Wednesday, January 12, 2011

in home itself, there is no room for home

I am homesick. 

In some ways, this goes without saying. As a third culture kid, I am always homesick, because I am never homesick.

There is no "homesickness" when you cannot define "home;" when you cannot define "home," there is nothing but. "Home" is best described by tracing the arc of what it isn't: home is somewhere else, home is someplace not here. "Home" is a space or time you mislaid but surely could find, if only you knew where to start looking.

Such nebulousness breeds uncertain allegiances. If patriotism is the memory of foods eaten in childhood, then the closest thing to home and country lies somewhere within a foreign grocery store. Homesickness cannot be cured, but it can be soothed by wandering the aisles, finding some comfort within their unlikely juxtapositions.

There is neither rhyme nor reason to the selection here. The biscuits span two aisles and four, maybe five continents, but the cheese counter is determinedly Western European. The store won't stock exactly what you look for, but it will stock what you never expected to find, and sometimes it will offer just what you longed for, even before you could ever have pinned it down and given it a name.

The produce aisle is generally unremarkable, which makes its rare oddities all the more pronounced. I notice the passionfruit immediately.

Dark and wrinkled, they look strange and sad next to the finely waxed sheen of the Red Delicious apples, the coddled plumpness of the organic strawberries. I know instinctively that these fruits have been passed over by the patrons, dismissed as products past their prime, evidence of poor inventory control.

Management, it seems, feels the same way. I could buy lunch for a week with the asking price for four fresh figs, but two dozen passionfruit will set me back little more than the cost of a cup of Starbucks coffee.

Passionfruit are the product of passiflora edulis, a vine that grows energetically and profusely on many a backyard fence and swimming pool enclosure in Australia. Passionflowers are strange and stunning blooms, almost alien in appearance. The fruit, like other strange fruit from tropical climates, reach their peak flavor when they look their worst.

Unripe, a passionfruit has an appealing egg-like smoothness, a skin a beguiling shade of red-hued purple. Unripe, its shell rejects the onslaught of all but the sharpest of knives, and its pulp is as sour and tart as a lemon's flesh.

A ripe passionfruit has a wrinkled, shrivelled appearance. Its shell is almost brittle, and splits with ease under pressure from a blade. The pulp is a glorious yellow-orange hue, like the yolk from a freshly-laid egg, and intensely, deliciously fragrant.

The fragrance is the smell of a hot summer morning, the light sparkling off the water of the backyard pool, the promise of a whole lazy afternoon for swimming. The pulp tastes of fruit ice-blocks and Deep Spring fizzy drink, of custard slice and finger buns. The seeds contain the sheen of sunblock, the traces of chlorine that cling to hair and skin.

This is not a remedy or panacea; the story is not so simple. Instead, I'll take this fruit and scrape the pulp, and blend it with cream and sugar and bloomed gelatin. I'll use all I've learned since I left that child in her Australian summer, still splashing in the backyard pool.

Maybe when I'm done, I'll know where to start looking for home.

Passionfruit Bavarian Cream

The French culinary lexicon appears to be lacking a name for a gelatin-stabilized whipped-cream dessert that doesn't contain eggs. This dessert would be bavarois if it had a custard base, but it uses just sweetened fruit puree, so the name doesn't quite fit. Early American cookbooks do offer examples of "plain Bavarian cream" that don't contain eggs, however, and so that's the name I'm sticking with.

(Makes about four quarter-cup servings.)

Place a sheet of unflavored gelatin (two grams) in a small bowl, and sprinkle over three tablespoons of water. Set aside to soften.

Next, take four to six ripe passionfruit, depending on their size, cut them in half, and scrape the pulp into a small bowl. Measure out one quarter-cup of pulp into a small saucepan. (Strain out the seeds, if you object to seeds.)

Stir in two tablespoons white sugar (one ounce.) Cook the mixture over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool to lukewarm.

Check on the softened gelatin; it should have dissolved into a thick, sticky liquid. If there are still uneven bits, stir until you have a smooth consistency.

Stir the softened gelatin into the passionfruit mixture. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat half a cup of heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream into the passionfruit mixture.

Spoon the mixture into small ramekins or molds. Cover with plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for several hours, until firm.

To unmold, briefly dip the molds or ramekins in hot water to loosen, and turn out on chilled plates. Decorate with extra passionfruit pulp. Serve immediately.


JJ said...

I have three tiny passionflower vines that I started from seed, now they will remind me of you!

adele said...

JJ - From seed? I didn't know that was possible - I thought they were only grown from cuttings!

I look forward to seeing what you'll do with the fruit. :)

Cakelaw said...

Sorry to hear that you are homesick. I imagine that China is very different to the States, which makes it harder, I think. Your passionfruit bavarois looks devine - a perfect dessert.

adele said...

Cakelaw - Growing up, I spent holidays in Beijing with my grandparents, so it's both very familiar and very unfamiliar at the same time.

Cooking helps. :)

~~louise~~ said...

What a heartfelt post Adele. A perfect drop back for your beguiling dessert.

Thanks for sharing...

adele said...

Louise - You're welcome!