WHAT DO WE COOK WITH THESE FRUITS?

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Homestead is a region about one hour’s drive outside of Downtown Miami with a huge farming community, and blessed with the kind of climate that lends itself perfectly to growing tropical fruits. After realising, quite naively, that the fruit I’d most associated Florida with (oranges) were out of season… I went in search of other tropical beauties… such as the jackfruit that @cnwalddemar suggested on Twitter. Now, hands up who’s heard of or tasted jackfruit? Because I hadn’t!

tropical fruits

I arrived at the Lyons Farm, a family-run operation that have been growing and selling tropical fruits for 40 years. The owners, Megan and Dan, very kindly gave me a tour of their groves with their two kids in tow. Dan takes care of the farm now, but it was once his father’s. Daniel Lyon Senior was a very smart guy and despite being told as a kid that his dream of growing fruit would be a wasted opportunity in life, he persevered. After obtaining a doctorate in zoology he set up a small farm in 1976 and the Lyons Farm has never looked back… It’s now expanded to 125 acres!

They showed me some of their awesome fruits:reel_floridaFruit1

Lychees

As it happened, my tour coincided with the penultimate day of the lychee crop and harvest so everybody was busy at work. Dan’s brother, Michael, was whizzing up and down on a cherry picker harvesting the clusters of Brewster Lychees, whilst Dan’s mum helped others to snip off the excess leaves and pack them.

The fruit straight off the tree was sweet and really perfumed. An almost floral fruit, but the colour was spectacular… strikingly red amongst the green lychee trees. What I found most fascinating was that the trees either decide to bear lots of fruit or nothing each year. Some years the family will harvest 50,000 lbs of the fruit, whilst the next year they may struggle to get 2 lbs! The trees appear to have a mind of their own! I’m glad that they were growing this year, that’s for sure!

Pineapple

This was a bit of an experiment for Dan. He doesn’t really farm them, but had a few plants left from last year and they grew fruit again this year too. I still reckon it’s the most unusual way for fruit to grow… a single fruit per plant, sat crowned on top of the stem. It looks crazy! I always presumed until recently that they grew hanging from trees like most fruit… did you know they grew like this?reel_floridaFruit2

Jackfruit

A fruit that @cnwalddemar suggested I hunt down. To be honest I’m kind of scared of it! I jumped on a golf buggy with Dan, Megan and Jacob (1 year old farmer-in-the-making!) and we went for a drive around the groves.

The jackfruit look almost prehistoric. Huge spiny fruit that cling to tree trunks or hang from sturdy branches. You know when you’re near them because you can smell it. They have a very “distinct” aroma… one that’s tough to get rid of. I know this because Dan kindly allowed me to take some home… and the smell in the car as it heated up was overwhelming, almost nauseating.

We harvested a few that were ready (you know they’re ready because they are soft and if you scratch the stem then the sap runs clear). What’s critical though is that once you’ve cut the stalk you wrap it in cloth or paper towel because it ‘bleeds’ sap for a while, sometimes up to a day or so. You don’t want to get this sap near you or your clothes, it’s so sticky. Almost like chewing gum or liquid rubber.

I have the fruit on the kitchen work surface as I type this… and I’m still unsure how to eat it. Many suggestions on Instagram saying that fresh, frozen or blitzed into a smoothie/ice cream is one of the nicest, although it’s also great in curries and as fritters apparently. I can’t wait to eat it… if only to get rid of the incredibly strong perfume it gives off!

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Avocado

We had our fair share of avocados whilst in California, but it was brilliant to see them actually growing in the groves here. I once grew an avocado tree from a seed at home, the tree still exists, it’s several feet tall… but I don’t think it likes the English climate as it’s never grown fruit! What avocado trees do loves though, is the Florida sun. The avocado season is a little later in the year, so they weren’t ready to pick… but to watch them hanging there from the branches is incredible. If you ever get the chance to explore around a tropical fruit farm… do it. It’s very different to the apple, pear, cherry and plum orchards that are more commonplace in the UK and that I took a look at up in Hood River.

A big thanks to Dan and the family for showing me around their farm and sharing how they do things. I love the approach they take. For example, there are several trees and plants on the farm that are bearing fruit purely for the wildlife. They aren’t fit for human consumption but help to preserve the balance of birds and animals on the farm. Dan also encourages Screech Owls by installing boxes as they are a natural method to keep the rats away. That’s all to do with Dan senior applying his knowledge of zoology to maintain a happy farm… and one that I can already see will be passed down to the 3rd generation of Lyon’s.

As if that wasn’t enough Dan and Megan also took me on a short drive to explore their mango groves just across the railway tracks… check that out HERE.

  • Francesca M

    Florida avocados are so different from the Haas. They are really only good as avocado salad. Sliced and then layered with thin sliced onion, dressed with olive oil and lime. They have a slightly firmer texture than the Haas. There used to be huge pineapple farms north of Homestead but that was around world war 2. If you feel like exploring some interesting history of the area you can drive up to Delray Beach and visit the morikami.

  • http://scienceblogs.com.br/odiva/ Ana Arantes

    I’m really curious to see what you made from the jackfruit! In Brazil we eat it fresh ou made into compotes. It’s very good! But the smell is really strong. You’ll never get rid of it in your car!! Hahaha… Hope it’s rented, man! 😛

    Oh, and the link at the end is broken… :(

  • Spencer Morran

    The only reason I already knew that pineapples grow like that is from grade 8 art class when my friend and I argued about it. I was on team pineapple tree and she was on team pineapple bush thing. Obviously she won. I still have the sketchbook page of her diagram of a pineapple bush. I love when foods bring back good memories!

  • Christin N. W.

    Oops, I’m so sorry Ben. I should have informed you about the smell… At the time, I thought that you would only sample the ones that have already been peeled at a fruit festival. ^^” It will probably take you days to completely get rid of the smell in your car. I usually just open the doors and windows as often as possible to get some fresh air in when my mum and I bought some durian fruit. I used to hate anything durian related but I’m now a convert!

    If it’s tinned lychees, I remembered making two-layered jelly dessert with a whole lychee in the top layer when I was younger. For fresh lychees, I usually just eat it fresh and never thought of using it for culinary purposes. Here are some flavour pairing ideas that I found on the internet:

    “Outside of fresh eating, lychees primary uses are in desserts, beverages, cocktails and martinis. Lychees are juiced and used to create syrups, ice creams and teas. Classic sweet companion ingredients include mango, coconut, bananas, passion fruit and pineapple. Lychees also pair well with cashews, sesame, honey, oranges, elderflower, cream and soft mild cheeses, tapioca, grapefruit and blueberries.”
    – Source: http://www.specialtyproduce.com/produce/Lychees_550.php

  • Esther

    I never knew Lychee and Jackfruit were grown in America!

  • Jennifer Maddron

    I’m guessing those avocados are different from the ones grown here in California, as the skins look decidedly shinier and less bumpy. Fresh pineapple is the best! I could sit down and eat one whole, were it not for the fact that it’s acidity makes your tongue go sort of raw if you eat too much. Grilled pineapple is delicious, and I also recommend making a pineapple salsa. As for the lychee and jackfruit…well, your guess is as good as mine. I always find that giving new produce a good taste before I try to make things with them is the best way to go. That way I get a feel for the texture and flavor!

  • Veronica T-D

    Jackfruit is so cool! I had a vegan pulled “pork” jackfruit sandwich from Veggie Galaxy (in Boston). Check out this pin https://www.pinterest.com/pin/298082069059451602/

  • 7cerise

    I’m from Réunion Island. We usually eat jackfruit when it still green. Just sauté or cook with smoked pork belly and served with rice

  • Marchbanks

    Yes, pineapple is a confounding fruit because it’s a bromeliad … the only edible bromeliad that comes to mind, at the moment.

    I agree with Francesca M. … I’m not much a fan of Florida avocados, which trace their ancestry to the West Indies. In Texas we get mostly the Hass variety, imported from Mexico, and we use it _everywhere_: sandwiches, salads, meat garnishes, and the ubiquitous guacamole.

  • Amanda Tan

    avocado trees take 15 years to start fruiting so yours is probably just a baby!

  • Jane Lam

    The jackfruit you are holding in the photo is small compared to the genuine Asian article, I’ve seen ones that are 20 times the size of that.

  • Roseanne

    Wow, the lychees looked amazing! I love lychees. Better eaten as is but can also be used to flavor iced tea. I only knew about the way pineapple grow because my dad used to plant those around the house. My mom loves to cook ‘pajeri nenas’, something like pineapple curry. I prefer to eat it as is with a sprinkle of salt. Or sort of pickle it with asam boi and bird’s eye chili. Yum. Ahahaha. I don’t like jackfruit but not because of the smell, it’s the waxy texture of the fruit. If the fruit is still green, the most usual way it’s cooked here is as a stew of sort, in coconut gravy. If ripe, eat as is or fried in batter. I prefer cempedak, a fruit that looks really similar to the jackfruit but much sweeter, no waxy texture and again can be stewed when green, eaten as is or batter fried when ripe. Oooh, just remembered something. You can also boil the (both) seeds until soft. I’ve enjoyed eating the seeds when I was young… And the “windy” competition among my siblings afterwards. I don’t know much about avocado but my brother is always on the lookout for the ‘perfect avocado’ that he used to enjoy while he was in Japan. He didn’t do much with it. Eaten as part of sushi or creamed to replace mayo.

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