The first time you see this lovely fruit, you mistake it for a vegetable. You are in the Casco Viejo in Panama City at the huge grocery store - El Machetazo. There wedged in between the cucumbers and the eggplants is your new found obsession. The sign reads tomate de árbol (or tree tomato) so you assume its some sort of local tomato. (You find out much later, but not at this moment that the fruit is also known as tamarillo and cultivated in Panama, parts of South America and even Indonesia.) Later that night, in your pan of stewing peppers and onions, you dissect your egg shaped treasure and inhale the tropical aromas of guava and strawberries. You roughly dice and throw in the fleshy meat with the waxy skin (a huge blunder in hindsight!!) into your sauce. A couple more minutes to simmer, then you toss in the spaghetti and some olive oil. Salt and pepper.
At the table, as you watch your beloved take the first bites and carefully masticate in a state of deep meditation, you nonchalantly ask if they notice anything about the sauce. You are expecting praise and a kind of roaring response attached to the best things one has ever eaten. "Very interesting" is the reply. Dumbfounded, you dig into your own pasta mound. Bitter, tangy, sour are the words that come in between bites....borderline inedible. You give back a doleful look and confess, "I found it at the market. I thought it would be fun to try something local...I guess you can't like everything."
Weeks later in Cartagena, Colombia over breakfast, an orange pink elixir is being poured into your glass. It's a familiar smell, but it's identity is illusive. You take a dainty sip. Is it guava? Strawberry? Maybe passionfruit? Cantaloupe? It's tangy almost like grapefruit. Before you realize it, you've gulped down the entire glass. You ask the young woman working at the hotel the name of the delicious drink. "Jugo de tomate de árbol," she smiles and minutes later she shows you the fruit. Ah, it all makes sense. An old friend you've misunderstood. You ask her how she has made the juice and she shows you. She scoops the fruit and adds imaginary sugar into an invisible blender. It all makes sense now...
Jugo de tomate de árbol / tree tomato juice for 2 2 Tomate de árbol 2 C water 2 tablespoons sugar
Cut the fruit in half. Scoop out the pulp into a blender. The peel is bitter! Blend until the fruit is a fine paste. Add sugar. Taste. Add more sugar if you want it on the sweet side. Add water and blend for a couple seconds. You can also strain the juice for seeds. Serve and enjoy.
“For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can't readily accept the God formula, the big answers don't remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.” – Charles Bukowski