Earlier this week I was invited to a lunch to celebrate passionfruit season and the sensational varieties of passionfruit we have growing in this country. I do love passionfruit and even though I can’t say I have much of a garden or even a green thumb, I do have a golden panama passionfruit vine that fruited for the first time this season.
And it did so all by itself without any interference from me. I actually had almost forgotten I’d planted it as it had become disguised by another vine growing on the same fence, causing me to think it had disappeared altogether. Then after we returned home from a family holiday in late January, I was stunned to see passionfruit hanging from the fence.
Tina McPherson owns a passionfruit farm in Bundaberg in Queensland. She was the guest speaker at the lunch and she said when passionfruit are ripe they fall from the vines and you collect them from the ground. I can confirm this is true as that is how we knew our passionfruit were ready to eat.
Tina’s passionfruit farm is 40 hectares. The vines grow in long neat rows very much like a vineyard. Grass is planted under and between the vines so that as the passionfruit fall, they have a cushioned landing and are easy to collect.
On Tina’s farm she also grows strawberries. She said strawberries are a lot more predictable as from the day you see a flower, you know 21 days later you’ll have a berry ready to pick. Passionfruit however, operate with no such structure and from the moment you see the very pretty flowers, there will be quite a variety of harvest dates. It was exactly this way with my vine with me thinking I had an imminent harvest only to discover the passionfruit will only drop from the vine one at a time and only when they are good and ready.
I had a chat to Tina to let her know I am also a passionfruit grower (of sorts) but did confess to having just the one vine. Tina was thrilled with this news and told me one vine is absolutely perfect as they prefer going solo to having company. She also said they do very well just left completely alone which is probably why my vine has been such a success. When it comes to passionfruit, neglect equals success.
The lunch was held at The Butler, a restaurant in Potts Point with Executive Chef, James Privett, (who I can confirm is very good looking), designing a special menu for the occasion. The Butler has a lovely entrance with a welcoming fireplace and then after walking through the bar, there is a staircase taking you down to the seating area. There is plenty of indoor seating but also a lovely enclosed outdoor seating area with overhead heaters keeping us warm on what was, Sydney’s coldest winter’s day in 17 years.
The tables had been beautifully set with gorgeous floral arrangements in very pretty hues and there were even freshly cut passionfruit forming part of the arrangement. I sat staring at the arrangements wondering how I might smuggle one of them home. Alas, I brought the wrong sized handbag.
To being our lunch we started with a welcome cocktail. This is a drink I could easily become addicted to and it would have to be the best cocktail I have enjoyed all year. It was made with Tanqueray gin, elderflower liqueur, lemon, chamomile tea syrup and passionfruit. It was dangerously drinkable and I thought beautifully presented with the little half passionfruit floating on the top.
The entree was kingfish ceviche, passionfruit, coriander, jalapeno and dukkah. The acid in the passionfruit when combined with the fish slightly cures it. Everyone who had this dish gave it high praise.
There was a vegetarian entree option and that’s what I had. It was a bowl of tofu with finely sliced jalepeno peppers with a very runny passionfruit sauce. While the sauce was lovely and I enjoyed the heat from the jalepenos, for me this was just too much tofu for any one dish.
The main course was Hawaiian pork short ribs with passionfruit glaze, couscous and charred corn salsa. This was a fantastic dish with beautiful sweetness in the sauce that combined really well with the sticky ribs.
Dessert was passionfruit curd, soft meringue and lemon thyme. I made passionfruit curd recently (no, didn’t blog it), but kept the pips in the curd. This curd had been strained but I think both versions work well. Meringue and passionfruit curd are definitely a winning combination and the tiny sprinkle of lemon thyme gave the dessert beautiful freshness.
When I open a passionfruit I’ve always cut it in half but been annoyed by all the juice that inevitably escapes onto the chopping board. Tina said to open a passionfruit you treat it like a boiled egg where you just cut off the top; that way you don’t lose any of the juice. Cutting passionfruit like this can easily be turned into a magnificent pre-dinner drink. Just add a nip of cointreau to the passionfruit and enjoy.
When purchasing passionfruit, look for fruit that is heavy for its size. If the fruit feels light, it means there is very little inside it so the heavier the fruit the more you gain. While passionfruit are abundant, pour into ice cube trays to enjoy throughout the rest of the year.
And hears the best tip I heard, a little passionfruit in a glass of champagne is a wonderful celebratory drink.
Australia has three main types of passionfruit; panama, misty gem and sweetheart. All are readily available now.
The Butler: 123 Victoria Street, Potts Point, NSW
Ph: (02) 8354 0742