ve heard it called black persimmon.
Aside from the difficulty in learning to tell when the fruit is ripe on the tree, I suppose another problem with black sapote is what the inside looks like when you’re ready to eat or prepare it in some manner (the outer shell becomes very soft and easily gives way to a serrated knife): a mass of dark brown pulp. Some folks say it resembles stewed prunes. At first I seriously considered not trying it. The fruit I collected was from a seedless variety, so at least there wasn’t the issue of picking out the seeds before eating.
When I brought the black sapote home, I asked my favorite chef, Monica, to come up with some preparation methods to see how good this tropical fruit can taste. Monica cut open a couple of the ripe fruits and set aside cinnamon, shredded bitter chocolate, and maple syrup.
We used spoons to scoop out some of the fruit and tasted it by itself. I would say it tasted a bit like pudding, with a hint of chocolate. Adding the condiments certainly made the flavor more interesting. My favorite was the maple syrup.
Monica has a book with recipes using tropical fruit, so I challenged her to bake a black sapote cake. She baked a butter cake using only a single fruit. For a topping, she mixed shredded coconut in cream and then toasted the cake. Wow, was it delicious!
We both agree that next time she will use two black sapote. We have a few more ripening so a black sapote mousse is on standby, although I would almost prefer to have another cake. I’ve also heard of a tempting beverage made by blending the pulp of black sapote with pineapple juice.
This tropical fruit tree is quite easily grown in our local soils. It can be sensitive to cold and frost while becoming established, but once it reaches the size of a smaller tree, it will tolerate some cold weather.
The tree from which I collected the fruit had not been cared for -- in the sense of fertilizer or irrigation -- probably for years. Nevertheless, the tree was quite healthy -- you could tell by the dark-green foliage -- and, because of its size, had hundreds of fruit in the canopy. It’s the perfect sustainable tree to grow if you have space in your yard. No fertilizer or spraying necessary.
There were quite a few species of unusual trees on this property that bore edible fruit and/or had some interesting property, like being flammable. I will save that combustible topic for another column.
I love my job!
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