The scent of a bowl of ripening passion-fruit, purple skinned, or sometimes a deep orange-gold, is intoxicating -deep and sweet, pouring into the air around. The skin wrinkles and collapses as the fruit ripens, brittle like an eggshell, sinking under the slightest pressure of your thumb. All the while, the fragrance swells and falls in waves around you. The intricate details of shape and colour, and the symmetry of numbers in various parts of the flower amazed early Jesuit missionaries to South America, who associated it with the Passion of Christ, and gave it the name Flor de las cinco lagas, flower of the five wounds, passion flower, by which it is most commonly known today.
With its exquisitely formed and intriguing flower, the passion-fruit, both purple and golden yellow, thrives in Coorg, spreading in wild tangles of leaf and climbing tendrils, bearing generous quantities of fruit. I have read that Karnataka has developed a hybrid of both, called Kaveri, although I have not come across it as yet.
The pulp, which is viscous and slippery, encases vast quantities of crunchy seeds that are not easy to separate from the mass. But with or without the seeds, the fragrance- soaked sweetness of the pulp with its unpredictable sharpness is seasons of many other fruit.
The pulp slides out in a neat, rounded, moist scoop and its flavours so concentrated, it is used in every possible way to flavour cakes, desserts, ice creams, mousses and soufflés. Of all the many uses that it can be put to, one that I love is passion fruit juice, a heavy concentrate made from the pulp of the fruit, very popular in Coorg homes. A small helping with chilled water is one of the most refreshing and delicious drinks. If you happen to have some ripe fruit on hand, try dropping a large scoop of the wobbly pulp, seeds and all, into your glass. You can scoop it up between sips of your drink, and enjoy both the texture and tart finishing notes of the crunchy seeds. It saturates your senses with its layers of flavour and scent. Passiflora edulis, the familiar purple passion-fruit, and the golden variety are native to Brazil and tropical South America. But it is not lush South American landscapes that I associate it with, but the cool hills and coffee plantation homes of Coorg where, most often, I have been offered a glassful on a tray with pretty lace doilies, an assortment of homemade snacks, everything cool and dark, stray shafts of strong sunlight beaming into the room, lighting up a cupboard full of heirloom china and glass collected, cherished and tended with the same care that has been lavished on growing gardens, fruits and crops. Seated on comfortably battered sofas, we sipped passion-fruit juice and talked, anchored by the knowledge of generations of hands that had worked farm, field and estate to plant both the familiar and what was once the exotic.
All Food Styling: Kaveri Ponnapa
Photo Credits: A.G.P Sathyaprakash
Do look out for the recipes of all the food featured here in my upcoming cookbook.