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Custard apples

"Open them up and there, with a minimum of kitchen assistance and possibly an addition of double cream to their creaminess, nature provides a kind of 'fool' of its own, a natural fool as delicious as gooseberry fool or raspberry fool." Jane Grigson

This is for my sister who apparently brought back to England some seeds from a custard apple that she had in Queensland, and which she planted at home. And at last it has sprouted. Alas I do not think she will have much success as this is a sub-tropical tree - and a fairly large one at that'.

"Custard Apple trees are large and spreading, shaded by large, green drooping leaves. The tree sets many light yellow trumpet shaped flowers that emit a pungent, sweet smell especially in the late afternoon when the male pollen sacks burst open. Of these flowers, only a small number will set fruit." Custard Apples Australia

They occasionally hand pollinate here in Australia apparently. Anyway I said I would find about them, because I know little about them, although I do know that you can buy them here when they are in season - September- December, so not now. It seems that Australia is now a leading grower of the fruit, although I noted that Jane Grigson seemed to think that Israel was the main producer. For Europe maybe. Here in Australia we grow them for the Asian market as well as the home one, and very possibly that home market is substantially our Asian/Australians.

I gather that they come from central and southern America and that there are three main types - the custard apple, the soursop and the rollinia. The first two are Annonas and the third is just Rollinia. Here in Australia the two main varieties sold in the shops - yes you can get them in the supermarket - are Pinks Mammoth and African Pride. Both of them are hybrids developed from those three basic varieties. There is an 'official' group of growers Custard Apples Australia which is also experimenting with new varieties. The current 'holy grail' in their words, is a pink one.

Along the way there have been failures and almost successes, but the holy grail has not quite been achieved.

In the meantime though a young lady called Karen Martin has developed something called a Pink Blush which was just one of those mutations that you get now and then with plants, and that she grafted on to normal stock.

It has become very popular - so much so that demand exceeds current supply. Anyway well done to all those farmers up there on the border country of NSW and Queensland. You don't eat the seeds by the way.

So what do you do with them? Well I suspect as little as possible really. But even doing a little can be sumptuous.

"This creamy custard-like taste lends them perfectly to sweet dishes. I love to freeze the flesh in a bowl with a little coconut milk and then whiz the whole thing in a food processor. It takes no work at all and you end up with a lovely little custard apple and coconut sorbet." Adam Liaw

Ice cream seems to be a favourite suggestion usually flavoured with fresh lime juice and sugar, and maybe coconut. Stephanie suggests a fool that is a tiny bit more complicated than Jane Grigson's suggestion of just eating it with cream:

"Combine 1 cup custard apple purée with the juice of a lime, and dark rum to taste, then whip 1 cup cream and fold it into the purée."

Now what could be simpler than that?

Adam Liaw offers a recipe for Custard apple and passionfruit cheesecake, which looks and sounds rather delicious. Others suggest smoothies and cocktails and salads. But if you want a whole range of suggestions then go to the Custard Apples Australia website and browse their fairly extensive Recipes. As well as actual recipes there is a section on Quck things to do with them, and also tips on how to handle them. Mind you, Adam Liaw seems to think that you shouldn't cook it at all"

"People often overheat the fruit, which causes it to loose flavour and texture. Custard apples should not be heated over 50 degrees Celsius. To avoid overheating, simply stir the custard apples just before serving."

And a final thing - some have labelled it a new super food, because of course, it is packed full of good stuff and seems to be good for all sorts of things. To choose one it should just give a little - like an avocado. If it is brown it is past it. Indeed it sounds a bit like paw-paw in that you have to get it at just the right moment or you lose the wonder of the whole thing.

Good luck Jenny - though I have to warn you that one variety the Custard Apples Australia developed that did well in Queensland failed when they moved it south to NSW. Sorry. Probably not what you wanted to hear, but you never know it might grow into a tree anyway.


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