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Passion Play

A beloved tropical fruit gets an unlikely ally

Author John Thompson

PHOTO BY RICHARD LEONARDI

PASSION FRUIT AND THE Catholic Church go way back. The fruit gets its name from the plant that produces it, the passion flower, which reminded 16th-century Spanish missionaries of the Passion of Jesus: The flower’s corona looked like a crown of thorns, the three stigmas like three nails, the tendrils like whips.

So it’s only fitting that the church itself would get into the passion fruit game. In 2011, as part of a larger campaign to promote sustainable agriculture in Nicaragua, Rolando Álvarez, bishop of Matagalpa, signed off on using church funds to start the country’s first modern passion fruit farms. “We’re still getting it right,” says Oscar Saenz Cantero, a supervisor at the new cooperative. “It takes a long time for our fruit to mature.”

Most varieties of passion fruit—known locally as maracuyá—have come to Nicaragua from Colombia, Costa Rica or Brazil. The new Nicaraguan variety has an acidic flavor that balances the fruit’s famous aroma. The pulpy seeds are cooked down to create the sweet nectar found at restaurants and street stands in Managua, which is consumed undiluted, but with a little sugar and salt. Of course, many locals also enhance it with a shot of native Flor de Caña rum.

“Someone brought me a bottle from the city recently,” Cantero says. “I can’t wait to enjoy it with juice.”

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