Star Fruit Wars
Growing up in South Florida, I took the abundant supply of fresh fruit in my parents' and neighbors' backyard for granted. If I got hungry while playing kickball, I could snap an orange or kumquat off a neighbor's tree and eat while waiting my turn. My mother had a green thumb and planted avocado, mango and lime trees soon after we moved into our house in Coral Gables. A few years later, she added two orange trees grown from the seeds I'd stuffed into a soil-filled Dixie cup for a third grade science project. Our family had more fruit than we could use , so we shared our excess with neighbors and friends.
Later, when I bought my own home in Boca Raton, I followed my motherís lead and planted orange and mango trees. That fall, I stepped outside one morning to clean the pool and was stunned to find the small "ornamental" tree between my house and the lake behind it heavy with glossy yellow fruit I'd only seen in farmer's markets.It seemed as if the fruit, called carambola or star fruit for its five star-like ribs, had popped out of the tree's limbs overnight. Since then, I've tried dozens of recipes, brought fruit to coworkers and food pantries, and taken it along to beauty parlor and doctor appointments so as not to waste my bounty. Even so, the area under the tree grows mushy each fall with the carcasses of rotting carambola.
This winter, sick of picking up rotting fruit and watching it go to waste, I decided to put it out for neighbors. Early each morning, I heaped a wicker basket with the star-shaped fruit and left it on a plastic table on the sidewalk in front of my house with the note ďTAKE SOME.Ē Joggers, mothers pushing babies in strollers, and early-morning dog walkers each took a few, thanking me if I happened to be outside. I enjoyed being perceived as generous and relished the chance to connect with neighbors Iíd never spoken with before.
Then one Sunday morning when I went outside to get the newspaper, the basket was gone. I didnít think much of it. Perhaps a neighbor wanted more carambola than he or she could carry and would return the basket the next day. In the meantime, I put fruit directly on the white plastic table and let people pick from there. But, without the basket, the fruit seemed to lose its appeal. By Monday, the carambola had turned brown and started to emit the sickly sweet odor of rotting fruit.
On Tuesday, my good deed came to a regrettable end. As I was placing fresh carambola on the table, a neighbor stopped her car in the street to tell me that her automobile and that of others in her cul-de-sac had been bombarded with rotting fruit. Teenagers stole my basket Saturday night and used the missile-shaped fruit to pelt cars. Angry and disgusted, I agreed to her request that I not set fruit out.
My carambola tree has finished fruiting, but my disappointment remains. Iím the mother of two boys and understand the male teenagerís innate desire for destruction. At that age, itís fun to wander the neighborhood at night in search of adventure. But this is South Florida. The land of warm weather, blue skies, and backyard fruit. And when someone steals my carambola basket and puts my fruit to nefarious use, I want to Ö well, I just want to smash their face with a star fruit pie.
Easy (relatively speaking) Carambola Jam
Iím not nuts about star fruit unless itís made into jam, and then itís like eating rich, fragrant honey. They tend to be overpriced in stores, so make the jam within a day of buying the fruit so it doesnít go bad.
Ripe star fruit should be yellow, fragrant and a little flexible at the time you buy it. Slice off the outer edges or ďwingsĒ (about ľ inch) of the star fruit and then slice the fruit to eat it, use it as a garnish or to chop it up for jam.
This recipe is derived from one I found in an ancient recipe compilation assembled for the Fruit and Spice Park in Homestead. When it gels, it's awesome. When it doesn't, it's still awesome and can be used as a glaze, over ice cream, or with yogurt.
I also use it to moisten cakes (poke holes in the top pf the cake with a fork or tooth pick and pour over the warm cake).
8 carambola, cut into small pieces
Water to cover
7 Ĺ cups of sugar
Ĺ bottle of fruit pectin
10 half Ėpint mason jars
Hand wash your mason jar tops and seals in hot water and leave them on clean dishtowels to dry. Put your jars in the dishwasher and run them at the hottest setting, then leave them there until youíre ready to use them.
Place the cut up carambola in a large pan and barely cover with water. Bring to a boil and let it simmer, covered, about ten minutes or until soft. Crush the fruit with a masher and let it simmer for five more minutes. You can sieve this if you want to remove the seeds. I like the texture of the fruit and seeds so donít bother.
Bring 5 cups of the juice and the sugar to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Quickly add the pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard for one minute more, stirring constantly.
Remove the mixture from the heat and skim off the foam, using a large metal spoon. This may take a few minutes. Pour the jam into jars, cover with the caps and seal them. You should wait a few minutes to let them cool off before wiping the jars down. These will keep in the refrigerator for up to six months, and make a lovely host or hostess gift, especially when placed in a basket with a few raw carambola.