May 27, 2013

Surinam Cherries In Hawaii

Surinam Cherry
Photo by Ken Love at
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I first experienced these shinny little red pumpkin shaped berries when a friend gave me a small box of them that she had just picked from the tree in her yard. They were sweet but very tart at the same time. I then saw them being used in jelly, and sold here on Moloka'i at farmers' market. I have to say that the jelly was one of the best jellies I have ever had, again very tart, but delicious, with a vibrant red color. I now have a small tree growing in my back yard and I am looking forward to one day making my own jelly. 

The taste of these berries ranges from sweet to sour, depending on the cultivar and level of ripeness (the darker red to black range is quite sweet, while the green to orange range is extremely tart). They must be picked when absolutely ripe or they are a very unpleasant edible experience. They are an acquired taste because most people are expecting some kind of sweet cherry flavor and they don’t have that because they are actually not a cherry at all. The surinam cherry is in fact part of the Myrtaceae family, and is related to the guava, clove, allspice and eucalyptus plants, but it is not related to sweet or sour cherries.

The Surinam cherry is known by many names, Brazilian cherry, Cayenne cherry, Pitanga, and Florida cherry. It is native of Surinam, Guyana, French Guiana, southern Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay where it grows in wild thickets on the banks of the Pilcomayo River. Surinam cherries can now be found growing in most tropical regions around the world, from the Philippines to Hawaii, and from Haiti to the West African country of Nigeria.

For table use, they are best slit vertically on one side, spread open to release the seed(s), and kept chilled for 2 or 3 hours to dispel most of their resinously aromatic character. If seeded and sprinkled with sugar before placing in the refrigerator, they will become mild and sweet and will exude much juice and serve very well instead of strawberries on shortcake and topped with whipped cream. They are an excellent addition to fruit cups, salads and custard pudding; also ice cream; and can be made into pie or sauce or preserved whole in sirup. They are often made into jam, jelly, relish or pickles. Brazilians ferment the juice into vinegar or wine, and sometimes prepare a distilled liquor.

Surinam Cherry Recipes:
Surinam Cherry-Ginger Jam 
6 cups ripe surinam cherries
2-3 cups of sugar
1/4 cup lemon or lime juice
4 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
8 ounce jelly jars (sterilized)

Wash fruit and remove stem and blossom end. Place the cherries, sugar, lemon/lime juice and ginger in a large pan. Bring to boil on high heat, lower to simmer and stir often. Do this until you get a jam like consistency (approximately 30 minutes). Leave to cool. Place a sieve in a bowl and put the fruit into the sieve. Give it a good workout with a wooden spoon to get as much fruit pulp into the bowl as you can. Discard the stones (seeds). In a clean pan, add 1/2 cup of sugar to each cup of pulp. Heat to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Wash jelly jars as normal, rinse but leave the jars a little wet. Microwave for no more than one minute to sterilize them. Place jam in jars, label and store in the refrigerator.

Surinam Cherry Chiffon Pie
1 pie crust, 9-10 inch diameter, baked and cooled
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin powder
1/4 cup cold water
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup surinam cherry pulp (about 1½ cups of fruit)
1 cup whipping cream, sweetened with powdered sugar and whipped to soft peaks

Rinse the cherries and remove stems and flowery ends. Put them in a food processor and using quick pulses, process a few times then pick the seeds out. The flecks of cherry throughout the pie makes for a pretty presentation when cut and served.

Soften the gelatin in 1/4 cup water. Beat the yolks together with HALF of the sugar and add the fruit pulp. Cook over medium heat until thick, stirring constantly. Add the softened gelatin and stir until dissolved. Cool and set aside.

Whip the egg whites until frothy then gradually add the remaining amount of sugar, beating until peaks begin to hold their shape. Fold beaten whites into cherry mixture and fill pie shell. Chill until firm. Top with prepared whipped topping just before serving. Serves 8-10.

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