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However in the land of palms and sunshine, where one finds cherries growing on bushes, gooseberries on trees and a fruit which has a greater fat content than either milk or eggs, one is quite prepared to pick a thirty pound cantaloupe from a tree. This is the papaya sometimes called papaw. The papaya tree grows everywhere and is called the "cantaloupe tree of the tropics." The fruit tastes much like the popular cantaloupe, though it is much sweeter and richer and the flesh is more tender, and where it is grown it is used in many, many ways in addition to being served as the most popular breakfast fruit.
The size of the fruit ranges from that of a very large pear to thirty pounds in weight and sometimes attains a length of three feet, though the average is only four or five pounds. The shape is round to cylindrical, slightly ridged and sometimes tapering at the ends.
The skin is tender, thin and smooth, turning from green in the immature fruit to a golden yellow. The flesh changes in ripening from white to a deep rich yellow, and from one to three inches thick. When cut in half the surface of the cavity is found to be closely incrusted with small round gray-black seeds which look like sifted June peas, in uniformity and size. The seeds have a pleasant peppery, nasturtium flavor, are a distinct addition to salads of all kinds, and are much eaten with the fruit itself.
Someone has said that eating the ordinary cantaloupe is much like horse racing, deliriously uncertain. Eating papayas, on the other hand is like a continued honeymoon, their unvarying superiority doing away with uncertainty.
The papaya tree is straight and branchless and is crowned with two foot leaves, deeply lobed, which cluster at the top, acting as an umbrella to shade the fruit, hanging closely along the upper part of the trunk, the smaller ones near the top, growing larger toward the base of the tree. If one were to hang a few watermelons of graduated size on a sapling it would somewhat resemble this strange tree which never fails to attract attention. The leaves stand out on immensely long hollow stems, sometimes a number of feet long. As the tree grows taller the lower leaves turn yellow and fall to the ground, leaving a deep scar on the trunk of the tree. So tender is the tree that even a slight frost will kill it down to the roots, but if the dead portion is cut off before it rots, the root will send up a number of sprouts. When the tree gets too tall the top is cut and a number of sprouts appear.
A papaya tree will blossom when it is only two months old, and in ten months time it will begin to supply your breakfast table with the most deliciously rich melons you have ever eaten, One tree will supply during its first two years as much as three hundred pounds of fruit. They do not ripen all in one season; fruiting continually and ripening at intervals, you are assured of a continual supply, the size of the fruit varying according to the variety. Usually a tree will produce fruit of the same size and flavor, growing smaller as the age of the tree advances, being at its best at two years of age.
Although the papaya has been known for four hundred years, there is a surprising lack of literature available regarding the history of its propagation and culture. We do know that when South America was discovered, those first visitors found the papaya so delicious that they took seeds back to the Orient with them and its cultivation has been extensive, and it is much valued. In Hawaii the papaya is so popular as a breakfast melon that it ranks next to the banana in importance. In tropical South Florida, where the frosts do not come, every farm has a few specimens, and man,- city lots boast one or two of three interesting prolific and profitable papaya trees.
Not yet commercially grown in quantities, the local market throughout the year supplies a few, but never enough to meet the demand. But there is a rapidly increasing interest in their production and refrigeration is solving the marketing problem, which seems to have heretofore been the deterrent. When designed for shipping they are picked before fully ripe, and packed in excelsior, and immediately chilled. Their rich flavor is found to be unimpaired after eight weeks in storage. When the northern markets begin to get shipments of considerable size, and familiarity with the fruit and its uses increases the demand, the limited area which is capable of producing them will find no more profitable line of endeavor than the growing of these strikingly picturesque trees with their burdensome load of delicious melons. Their culture does not entail the long years of waiting for production, which is characteristic of most types of fruit. Quick production and immense yields, and an unvarying market promise much to those who enter the ranks of papaya growers. Being a year around producer, it is ready for market at those times when other fruits may be scarce. The propagation of better varieties and of frost resisting characteristics, if the latter be possible, would do much to advance the interests of the business of papaya growing. At present it may only be grown in South Florida and Southern California.
The sugar content of ripe papayas is great and varies with different varieties. In most cases it exceeds ten per cent and is principally found in the form of invert sugar.
The whole of the papaya plant, trunk, leaves, blossoms and fruit is permeated with a milky juice, the active principle of which is called papain, a chemical closely related to the animal pepsin, used in the treatment of digestive diseases. Prior to the World War most of the papain was imported from India and the price was as high as twenty-five dollars per pound. In India the digestive properties of papain are so well known that the natives wrap leaves of the papaya plant around tough meat to make it tender.
The papain is secured by lightly scoring the surface of the green fruit with a knife, the juice collecting on the surface. It does not injure the flavor of the fruit, since the skin only is damaged, and the scoring may be repeated a number of times before the fruit is ripe. The scarred fruit is not so salable as is that which has not been so treated. Frost causes the papain to collect on the surface of the fruit. but the fruit is too tasteless and insipid to be eaten when frosted.
The value of the papain is so well known that it is everywhere mentioned in connection with this easily-taken cure for digestive derangements. Frequent testimony is heard from those who have eaten it regularly over long periods of time, and invariably beneficial results are mentioned. As a before-breakfast tonic it acts as 2 stimulant to impaired digestion. Its use in many ways enables one to take the cure without tiring of it, and those who find most fruits distressing can eat the papaya with no discomfort.
In Miami, Florida, where they are most extensively grown, they sell for from eight to twenty-five cents per pound and the demand always exceeds the supply. They are served in so many ways and are so delicious in all of them that but a few will be here listed, hoping that those who are to fortunate as to secure them will be interested in inventing new methods of serving. There is no more delicious manner than to halve them and remove the seeds with their geletinous aril, filling the cavity with any preferred ice cream or fruit ice. Or, fill the cavity with whipped cream and sprinkle the whole with powdered sugar, scattering a few of the spicy seeds over the whole.
They may be stewed, fried, baked or creamed, if picked before they are ripe. Fritters, and croquettes, are especially good. Steamed and mashed like squash, with mashed avacado and a generous amount of butter, salt and pepper, makes a dish fit for a king. Sliced and sugared they are a substitute for apple sauce. Sliced green, they take the place of green apples for pies or dumplings. Used instead of strawberries, in shortcake, if cubed and sugared, they will afford you a new sensation. Mashed and used in sherbets they afford a richness and flavor you never tasted before.
Even delicious candy may be made by carefully crystallizing the cubes. In salads the possibilities are unlimited. Halved, pared and filled with cubes of the meaty parts of tomato, with all seeds and juice removed, over which has been placed a beautiful green salad dressing made from ordinary salad dressing with mashed avocado and a dash of lime juice beaten into it, furnishes a picture for the eye and a feast for the plate.
Combined with cucumber and apple chopped and beaten into the avacado dressing, topped with cubes of tomato, it is so good that one is interested in experimenting with it in other combinations to ascertain if it can be improved upon. Any salad to which it is added is improved.
It makes marmalade, jelly, preserves and pickles, both sweet or sour, but after all the favorite way of serving it is as a breakfast melon, with salt and pepper, or with lemon or lime juice, or with whipped cream and powdered sugar.
John Belling, Press Bulletin 87, Florida Experiment Station says: "Experience shows that the pulp of the fully ripe papaya, eaten at the end of a dinner (with sugar and cream if preferred), accelerates digestion. Thus eaten, it is, in the opinion of some, one of the best fruits of the tropics. In this fruit nature has provided an efficient remedy for dyspepsia, and as its qualities are better known, it will be much more in demand."
If disposition and dyspepsia are closely related terms with incompatibility hovering somewhere in the vicinity, then perhaps the universal adoption of the papaya may be conducive to domestic bliss. As a cure for any ill it is easy to take, and children cry for it, with their elders equally fond of it. With a shipping season which lasts twelve months a year, there should be less of domestic infelicity caused by impaired digestion. It is especially recommended to brides whose confidence in their own culinary attainments may be somewhat shaken biearly failures. At any rate, no more delicious melon ever grew on tree or vine than the papaya, and the day will soon come when they will be obtainable in all markets at all seasons of the year.
Excerpt from: Greene, Clarissa. "Two Delightful Florida Fruits: The Mango and Papaya."
Suniland, Nov. 1925, Vol.3, No.2., Pgs. 57-59; 170-174
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