My daughter and I are both fruit fanatics, she even more so than I. She’s never met a fruit that she didn’t like. Which is a good thing in Cuba, because fruits that we used to eat like apples, oranges, and strawberries can rarely be found. We get apples a few times a year, shipped in from Canada or South America. Strawberries are like illegal contraband, and appear for a brief few weeks in the winter, in the backpacks of vendors who go door to door.
The usual tropical fruits that I reliably encounter at the agros (farmer’s markets) are pineapples and bananas. You can usually find papayas, as well, in the shape of enormous, torpedo-shaped spears. (But call it fruta bomba because in Cuba, calling something a papaya is like using a four-letter word in English that begins with a "c" and refers to a certain female body part!)
Recently, I’ve gotten weary of the usual options. As I’ve joked with friends back at home, I’ve been living on pineapples since we arrived. We are cautious of bananas and fruta bomba, because of pesticides that are sometimes used on them to speed up the ripening process. You can tell by their look that something's amiss -- chemically-treated fruits often look slightly anemic and bear blackish marks.
Fortunately, every so often, another new fruit comes along with the slight changes in the seasons. Some of them remind me of something I’ve had on my previous trips to Southeast Asia. When the guavas arrive at the markets, you know it, because their sweet scent permeates the air all around. For a couple of weeks a year, lychees fill several of the stands at a market I frequent, their dark reddish shells harboring a juicy, almost transparent flesh with a super sweet slightly tangy flavor. Recently, I have gotten to know the anon, known in other parts as the sugar apple. The exterior of the pear-sized fruit is like no other and brings to my mind the shell of a turtle, though the texture is like that of a very mushy banana. When it ripens, the fruit begins to bubble and split open, revealing a custardy white flesh specked with black, watermelon-like seeds.
I’ve bought these fruits in excitement, only to not know what to do with them once I get back home. Do I bite into it straight away, the way I'd eat a whole apple, or cut it into slices? Do I eat it with the peel off or peel on? How do I avoid ingesting the seeds? Living in Cuba makes it harder, since the internet is not readily available and Google is not at my beck and call.
I’ve come up with a solution to my exotic fruit predicament: when in doubt, make a smoothie. (This recipe is loosely based on my mango milkshake recipe, but with less milk and sugar.) Start with any mushy, exotic fruit you might encounter. Wait until the fruit is super ripe, like a day or two before it rots. Peel it. Seed it and blend it. Or if the seeds are tiny and hard, throw it in a blender first and then push it through a colander or a food mill. Return it to the blender with a couple of tablespoons of powdered milk, ice, a little sugar, a pinch of salt and hit the “frozen drink” setting. Enjoy it, especially when your daughter tells you, “It is so good, mommy.”