Ark of Taste
Pantin Mamey Sapote
A unique, tropical tree fruit with an interior texture that is both creamy and sweet, the vibrant salmon-colored flesh of the Pantin’ mamey sapote is unlike anything most people have ever tasted. The flavor is a combination of sweet potato and pumpkin with undertones of almond, chocolate, honey, and vanilla. The ovoid, medium-large fruit has a large center pit, similar to an avocado. It ripens quickly, making long-term storage difficult, but once peeled and mashed, the flesh freezes well. The mamey sapote belongs to the same botanical family, the Sapotaceae, as the sapodilla (Manilkara zapota), another distinct tree fruit.
Mamey sapotes are native to Central America, where they continue to be grown and sold in markets throughout the region. The word “sapote” is believed to derive from the Aztec tzapotl, a general term applied to all soft, sweet fruits. It has long been used as a common name for Pouteria sapota. Mamey sapote is one of its alternate common names; in Cuba it is known simpley as mamey, which tends to confuse it with a West Indian fruit, Mammea americana, also known by that name.
This superior mamey sapote cultivar was discovered growing near a fire station in Key West, Florida. The seeds of this tree were believed to come from Cuba by way of 19th century dissidents who left the island at that time. The tree was originally called the Key West mamey sapote until it was selected and propagated by Eugenio Pantin in the early 1950s. The story goes that a Cuban émegré named Josefina Jimenez smuggled three mamey seeds into the US in her brassiere and gave them to Pantin, who grew them as seedling rootstocks, onto which he grafted budwood of the Key West mamey tree. Pantin then proceeded to plant a small commercial orchard in Miami-Dade County, Florida. After his death in 1963, Eugenio’s son, Donald, took over the family business, and nurseryman, Lawrence Zill, who had recognized the potential of Eugenio’s prized cultivar, named it the Pantin mamey sapote.
The Pantin grows well only in the climate of extreme South Florida and nowhere else in the continental United States. The fruit has a rich history going back to the Mayans of Central America, then to Cuba and finally to Florida. Today, Pantin represents about 95 percent of the mamey sapotes produced on some 350 acres under cultivation in southern Florida. The vast majority of the mamey sapotes sold in the United States are grown in Homestead, Florida where is it an important fruit for the Latin community both from a cultural and economic standpoint, since it sustains a fairly large number of small local farmers.
The small local farms where the Pantin variety is grown are now under siege from several factors including uncontrolled land development, hurricane damage, ever-rising property taxes, and escalating land prices. Slow Food Miami is working to create more demand for the fruit in order to save the remaining Pantin mamey sapote orchards.
Fruits are available from June through September. Mamey sapote is traditionally used to make ice cream or batidos cold milkshakes made with milk, ice, mamey, vanilla and nutmeg.
Photos courtesy of Noel Ramos
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