Tropical fruit enthusiasts bring their message to your plate
March 31, 1996
Web posted at: 5:30 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Carolyn O'Neil
HOMESTEAD, Florida (CNN) -- "They used to call me the carambola queen!" exclaims Joan Green.
If you don't know what a carambola is, don't blame her. She is a tropical fruit grower in Homestead and was one of the first in the United States to cultivate and promote the attractive yellow fruit.
Starting in the 1970s, Green took the carambola, better known as the star fruit, under her green thumb.
"When you cut the star fruit, that's the magic. The magic is in the star," says Green. "People thought I was crazy originally, but I thought that it was something that we could market and people would really like."
Chef Tony Merola's universe is dotted with the sweet star of the carambola. He is on a mission to market as many as he can for Brooks Tropicals of Homestead, the largest grower of carambola in the nation.
Seeing the sweet star on your plate, then tasting it, makes it clear why sales are increasing, despite the difficulty in growing this fragile fruit.
"It's the most delicate crop I've ever seen, more delicate than eggs," declares Mike Hunt of Brooks Tropicals.
The fruit is carefully handpicked and then shipped in packages designed specially for the carambola. Bruised fruit has no appeal. Problems with handling and growing are the territory of Jonathan Crane, a tropical fruit specialist with the University of Florida.
"OK, well, there are avocados, limes, mangos, carambolas, longans, antamoyas, sugar apples, passion fruit, tamarind, mamezepote, jack fruit," ticks off Crane as he starts discussing the difficulties tropical fruit farmers face from their diverse crops.
Crane is helping Green with a suspected insect problem in her carambola crop. She is undaunted by problems such as insects and handling. She is a farmer looking for the next challenge.
"What I like to do is introduce and commercialize new fruits," she says.
The next time you see a carambola or mango or passion fruit on your plate, you can bet it is there because of the dedication of a tropical fruit lover like Green or Merola.
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