Thursday, 3 September 2009
Mangosteens are in!
Eric Mjöberg, a Swedish explorer, zoologist and ethnographer, wrote of the mangosteen:
"...an abundant white, juicy pulp, soft, sweet, slightly acidulated, and with a delicate, delicious flavour, which recalls that of a fine peach, muscatel grapes, and something peculiar and indescribable which no other fruit has."
"The mangosteen has only one fault; it is impossible to eat enough of it, but, strictly speaking, perhaps that is a defect in the eater rather than in the fruit."
"It would be mere blasphemy to attempt to describe its wonderful taste, the very culmination of culinary art for any unspoilt palate."
The Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana), is a beautiful evergreen tree with good sized dark glossy green leaves. Size ranges from 7 to 25 meters, although most of the trees we have are around 12 meters. The branches run fairly straight out from the trunk making climbing the tree about as simple as walking up a spiral staircase. The fruit vary in size from a little larger than a ping pong ball, to a little smaller than a tennis ball. When ripe they are an incredible royal purple colour.
Breaking open a mangosteen is - for the first timer - (and for the first time each season thereafter), an opportunity for rapture: the denseness and richness of the purple, possibly streaked through with bright green fibers; the mound of juicy, soft white flesh, ready to fall into segments; the light floral fruity scent and the rising levels of salivia in the mouth as one knows just how good it's going to taste. The taste, especially if the mangosteen isn't quite as ripe as it could be - is at first sour like an unripe strawberry can be (but lighter than that), then just as your wincing from the acidity, the most mellow subtle sweetness hits. Simply wonderful.
The mangosteen (the Queen of Fruit, Durian incidentally is regarded as the King of Fruit) has some interesting peculiarities: firstly the fruit does not require fertilization; secondly the 'shell' or husk becomes harder the older the fruit is - old mangosteens can lie on the ground for 2 years or so before they'll begin to break down (even in this climate); there was an import ban on fresh mangosteens into mainland USA until 2007; Queen Victoria supposedly offered rich rewards to anyone who could bring her the fruit.
Mangosteens are also enjoying something like star status in the world of 'superfoods' - seemingly the xanthones found only in the inedible shell fix just about every ill. Too bad the husk is far far far too bitter to eat.
But I'll settle for that unbearably good almost painful first bite where the balance between sweet and sour is enough to drive one to madness. Say it again Mr Mjoberg!