Food and Drink 

Magical foods for a magical time of year


The next best thing to Christmas is New Year’s Eve, all sparkle and spangles whether you’re dancing it up under the glitter ball, cross-country skiing through moon-dusted snow, or celebrating Whistler’s First Night out under the stars.

Stars are a magical symbol, loaded with much mystique and meaning since ancient times. I think that’s much of the reason why we take such pleasure in eating foods shaped as same.

I remember the reaction when we down-to-earth folk of northern climes, at least those who hadn’t ventured too far into the exotic tropics, first came across slices of sunshine yellow starfruit garnishing fruit flans and salads, adding the flare and mystery of the exotic to just about anything they graced. The wow factor was a 10.

Same Canadians often expressed disappointment in the flavour – a sweet, sometimes slightly tart, acidic blandness that belies their spectacular appearance. But crunch into a freshly picked one in the steamy rainforest of Malaysia or at the end of a dusty walk in Sri Lanka and you’ll think them quite spectacular, the juice of one more satisfying than a litre of bottled water. The amazing thing is the flesh has no fibre.

The starfruit comes from a fair-sized tree, also known as the carambola, native to Sri Lanka and the Moluccas. Like so many other things in our homogenized world, it’s now been bred to grow quite happily in locations as mundane as Florida, Hawaii and California. The good news is that such cultivation makes them much more affordable for us than the first batches flown over from Asia, in first-class seats, I always assumed, given their outrageous price years ago.

If you’re picking one out in the grocery store, make sure the thin, waxy skin is undamaged. You can’t go by colour alone for ripeness – depending on the variety they range from pale lemon to deep orange/yellow. A hint of green on the longitudinal ribs, or wings, means less ripeness and a bit more tartness. Brown spots mean more sugar development, just like bananas. Avoid softer fruits with damaged edges on the ribs.

If you slice into one and find the small brown seeds, try planting them. They are viable for a few days after picking and if you’ve lucked out with one from California or Hawaii there’s a good chance it will grow – here, indoors only of course. They make gorgeous potted plants.

Besides their fabulous festive appearance, want one good reason to seek out starfruits during this time of year? Eat one whole, like an apple, and you’ll be getting about half of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C and 15 per cent of your vitamin A, a winning combo during cold/flu season. Move beyond the starfruit garnish and try them in curries (add them as you would apples) or jellies and tarts.

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