No, the Captain still has my heart.  But just recently the fruit of the Passion Fruit made my taste buds sit up and say Howdy.  How did I live this long without eating this delectable item?

Angela and I were exploring some of the back regions of Chiavari when we came upon the vine pictured above.  From a distance I thought it was a strange looking kumquat with particularly large fruit; but when we got closer and saw the flowers that were also on the vine I knew right away what it was, even though I’d never seen the fruit before.

There’s no confusing this flower with any other in the world!  It looks like a cross between a spaceship and a freshman beanie; why ever did it evolve in such a peculiar manner?  No doubt there are good reasons for all its elements, but if there ever were a committee-designed flower, this is it.  I can even imagine the committee.

Goddess 1, chair of the committee:  We need a new flower.
Goddess 2: Let’s keep it simple, just some nice creamy petals.
Goddess 1:  A good plan.
Goddess 3:  I’m from Hawaii, I’d like to give it a hint of grass skirt.
Goddess 1:  Well okay, we’ll put that on top of the petals.  A’ole pilikia!
Goddess 4: I’m completely crazy, I want to add some green whirly-gigs with yellow pads. Have I told you about the time aliens abducted me??  They told me to add the whirly-gigs so they can communicate with me.
Goddess 1, in an aside: Girls, she is totally nuts, we’d better humor her.  Aloud: of course we’ll add whirly-gigs.  Live long and prosper.
Goddess 1, again:  Uh oh. We’ve left out the most important part!  We’ve left off the anther.  How are we going to get bees without anthers?  We’ve got to have anthers.  We’ll put them on top of everything, that way our flower’s sure to be pollinated.

Well that’s one way it could’ve happened I suppose, though I’m not sure Mr. Darwin would approve.

I first met the flowers of the Passion Fruit about ten years ago, rampaging along the fence of the house we were renting at the time.  A gardening friend later told me, “Don’t plant that.”  Evidently it is one of the thugs of the plant world, cheerfully twining around, strangling and generally taking over anything in its path.  And for some reason I haven’t seen or thought of it from that day to the day Angela and I encountered the very healthy vine in Chiavari.

Had I eaten the fruit ten years ago I surely would have found a spot in our garden for this treasure to run amok.  What a treat! Sweet, succulent, juicy… why have I never seen it for sale in the markets?

Yes, it’s seedy – it’s pretty much nothing but seeds inside (guess those anthers really do the job well), but the seeds are a pleasure to eat.  They’re not particularly hard or crunchy or unpleasant, the way pomegranate seeds are.  They’re just delicious; it’s the only way I can think to describe them.

Passion Fruit is native to Brazil, where it grows in a purple-skinned variety.  There seems to be some question about where the orange/yellow variety originated.  It’s a much-used fruit in Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii, among other places, and is a good source of vitamins A and C, and, if you eat the seeds, an excellent source of dietary fiber.

Image courtesy of Passaia

The juice is frequently extracted and used to flavor other juices and sauces.  If you’ve drunk a soft-drink called Passaia in Switzerland, you’ve drunk Passion Fruit juice.  Unfortunately the flavor of the juice degrades with heating, though it keeps well in a frozen form.

About its thuggish character?  All too true!  It can grow fifteen to twenty feet in one year; though it is a short lived perennial (only five to seven years), it can cover quite a bit of territory in that time.  (Let’s see, 17 X 7 = 119 feet, that is a lot… maybe that’s why I don’t see much of it in Italian terrace gardens.)  You can learn more about Passion Fruit varieties, propagation and cultivation here if you’re inclined to try growing some yourself.  Me?  I think I’ll just go back to the vine in Chiavari when I get a hankering for that yummy taste – there was no shortage of fruit on those vines.