Produce of the Week - Sapote
sponsored by Coleman Farms
In Nahuat "Sapote" is a generic term, like our "melon", and can refer to fruit which differ as much as cantaloupe and watermelon do. There's the Mamey (Pouteria sapota), which is something like a papaya in size and shape (rather like a rugby football), and there are the apple sized Black or Chocolate Sapote (Diospyros digyna), which is a cousin of the Persimmon, and the White (or Yellow) Sapote (Casimiroa edulis). The first two are true tropical fruit which will not produce in commercial quantities in California. The White Sapote is 'sub-tropical': though it originated in tropical latitudes, it's from higher elevations and doesn't tolerate extremes of either heat or humidity. This sapote grows happily along the coast of Southern California. You can find them now at the Santa Barbara Farmers' markets.
(White) Sapotes have a smooth yellow green to yellow skin, depending both on the cultivar and on the degree of ripeness. They ripen quite well off the tree, and are very fragile when ripe, so unless you're going to eat them right away, you probably want to choose ones on the firmish side. If you plan to buy ripe or nearly ripe ones, take some newspaper along to the market and wrap the fruit individually to limit bruising in transit.
Like bananas, Sapotes are (enjoyably) edible over a fairly broad range of ripeness, with flesh as firm as a firm ripe avocado to flesh so ripe it's on the verge of liquefaction. The flavor develops analogously to a banana's, slightly astringent and a bit starchy at the firm end, and at the soft end, very very sweet and with some of the attractive repellency of a really runny cheese. At mid-range, the texture of a Sapote is reminiscent of egg custard, whence the name "Custard Apple" (which it shares with the quite different Cherimoya). The skin is thin and is edible, though a bit bitter, providing the sort of textural and gustatory contrast that the skin of a nectarine does for its fruit.
Like much fruit, the sapote is generally propagated by grafting stock from a known cultivar onto rootstock grown from seeds. Sapotes, however, seem to have a much higher chance than, say, apples, peaches or avocados, of producing a useful fruit tree from seed. As a consequence, some growers will have developed their own individual, generally unnamed, varieties, which will differ from each other in size, color, and nuances of flavor, as well as in preferred growing conditions.
The flavor of a sapote can be described as a blend of various elements, including citrus, peach, pear, banana and apple, whose balance changes with the variety and degree of ripeness of the fruit. There is also a lot of sugar and little acid - a medium ripe sapote will taste as sweet as a really ripe juicy pear.
Sapotes are nice to eat out of hand, but the sweetness makes them almost better suited to serve as a dessert course or to use in smoothies and other drinks. Like peaches, they can also be used in cuisine, either uncooked in fruit salad, as topping or in trifle, for example, or puréed in baking and other cooked dishes where sweetness is useful.
After a slow start due to the cool Spring, Basil is now plentiful at the Farmers' Markets.
photo courtesy of Coleman Farms