GROWING UP in Sydney, I enjoyed a steady supply of passion fruit. Vines hung on neighbors’ fences, and the fruits lurked in every fruit bowl, getting more wrinkled and sweeter by the day. They were so abundant, my brother and I used them as cricket balls in our backyard.
Australians love this deep-purple fruit full of crunchy black seeds suspended in a juicy yellow pulp. Its flavor—at once tangy and floral—sets your blood racing. Other varieties exist, in hues of yellow and green, but the purple one is the most common Down Under, available pretty much throughout the year.
Passion fruit shows up in all kinds of desserts, too: cheesecakes, curds, soufflés, trifles, mousses, puddings, cakes, compotes, panna cottas, pies, buttercreams and always, always on top of Pavlova, the airy meringue Aussies and Kiwis both claim as their own. The fruit’s wincingly tart flavor is the ideal antidote to sweet.
When I moved to New York from Australia I found the winters brutal. I’d daydream of somewhere tropical, of sun-kissed skin, saltwater and sand. Covid hasn’t made escaping easy these last couple winters; I haven’t been home to see my family in Sydney for over two years. To self-medicate and stop myself sniffing sunscreen, I’ve turned to the sunniest fruit I know. And recently, it’s gotten a whole lot easier to do.
It’s a strange pleasure, eating a passion fruit’s curious-looking contents. You have to cut through the middle of the thick, waxy skin and then quickly maneuver the two halves upright, so as not to lose a drop of the precious juice. Then it takes a persistent teaspoon or tongue to scoop out the seeds, which then detonate in your mouth. It’s a flavor bomb.
For years I’d missed having this mood-enhancing fruit—more invigorating than a shot of coffee and packed with vitamins—in my day-to-day life. Passion fruits were almost impossible to find during the winter in New York. When I did find them at a specialty grocer, I would pay an extortionate price.
Then, a few months ago, a Brazilian friend invited me to her house for dinner and changed my life. For dessert she served a berry pie, but I was fixed on the divine passion-fruit mousse on top. Known as mousse de maracujá, it’s simple to make: Whip together 12 ounces of passion fruit purée, a 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk and a 12-ounce can of evaporated milk, then it in the fridge overnight so it sets slightly . (Sometimes gelatin is added, but in this case my friend Paola left that out so the mousse was more like whipped cream.) I was instantly hooked. It’s impossible to stop eating once you start.
“To self-medicate and stop myself sniffing sunscreen, I turn to the sunniest fruit I know.”
I asked Paula where she found the fruit at this time of year. She opened her freezer and pulled out a package of frozen seedless passion fruit purée, purchased at her local grocery store. I nearly web. Here was my ticket to sunshine year ’round.
The next day I headed to my supermarket, stocked up on purée and did what any self-respecting Aussie would do: turned up the heating, got in my swimsuit and went on a passion-fruit rampage. I developed three utterly simple and transporting recipes: a passion fruit Key lime pie, a passion fruit and vanilla bean pudding, and a passion fruit mezcal Margarita. My husband said they reminded him of Hawaii, and I knew my work was done.
For these recipes it’s important to use purée, not concentrate, which is not as viscous and usually has sugar added. I use the Pitaya Foods brand of passion fruit purée: all-natural, 100% fruit, seedless, with no added sugar. It comes, conveniently, in bite-size frozen cubes that can be defrosted as needed. Find it at Whole Foods, specialty supermarkets and online.
I’ve also learned that if you want fresh passion fruit delivered right to your door, Rincon Tropics, a sixth-generation California grower, will ship a box of perfectly ripe ones. Because, delicious as these recipes are, sometimes you need the pure, mouth-puckering, life-affirming experience of passion fruit slurped straight from its skin.
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