BY NORIS LEDESMA
FAIRCHILD TROPICAL BOTANIC GARDEN
As published in the Miami Herald.
A combination of peach, pear, cinnamon, honey and just a touch of brandy best describe the alluring flavor of the sapodilla. Sapodilla fruit are soft and sweet, with a delicate aroma hinting of the beauty to come.
The sapodilla (Manilkara sapota) is native to Central America, but its unique appeal carried it centuries ago to Southeast Asia, where it has undergone a wonderful transformation. The Maya described it as dainty, fragrant and well tasting - a delicate fruit indeed. Sapodilla is delicious to eat out of hand, and can also be made into a great dessert sauce or mousse. The texture when eaten fresh should be that of a good ripe pear. Elite selections from Asia and the Americas can be eaten skin and all.
The sapodilla was probably introduced to Florida from the Bahamas in the 1800s. The sapodilla tree is an attractive, slow-growing evergreen tree. In Florida, trees mainly bear from May to September, but fruit may mature throughout the year. Sapodilla trees can be grown from seed, but may take six to 10 years to produce fruit and there is considerable variability among seedling trees. There have been a number of new cultivars developed in Florida, with various fruit sizes, flavors, colors, and maturity dates.
‘Makok’ is long, pointed, and one of the best tasting of the sapodillas. It is native to Thailand, and is a recent introduction to Florida. This is an excellent variety for homeowners because the tree is a true dwarf, forming a small and compact tree perfect for limited spaces. The fruit should be thinned to increase fruit size. The pulp is smooth and brown with a sweet aroma and each fruit will have a single, small seed. It ripens from May to November.
‘Alano’ is an oval shaped fruit native to Thailand, and it is arguably the finest sapodilla in the world. The fruit is sweet and the texture is that of an ultra fine pear. The trees are heavy regular producers of medium sized fruit typically weighing about nine ounces. In addition to the fruit’s superior quality the tree tends to be less brittle and have a much smaller habit than other cultivars. The fruit ripens from November to June.
‘Hasya’ is a football shaped fruit native to Mexico where it is the number one commercial cultivar grown. The fruit is of excellent eating quality and it has a reddish hue throughout the pulp. The tree is a large upright grower, and it is a prolific producer of large fruit that typically weigh thirteen ounces. The fruit ripens from November to June.
‘Molix’ is another football shaped fruit native to Mexico. This fruit is similar to Hasya in many ways, but it tends to be darker brown outside, less red inside, and the tree has curly leaves. The pulp is exceptionally sweet with a fine pear texture and pleasant aroma. The fruit are large typically weighing thirteen ounces. The season differs slightly from that of Hasya, beginning in February and ending in May.
‘Tikal’ was selected in Florida. The fruit are ovoid in shape, but are fat at one end like a top. This variety was one of the first superior commercial varieties planted in Florida, but its popularity has diminished with the introduction of larger more productive cultivars. Fruit size can vary, but they can get as large as eleven ounces. The fruit ripen from December to March.
Where to grow sapodilla: The sapodilla plant grows well in a warm and sunny and preferably frost free location. Sapodilla trees prefer well-drained, sandy soil with regular applications of water to young trees. Once established they are very drought- and salt- tolerant. Sapodilla trees are tolerant of windy conditions and young trees generally do not have a problem with establishment on windy sites if they are pruned properly.
Addition of plant mulch to the soil surface will improve water-holding capacity, nutrient retention and availability and soil structure. Fertilization is best done with three applications per year (March, July and September) of an 8-3-9 or other fruit tree formulation. Most mature sapodilla trees receive no watering, but irrigation in dry season may increase productivity.
Sapodilla trees respond favorably to punning and shaping. Each year after harvest trees shoud be pruned, removing the upright branches and keeping the tree 6 to 8 feet tall.
Harvest: It is hard to tell when the sapodilla is ready to pick. However, the fruit do have their own subtle indicators. By knowing the season that a particular variety ripens, a grower can narrow the time frame down to an eight to ten week period. The best way to determine maturity for harvest is to scratch the skin. The color of the flesh should be a cinnamon brown. Immature fruit will be green.
To ripen sapodillas keep them at room temperature for 5 - 10 days. The fruit should be eaten when still slightly firm, not mushy. Firm-ripe sapodillas may be kept for a week in good condition in the home refrigerator. They are best served fresh and chilled, and then they can be halved or cut into wedges.
Sapodilla Kulfi (Indian ice cream) (makes about 15 Popsicle molds)
12-oz can evaporated milk
14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 pint heavy whipping cream
3 slices white bread soaked in milk and squeezed to remove as much liquid as possible
2 cups sapodilla puree
1 tsp vanilla extract
20 almonds, blanched and peeled, (optional)
l ½ cup pistachios, (optional)
Blend all ingredients until smooth. Pour into Popsicle molds or ice-cream cups and freeze.
Noris Ledesma is curator of tropical fruit at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.