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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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May 19, 2008 4:05 PM

Tutti -- what kind of fruiti?

Posted by Nancy Leson

On Saturday, I was shopping at my neighborhood QFC, stocking up on raspberries (Nate was begging to make homemade ice cream):

And while I was in the produce section, I spotted this strange fruit -- a new one on me:

I wasn't the only one eyeing the exotica: there was a guy standing next to me at the store palming the passion fruit, stocked in the basket next to the plum-like oddity that had caught my eye. "What are you going to do with the passion fruit?" I asked, as he grabbed a few, which, at $2.99 each, seemed quite pricy. He said he uses it to flavor his homemade iced tea. (Right on!) And seeing as the temperature was nearing 90, fresh passion fruit iced tea sounded like as good an idea as fresh raspberry ice cream.

Moved by this stranger to try something new (I've eaten plenty of passion fruit, but had never eaten it fresh -- only in pureed form, mainly as sorbet), I put the strange fruit -- labeled "New Zealand red tamarillo" in my cart just for science, choosing one that seemed firm yet gave a little at my touch. Then I took it home (at $1.99, it wasn't cheap, either), and sliced it in half:

I scooped out the seed-filled innards, which had a soft, almost custardy texture and a strong, intriguing smell and flavor that, for the life of me, I couldn't describe:

NOTE: After a heads-up from my exceedingly smart and talented food-writer pal, Matthew Amster-Burton, I've deleted some erroneous info regarding the tamarillo, which you'd be reading right here in this paragraph had I not given it the old heave-ho. I originally stated that, having consulted one of my favorite produce reference books, I learned that the tamarillo is actually a guava. [ERRRRT! Thanks for playing!] That book did, in fact, offer a description of a guava indexed as a tamarillo, and darned if the description didn't match that of the very fruit seen here. (Perhaps the reference had something to do with the fact that the "guava tamarillo" -- according to the California Rare Fruit Growers Web site -- is related-species of the tamarillo shown above).

The tamarillo (Latin name Cyphomandra betacea) is an egg-shaped fruit, thought to be native to the Andes, now cultivated in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela and produced for world-wide distribution in New Zealand. It's commonly known as a "tree tomato" and come to think of it, doesn't it look like a Roma (which is a distant relative), only much more interesting?

My pal Dick Stein and I once did a "Food for Thought" on our radio show about "First Time Food" -- where I discussed the first time, as a teen, I ate an artichoke, avocado and papaya -- fruits and vegetables whose first-time taste-memory is seared into my brain. I'm sure I'll remember the first time I tasted a tamarillo, and I certainly hope it won't be the last.

So: What kind of "strange fruits" (or vegetables) do you recall eating for the first time, and what did you think?

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Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.

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