The Naranjilla, Solanum quitoense is a tomato relative native to Peru, Ecuador, southern Colombia and Venezuela. It’s cultivated usually at high elevations, between three and seven thousand feet. It is known in Colombia as the “lulo,” as reflective of the Incan name “lulum.” It is believed that the Incas enjoyed the juice of the little oranges fruit. Solanum quitoense acquired its Spanish name, meaning “little orange” because it is round, and is bright-orange when fully ripe. This plant has two forms, one form is covered with soft fuzzy purple hairs, and the other has these large spikes, and soft fuzzy purple hairs too. The spiny ones are called Bed of Nails, the others are called naranjilla. The genus was established by Carl Linnaeus in 1753. The Solanum quitoense plant is a spreading, herbaceous shrub to 8 ft (2.5 m) high with thick stems that become somewhat woody with age; spiny in the wild, spineless in cultivated plants. The alternate leaves are oblong-ovate, to 2 ft long and 18 in wide, soft and woolly. There may be few or many spines on petioles, midrib and lateral veins, above and below, or the leaves may be completely spineless. Young leaves, young stems and petioles are coated with richly purple stellate hairs. Hairs on other parts may appear simple and borne in short axillaries clusters of as many as 10.
The fragrant flowers, about 1 1/5 in wide, have 5 petals, white on the upper surface, purple hairy beneath, and 5 prominent yellow stamens. The unopened buds are likewise covered with purple hairs. A brown, hairy coat protects the fruit until it is fully ripe, when the hairs can be easily rubbed off, showing the bright-orange, smooth, leathery, fairly thick peel. The fruit, crowned with the persistent, 5-pointed calyx, is round or round-ovate, to 2 1/2 in across and contains 4 compartments separated by membranous partitions and filled with translucent green or yellowish, very juicy, slightly acid to acid, pulp of delicious flavor which has been likened to pineapple-and-lemon. There are numerous pale-buff seeds, thin, flat, hard and 1/8 in diameter. The ripe fruit is very yummy, but must be gathered when entirely ripe if not they can be rather sour.
Seeds were first sent to the United States Department of Agriculture from Colombia in 1913; from Ecuador in 1914 and 1916. Many other introductions were made but the resulting plantings in California, Florida and northern greenhouses flourished only briefly, some set fruit, and all died. Trial plantings were made in the Philippines about 1922. The exhibition of fruits and 1,500 gallons of freshly made juice of Ecuadorian naranjillas at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 roused a great deal of interest. In February, 1948, 20 naranjilla plants were set out in a field at the University of Florida’s Agricultural Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida. They flourished and were beginning to fruit when nearly all were destroyed by hurricanes.
Dr. Milton Cobin tried grafting the naranjilla on the so-called “potato tree”, Solanum macranthum Dunal of Brazil, hoping to give it wind-resistance. The grafted plants were set out in 1949 and fruited well. Seeds of acid and sweet strains were obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture in 1950. Some of the resulting plants were grafted onto S. macranthum and did well; others, set out on their own roots, became severely infested with rootknot nematodes and died. In 1951, the naranjilla was grafted onto S. erianthum D. Don but the plants were dwarfed by this rootstock and short-lived. A number of fruit fanciers took up the growing of grafted naranjilla plants in home gardens. Interest was aroused in Caribbean horticulturists and other visitors to the Homestead station. In the early 1950’s, plantings were made in Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Panama, Hawaii and Queensland, and in the Meseta Central of Costa Rica where one of several growers set out 70,000 plants of the local wild variety which bears a larger fruit than the non-spiny South American type.
Ripe naranjillas, freed of hairs, may be casually consumed out-of-hand by cutting in half and squeezing the contents of each half into the mouth. The empty shells are discarded. The flesh, complete with seeds, may be squeezed out and added to ice cream mix, made into sauce for native dishes, or utilized in making pie and various other cooked desserts. The shells may be stuffed with a mixture of banana and other ingredients and baked. But the most popular use of the naranjilla is in the form of juice.
For home preparation, the fruits are washed, the hairs are rubbed off, the fruits cut in half, the pulp squeezed into an electric blender and processed briefly; then the green juice is strained, sweetened, and served with ice cubes as a cool, foamy drink. It is rich in phosphor and vitamin A, which means it, strengthens the nervous system, hair and nails.
20ml lime juice, freshly squeezed
10ml honey syrup
15ml pistachio Syrup
10ml egg-white, pasteurised
Cut the fruit into chunks and put into the blender. Add a little water and sugar. (About 1/8 cup of water and 1 teaspoon sugar for each piece of fruit you use. You can add more water or sugar to taste afterwards.) Blend for a few minutes. Double-strain into a pitcher (through tea-strainer), Discard the seeds. Add egg white, pistachio, honey and lime and stir until well blended. Serve into tall glasses or wine goblets.
Asta la proxima!