Wrestling a Jackfruit

You’ve probably seen them in the produce section of the grocery store: big watermelon-shaped fruits with spiky green exteriors. They remind me of torpedoes. If one were to fall on your head from the tree where it grows, you’d be in a world of hurt. Or maybe you wouldn’t be hurting because you’d be dead.

A section of jackfruit, showing the spiky rind.

Jackfruits are cultivated in tropical regions throughout the world, but they originally come from southern India, Sri Lanka, the Phillipines, and Indonesia. I saw many jack trees when I traveled in India. Monstrous fruits hang from the tree trunks, sometimes weighing in at 120 pounds. A single tree can produce up to 200 fruits a year.

Before the battle.

When ripe, the individual flowers that make up the fruit are divinely sweet and have an indescribably tasty floral-like flavor. Not only are they used as a dessert, when immature they’re prepared as a meaty vegetable or made into chips and snack foods.

The local Safeway store featured a jackfruit on a display table, where it dwarfed the kiwis and mangoes and dragon fruit. It must have been twenty pounds. I was tempted to buy it, but at $1.99 pound, with no guarantee of its flavor, I passed. Then the produce guys had the bright idea of slicing it into thick sections, making the exotic fruit more appealing. I fell for their tactics and picked up a slab.

A flower is freed for eating.

I was so excited to unwrap the thing and try a chunk. But a fierce battle ensued: Terry vs. jackfruit. The thing wasn’t super ripe, which would have yielded more easily to my fork and knife. The individual edible flowers were interconnected with “tendons” and anchored to the spiky peel and pithy center, and I had to slice and tug and rip and curse to get the flowers out.

When I finally pried pieces free from the tasteless interconnecting tissue, I eagerly popped them in my mouth. As I gnawed the chewy pieces, running my tongue over the smooth flesh, memories of jackfruit I ate in India were triggered and I was in heaven.

Inside each flower is a huge seed.

I continued wrestling with that jackfruit, extricating each piece, discarding the seeds bigger than Brazil nuts. Clearly, I was addicted. I didn’t stop until I’d eaten half of the slab.

The thick pokey rind, inner debris, and seeds ended up outside in my scrap pile, where the resident packrat had access. I wanted to know what it would do with all the foreign fruit.

The next morning much of the rind had been picked over, and many of the seeds were gone. A few remaining seeds were gnawed. By the following morning, everything had disappeared down the throats of rabbits or into the pantry of the local packrat.

Gnawed seeds.

Since that first round of jackfruit, I’ve purchased several more, hoping to experience the ultra delicious flavor of freshly cut jackfruit that I swooned over in India. Alas, I’ll have to return to India to get the real deal. But the packrats and rabbits are quite satisfied with the jackfruit debitage. Making them happy is enough to keep me wrestling jackfruit slabs from the grocery store.

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