Long before Halloween candy, children picked their treats directly from trees. Fruit was nature's candy, and some of it was stranger than anything neighbors hand out today. For example, the rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum) looks like a pink koosh ball. Within the fuzzy, fuchsia shell of the rambutan, a creepy surprise awaits. For you see, once there was a witch who lost an eye, and here it is inside the rambutan! The off-white flesh resembles an eyeball, just like in the childhood Halloween game that used peeled grapes for witches eyes. Once you get past the creepiness, this ocular fruit is delicious. The flavor is mild, sweet and similar to its buzz-cut cousin the lychee. The discarded shells can make terrifying Halloween costume as well. Just place the shells over your eyes and tell everyone you have the worst case of pink eye ever....and it's contagious.
Passion fruit Unlike the rambutan, the maracuya (Passiflora edulis) looks innocuous from the outside. The maracuya, or passion fruit, is a simple yellow or purple sphere with smooth, glossy skin. However, this fruit too holds a revoltingly delicious surprise inside. The mundane exterior hides a wad of snotty yellow glop embedded with black seeds. Don't let the appearance fool you, the viscous slime is sweet, tangy and tart, and the seeds are crunchy. The glop can be sucked up, like an oyster on the half-shell. Or it can be made into juice, jelly or mixed into other foods. Australia has a true passion for this fruit. The slime is made into ice cream, cheesecake, meringue, sauce and soft drinks. In Israel, the maracuya shows its adults-only side in a wine called sicar. Maracuya's English moniker, passion fruit, doesn't mean you should give this fruit to the apple of your eye. The name refers to the Christian story of the Passion, or the events surrounding the torturous execution of Jesus of Nazareth. Early missionaries to the fruit's Brazilian home saw gruesome associations among the sections of the extravagant flowers of the maracuya and the final days of the Nazarene. For example, the three stigmas of the flowers represented the three nails used to affix a man to a cross. The curling tendrils were like whips used to inflict Pilate's 39 lashes. The airy threads around the flower represented the crown of thorns used in the mock coronation of Jesus by Roman soldiers, while the flower's purple pigmentation echoed the hue of the royally colored robed wrapped around the soldiers' bleeding victim.
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Ackee The passion fruit may represent suffering, but the seeds of the ackee fruit from Africa can bring on the real thing. Beware the red seeds of this odd looking fruit. They contain hypoglycin, a chemical which causes Jamaican vomiting sickness. The appropriately named illness involves heavy vomiting and abdominal pain that begins a few hours after eating an ackee seed or the unripe fruit. The body's blood sugar crashes rapidly as the equally appropriately named hypoglycin molecules bring on acute hypoglycemia. Dehydration, seizures, coma, and even death may soon follow. The Jamaican part of the name comes from the nation best known for eating ackee fruit. Jamaican cuisine is typified by saltfish and ackee. The dish is prepared with preserved fish, boiled ackee, onions, tomatoes, spices and sometimes the devilishly hot Scotch bonnet pepper. The ackee fruit likely accompanied enslaved Africans on the sorrowful voyage to the plantations of Jamaica. After liberation, the Jamaicans once again brought the fruit with them in their diaspora to the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada.
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Kiwano (With apologies to Dr. Seuss) Would you, could you eat a green-fleshed cucumber? Its spiky skin is orange and yellow, not burnt umber. No, I would not, could not eat a green-fleshed cucumber. I do not like kiwano melons, Sam I am. Would you, could you eat this odd Dr. Seuss-esque fruit? It's from Africa, but you can buy it in the market with a little loot. No, I would not, could not eat a green-fleshed cucumber. I do not like kiwano melons, Sam I am. Would you, could you because its very healthy? Just one bite, a tiny sample, eat it stealthy. I would , I could eat a green-fleshed cucumber! I DO like kiwano melons, Sam I am!
Monstera deliciosa Godzilla was famous for devouring people, but with Monstera deliciosa, the tables are turned and it is the monster's turn on the menu. The "delicious monster" is a creeping vine native to tropical rainforests of southern Mexico south to Colombia. It produces a scaly fruit that resembles a knobby lizard's tail. The scales fall off to reveal lightly fibrous flesh, which tastes like pineapple. Monstera deliciosa comes from a family of plants with grotesquely descriptive names. The monster is in the arum family. It is a cousin of one of the corpse flowers, Amorphophallus titanum, so named because it smells like putrid meat when in bloom. The scientific name is equally nasty. It means “giant deformed penis.”
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Durian Arum plants are the only ones to stink up the forest. The durian (Durio sp.), called the "king of fruit" it is also the king of horrible smelling foods. The spiky football shaped fruits reek of sewage and last month's forgotten sweat socks. The smell is so foul that Singapore bans durians on public transit. The brave gourmand receives the reward of an exquisite taste, if they can tough it out and ignore the odor. "Garlic, Limburger cheese and some spicy sort of resin," is how the botanical explorer Otis W. Barrett described the smell. But Alfred Russel Wallace, Darwin's main rival in the rush to describe evolution, forgot the foul funk once he took a bite. “Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy,” wrote Wallace in his book The Treasury of Botany. “It is neither acid, nor sweet, nor juicy; yet it wants none of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect... The more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop." Modern day explorers of edibles normally must travel to Southeast Asia and the islands of Indonesia to sample the fresh fruit. Most attempts to grow the tree in other regions have met with failure. The durian tree needs tropical warmth and heavy rain. A few scattered plantations in Honduras, northern Australia and other balmy locations host the trees, but only in its homeland does the king of fruits truly establish his dominion and provide his subjects with a stinky delicacy.
Buddha's Hand Orange you glad there is a citrus fruit on this list? The Buddha's hand (Citrus medica) is a bizarre form of citrus fruit that looks like a lemon yellow octopus with a skin condition. The numerous yellow tentacles of the fruit are rarely eaten directly, but are used as perfumes, cooking and candy making. Like Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha's hand originated in northeastern India, and can be used as an offering in Buddhist temples. And like the curled hand of Gautama after becoming the Buddha, the fruit is traditionally considered most sacred when its own tentacles curl inward.
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