Have you ever tried Cocona fruit? Don’t feel left out, not a lot of people here in the US have. The Cocona has been an important food source for people living in Peru, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil.
In fact, cultivation of Solananum topiro is being encouraged by Gerber’s Baby Foods and canned juice is being exported to Europe. Cocona closely resembles a number of close relatives, including naranjilla and pseudolulo. It can be distinguished from those plants by its lack of spines. The spineless Cocona is apparently unknown in the wild, having been observed by botanists only in cultivation from Peru and Colombia to Venezuela and bordering regions of Brazil.
In 1760, a Spanish surveyor, Apolinar Diez de la Fuente, found the Cocona with maize and beans in an Indian garden between Guaharibos Falls and the juncture of the Casiquiare and Orinoco rivers. In 1800, Humboldt and Bonpland, traveling up the Orinoco, observed that the Cocona was one of the common plants in the region between the Javita and Pimichin rivers, and they collected specimens on which the first technical description was based. In the mid-1940’s, seeds from the upper Amazon were planted at the Experiment Station in Tingo Maria, Peru, and, later on, the plant was grown at the Instituto Interamericano de Agricultura at Turrialba, Costa Rica. Seeds sent from Natal, South Africa, were planted at the University of Florida’s Agricultural Research and Education Center, Homestead, Florida, in 1948. By 1950, all the resulting plants had succumbed to nematode damage. The seeds sent to Medellin, Colombia, in 1948 could have been from these plants. Dr. J.J. Ochse grew specimens in a plot outside the then Botany Building at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida, in 1953.
The Cocona plant is a much-branched, herbaceous shrub 6 1/2 high, with downy stem, densely white-hairy twigs, and ovate leaves, oblique at the base, scalloped on the margins, downy on the upper surface, prominently veined beneath; 18 in long and 15 in wide. New shoots are rusty-hairy on the underside. The wild variety georgicum has spines on stem, branches and leaves. The flowers, in clusters of 2 or more in the leaf axils, are 1 in wide, with 5 pale greenish-yellow petals, 5 yellow stamens, and a dark-green, 5-pointed calyx. Borne singly or in compact clusters on very short peduncles, and capped with the persistent calyx, the fruit may be round, oblate, oblong or conical-oval, with bluntly rounded apex; 1 in to 4 in long, and up to 2 1/3 in wide at the base. The thin, tough skin is coated with a slightly prickly, peach-like fuzz until the fruit is fully ripe, then it is smooth, golden- to orange-yellow, burnt-orange, red, red-brown or deep purple-red. Within is a 1/4 to 3/8 in layer of cream-colored, firm flesh enclosing the yellow, jelly-like central pulp.
The fruit contains high levels of vitamin A, B and C, and has a mild flavor faintly suggestive of tomato, while the pulp has a pleasant, lime-like acidity. The ripe fruit is peeled and eaten out-of-hand by South American Indians. More sophisticated people use the fruit in salads; cook it with fish and also in meat stews. Sweetened, it is used to make sauce and pie-filling. It is prized for making jam, marmalade, paste, and jelly, and is sometimes pickled or candied. It is often processed as nectar or juice which, sweetened with sugar, is a popular cold beverage.
8 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup frozen Cocona pulp/puree (thawed)
1 tsp vanilla
Place the evaporated milk in a pot on medium heat. While the evaporated milk is heating to a boil, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thickened and pale yellow in color. When the milk reaches a boil, pour a small amount into the egg yolk mixture while whisking. Add the rest of the hot milk and mix well.
Return the hot milk, sugar, and egg yolk mixture to the pot, and cook on medium-low heat. Cook until mixture starts to thicken and just barely comes to the boil, stirring constantly. Strain into a clean bowl, and place bowl in an ice bath. Add the Cocona puree, vanilla, and whipping cream and mix well. Chill thoroughly. Freeze ice cream according to your ice cream machine directions.