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The ugly duckling?

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DELICIOUS DESSERT Custard apple
DELICIOUS DESSERT Custard apple

The ripe fruit may be eaten or used in milk shakes and ice creams. Also, every part of the tree has medicinal uses

Both as a tree and as a fruit, custard apple is generally rated as mediocre or as “the ugly duckling”. The tree is not especially attractive. It is erect, with a rounded or spreading crown. Its trunk is 10-14 inches thick. The tree growsup to a height ranging from 15-35 ft. The ill-smelling leaves are deciduous, alternate, oblong or narrow, 4 to 8 inches long and 2.5 cm wide, with conspicuous veins. The flowers which grow in drooping clusters, are fragrant and slender with three outer fleshy, narrow petals three-quarter to one-and-a-quarter-inch long; light-green externally and pale-yellow with a dark-red or purple spot on the inside at the base. The flowers never fully open.

The compound fruit, 8-16 cm in diameter, may be symmetrically heart-shaped, irregular; or nearly round, or oblate, with a deep or shallow depression at the base. The skin, thin but tough, may be yellow or brownish when ripe, with a pink, reddish or brownish-red blush, and faintly, moderately, or distinctly reticulated. There is a thick, cream-white layer of custard-like, somewhat granular, flesh beneath the skin surrounding the moderately juicy segments, in many of which there is a single, hard, dark-brown or black, glossy seed, oblong, smooth and less than 1.25 cm long. A fruit may have as many as 55 to 60 seeds. A pointed, fibrous, central core, attached to the thick stem, extends more than halfway through the fruit. The flavour is sweet and agreeable.

Origin

Custard apple is believed to be a native of the West Indies but was cultivated in early times through Central America to southern Mexico. It has for long been cultivated and naturalised as far South as Peru and Brazil.

The tree needs a tropical climate but with cool winters. In India, it does well on the plains up to an elevation of 4,000 ft. This species is less drought-tolerant than the sugar apple and prefers a more humid atmosphere.

Custard apple does best in low-lying, deep, rich soil with ample moisture and good drainage. Seed is the usual means of propagation. It is fast-growing and responds well to mulching, organic fertilizers and frequent irrigation if there is dry weather during the growing period. The tree is naturally a fairly heavy bearer and a mature tree will produce 34-45 kg of fruits per annum.

Medicinal value

The seeds, leaves and young fruits are insecticidal. The leaf juice kills lice. The leaf decoction is given as a vermifuge. Crushed leaves or a paste of the flesh may be used as a poultice on boils, abscesses and ulcers. The unripe fruit is rich in tannin, dried, pulverised and employed against diarrhoea. The bark is astringent and the decoction is taken as a remedy for diarrhoea and dysentery.

Culinary uses

When fully ripe it is soft to the touch, and the stem and the attached core can be easily pulled out. The flesh may be scooped out and eaten or served with light cream and a sprinkling of sugar. Often it is pressed through a sieve and added to milk shakes, custards or ice cream.

Now, for a recipe

Custard Apple Fruit Salad

Ingredients

Custard apple: 1

Passion fruit: 2

Bananas: 2

Strawberry: 250 gm

For syrup

Honey: 2 tbsp

Lemon juice: 2 tbsp

Method: Cut custard apple flesh into segments; add sliced bananas, passion fruit pulp, and halved strawberries into a bowl. Mix and put into separate serving dishes. To make the syrup, combine honey and lemon together and pour over the fruit salad. Refrigerate for 20 minutes covered with cling wrap. Serve with brandy snaps, or flaked almonds sprinkled on top.

RISHI MANUCHA

Junior Sous Chef, Taj Connemara

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