Monday, February 11, 2013

White Man's Mazhanje


The other night I dropped one of my most prized possessions besides my child...

I watched a glass jar- my last glass jar- of mazhanje slip out of my hands and smash into tiny shards on my counter, floor, and three-year old.  Had we not had good friends over for dinner at the time, I probably would have laid on the floor sobbing before making a ridiculously desperate attempt to wash the shards off of the mahzanje to salvage my tainted treasure.

Sigh.  No more mazhanje until next year.

We have one mazhanje (pronounce mah-shaun-jay) tree in our yard.  But unlike most of the native mazhanjes growing in our country, we somehow have a unique foreign variety also known as "white man's mazhanje," or "white sapote," usually found in Latin America.  The fruit, whose taste has been likened to a creamy custard with hints of banana, vanilla, pineapple, and caramel, is an ugly duckling for sure.

We harvested this difficult fruit towards the end of December much to my disgust.  I drug my feet all the way, rolling my eyes as my husband and child braved the fly ridden tree and ground to pick up what appeared to be a nasty mushy mess of rotten fruit in the name of "an African experience."

I'm so glad they did.

After some difficult research online, we learned that the fruit is eaten when it's softer than a marshmallow and stickier than a melted one. What appeared to be rotten fruit was actually right on schedule... as tasty as ever.

 The white sapote tree is a mess in every sense.  Hung with what must be several hundred fruit pieces about the size of a medium apple, the weight caused numerous branches to split and fall throughout our summer. Pictured above, a sapote branch leans on a mango tree growing beneath it.

 Disgusting.  The tree drops hundreds of mazhanje on the ground over the course of a month.  These brittle fruit pieces smash on the ground below, attracting thousands of flies, wasps, and honey bees.  The ground becomes laden with a creamy, pudding-like coating if it is not constantly raked.  We'll need to get a tree sitter if we go away for the holidays next year!  Talk about high maintenance. Can you see why I wanted nothing to do with this apparently rotten fruit?!

 Here Jonas and Kurt have just finished clearing a section under the tree.  We used little from the ground; we mostly gathered directly off the tree, then waited for the fruit to ripen further on the counter.   This avoided fly contamination.

 Don't be fooled by the ridiculous knife Kurt has in his hand... These brittle things can be smashed with your bare hands.  Here Kurt uses a knife as he tries to best figure out how to peel the fruit.  The skin outside of the pudding-like interior is strange, too... picture a skin about half as thick as apple skin, coated with a brittle, cracking natural wax.  We finally gave up on this knife, as things were too slippery for safety, and just settled on a butter knife.  It was used less to cut the skin and more to just separate it from the creamy interior.

 Our mazhanje had five seeds inside of each piece of fruit, configured in the shape of a star.  The seeds, considered poisonous, have narcotic properties. Colon cancer research has been giving special attention to these white sapote seeds as of late, attempting to make good use of some of the chemical properties found within.

 The cleaning process is an arduous one... but after a few batches we have mastered this sticky mess. First the skin is removed and placed into a bowl (a the top of the picture) for composting. Next, the round ball of mushy custard is dropped into a bowl of warm rinse water. It sinks. This gets most of the residual wax and small flecks of leftover skin off. 

 Then the fruit is held over the middle bowl. We extract five seeds, which are a variety of sizes, and compost them.  The remaining, mushy mess is the edible fruit. This edible fruit gets strained through a colander before using, to ensure that every poisonous seed is out.

 Local mazhanje is more citris-like than the sapote variety we have.  Sapote like this is most often cooked down into a syrup to be used with pancakes, smoothies, or fruit dips.  It can also be used in muffins and cakes, any baked goods that usually have a filling, or it can be used in place of mashed bananas for bread, as well.  In Latin America white sapote is also often put with liquor to produce a creamy tropical drink.

Here Kurt is cooking our mazhanje down into a delicious syrupy sauce, which we will use on meat and pancakes.   If ever you get a chance, try this amazingly strange but delectable fruit. Highly recommended.