Fruit of the Week – Custard Apple

December 12, 2011 at 1:40 PM | Posted in baking, Food, fruits | 1 Comment
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The custard-apple, also called bullock’s heart or bull’s heart, is the fruit of the tree Annona reticulata. This tree is a small deciduous or semi-evergreen tree sometimes reaching 33 ft tall and a native of the tropical New World that prefers low elevations, and a warm,

Cross Section of Custard Apple

humid climate. It also occurs as feral populations in many parts of the world including Southeast Asia, Taiwan, India, Australia, and Africa.

The fruits are variable in shape, oblong, or irregular. The size ranges from 2.8 in to 4.7 in. When ripe, the fruit is brown or yellowish, with red highlights and a varying degree of reticulation, depending on variety. The flavor is sweet and pleasant, akin to the taste of ‘traditional’ custard.

The custard apple is believed to be a native of the West Indies but it was carried in early times through Central America to southern Mexico. It has long been cultivated and naturalized as far south as Peru and Brazil. It is commonly grown in the Bahamas and occasionally in Bermuda and southern Florida.

Apparently it was introduced into tropical Africa early in the 17th century and it is grown in South Africa as a dooryard fruit tree. In India the tree is cultivated, especially around Calcutta, and runs wild in many areas. It has become fairly common on the east coast of Malaya, and more or less throughout southeast Asia and the Philippines though nowhere particularly esteemed. Eighty years ago it was reported as thoroughly naturalized in Guam. In Hawaii it is not well known.

The custard apple tree needs a tropical climate but with cooler winters than those of the west coast of Malaya. It flourishes in the coastal lowlands of Ecuador; is rare above 5,000 ft (1,500 m). In Guatemala, it is nearly always found below 4,000 ft (1,220 m). In India, it does well from the plains up to an elevation of 4,000 ft (1,220 m); in Ceylon, it cannot be grown above 3,000 ft (915 m). Around Luzon in the Philippines, it is common below 2,600 ft (800 m). It is too tender for California and trees introduced into

custard apple

Palestine succumbed to the cold. In southem Florida the leaves are shed at the first onset of cold weather and the tree is dormant all winter. Fully grown, it has survived temperatures of 27º to 28ºF (-2.78º to 2.22ºC) without serious harm. This species is less drought-tolerant than the sugar apple and prefers a more humid atmosphere.

The custard apple has the advantage of cropping in late winter and spring when the preferred members of the genus are not in season. It is picked when it has lost all green color and ripens without splitting so that it is readily sold in local markets. If picked green, it will not color well and will be of inferior quality. The tree is naturally a fairly heavy bearer. With adequate care, a mature tree will produce 75 to 100 lbs (34-45 kg) of fruits per year. The short twigs are shed after they have borne flowers and fruits.

In India, the fruit is eaten only by the lower classes, out-of-hand. In Central America, Mexico and the West Indies, the fruit is appreciated by all. When fully ripe it is soft to the touch and the stem and attached core can be easily pulled out. The flesh may be scooped from the skin and eaten as is or served with light cream and a sprinkling of sugar. Often it is pressed through a sieve and added to milk shakes, custards or ice cream.

The leaves have been employed in tanning and they yield a blue or black dye. A fiber derived from the young twigs is superior to the bark fiber from Annona squamosa. Custard apple wood is yellow, rather soft, fibrous but durable, moderately close-grained, with a specific gravity of 0.650. It has been used to make yokes for oxen.

The leaf decoction is given as a vermifuge. Crushed leaves or a paste of the flesh may be poulticed on boils, abscesses and ulcers. The unripe fruit is rich in tannin; is dried, pulverized and employed against diarrhea and dysentery. The bark is very astringent and the decoction is taken as a tonic and also as a remedy for diarrhea and dysentery. In severe cases, the leaves, bark and green fruits are all boiled together for 5 minutes in a liter of water to make an exceedingly potent decoction. Fragments of the root bark are packed around the gums to relieve toothache. The root decoction is taken as a febrifuge.

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