Passion fruit

I’ve been writing about a (fictional) character who has a tattoo of a passion fruit vine that winds around her left arm from wrist to shoulder. So no surprise, I’ve had passion fruit on my mind the last couple of weeks.

Passion fruit is the best known of the fruits of the various species of the genus Passiflora, a tropical/subtropical perennial that produces a purple-brown or yellow fruit and striking flowers with deep violet-blue centres.

Introduced to Queensland some time in the late nineteenth century, this South American native, is now both a year-round commercial crop in Australia and a popular garden plant. You’ll find passion fruit vines climbing up trellises and trained over pergolas in many a suburban back yard.

For anyone interested, there’s plenty of botanical and horticultural information about Passiflora species available online.

Passion fruit was given its name by missionaries in Brazil around the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They were trying to convert the indigenous inhabitants to Christianity and used the distinctive flowers to teach the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. (There’s a lot about that too on the internet.) So the plant’s early association was with religious rather than romantic passion. The romance came later.

In her Fruit Book, Jane Grigson is scandalised by the exorbitant prices charged for passion fruit in Britain and France. And the only specimens I saw when I lived in England were small with old-man wrinkled skins. Not so here in Australia, where yesterday for just over $5 I bought three large, deliciously fresh examples of this fruit I think of as a quintessential Australian ingredient.  

It is the most aromatic of fruits; cut open a passion fruit and its sweet, slightly tart fragrance fills the kitchen. It speaks of laughter and laid-back lunches. It speaks of poetry and promise and late afternoons when the sun fights its ever-losing battle with the rotation of the earth and gives way to night.

I most often eat passion fruit spooned over unsweetened Greek yoghurt mixed with a teaspoon of lemon curd. I’ve also enjoyed it strewn over ice cream, pavlova and cheesecake, but my favourite use is probably in a passion fruit sponge of the kind you find in country towns and at CWA stalls. Last week I went looking for for a slice of this classic. Without success. Inner Sydney cafés and bakeries have shelves of cakes and baked goods on offer, but passion fruit sponge is off the menu. Perhaps, like many foods deemed old-fashioned, it will have a comeback at some point? Here’s hoping.