Thursday, February 20, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Pummelo

     When my great grandfather, Thomas Stansfield, was a boy, in about 1900, he heard about a new fruit that had recently become available in his Philadelphia neighborhood.  Excited, he and his brother Joe saved up enough money and bought this new “grapefruit.”  They brought it home, cut it open, and ate it eagerly.  And were sorely disappointed.  Instead of a pleasing, sweet, grape-like taste, they had a fruit which was bitter and repugnant.  So a good lesson that names are sometimes misleading. *
     Why did I start with a story about grapefruit, you may ask?  Because today I’m talking about a relative, pummelo.  In fact, pummelos, crossed with a type of orange, are thought by scientists to be grapefruit’s parents.  Staying with names, it gets more complicated.  Throughout the past couple of hundred years, “pummelo” actually referred to grapefruit.  It’s only been in the past 30-40 years or so that the distinction has been drawn.  Other names for pummelos are shaddock and lusho fruit.  (For the record, shaddock was the name of the East India Company captain who introduced the fruit to Jamaica in 1696.  Don’t know the derivation of lusho, but I’d like to think it’s some snide joke about drunks.)
     Thankfully, the actual pummelo itself is very noticeably different from grapefruit, or anything else.  It’s huge—the diameter of a mature fruit is between 15-25 centimeters (or about 6-10 inches), and its weight ranges between 2-4 pounds (or 1-2 kilos).  The skin is yellowish-green, and otherwise is similar looking to that of its alleged child.  It is actually the biggest citrus fruit, which is why its scientific name is Citrus maxima (which should definitely be a featured character’s name if they do an all-fruit version of the HBO series “Rome”).  Like a lot of fruit, pummelos originated in Southeast Asia, but are now grown in various other tropical areas.  They’re usually eaten plain (sometimes, oddly, sprinkled with salt) or as parts of salads.  Their peel is sometimes used for marmalade.  Nutritionally, like the other citrus fruits they’re loaded with enough Vitamin C to even satisfy Linus Pauling.
     I went into this one with some reservations.  Because I loathe grapefruit.  Intensely.  When I was a child I occasionally choked some down after I’d poured sugar on the pulp, until I realized, why bother?  Why bother putting lipstick on this pig, as it were, when there are plenty of fruits that taste good, all by themselves?  Fruit shouldn’t be bitter.  And don’t bring up lemons as another example—sour can have its charms.  But grapefruit is, to me, useless.  I’d only eat another if I was stranded on the proverbial deserted isle, and it was the only thing standing in the way of me and cannibalism.  (And even then I’d consider the decision for a LONG time.)
     The pummelo I chose from my local grocery store was the smallest one.  It was “only” about 13-14 centimeters in diameter, and weighed a little over 2 pounds (or about a kilo).  Although it was labeled a red pummelo, its rind was the standard yellowish-green.  When I skinned it I saw why—the pulp was reddish-pink.  The taste was decent.  I’d heard that pummelo is like a mild grapefruit, and I agree with that.  Unlike grapefruit, where the bitterness is overwhelming and nasty, pummelos just had a hint of it.  Also, I realized even this tinge was mostly from any remaining whitish rind still sticking to the pulp.  Completing the family circuit, I shared some with my great grandfather’s grandson, and he agreed with my assessment of it.  Pummelo is okay.  Evidently the variant with whitish colored flesh is even sweeter, too.  Alas, after I’d eaten it, I realized I probably shouldn’t have.  Some medication I take warns not to consume grapefruit while taking it.  I can only assume this also applies to grapefruit’s kin.  So I probably won’t have pummelo again, but only because of this medication interference—otherwise I certainly would.
*  In case you were wondering, the name “grapefruit” came about probably due to the fruits on the tree looking similar to a bunch of grapes.  I know.  Kind of stupid.  I would have gone with something more honest, like “bitter crapfruit.”

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