Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Citrus Maxima, the Pummelo, both a tasty fruit and the primary ancestor of the Grapefruit

This is a very cool fruit. It looks like a grapefruit on the inside but it's larger, less acidic, has that cool striping on the richly fragrant rind. Native to SE Asia, Malaysia, and surrounding islands, it was championed by David Fairchild who first tasted it in 1899. Fairchild was hired to head up the Department of Plant Introduction for the USDA (my own employer) in 1910, and held the position for many years. A man of many interests, he had a lifetime fascination with tropical fruit. I remember, in the fall of 1991, collecting Davidia involucrata seeds from the grounds of the house the Fairchilds built in Chevy Chase, Maryland in the early 1900's.

Last week I visited the A.H.Whitmore Foundation Farm, a cooperative enterprise partnering US Department of Agriculture scientists and researchers with support from the Citrus Industry. It's not far from the Florida house and I was introduced to a range of unfamiliar citrus cultivars, though actually, the Pummmelo is a species. The Farm has hundred of different Citrus taxa of which I tasted a few dozen. Maybe not surprisingly some of the ones I liked the most aren't the commonest commercial varieties. Taste isn't the only factor in deciding whether to produce a fruit (or a vegetable) on a large scale so in citrus, like the temperate fruits, a little searching of smaller growers may turn up some of these uncommon delicacies.

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