Taste and smell are evocative, visceral. They take me away to other times and places, conjuring up revelatory moments and transcendental flavors: mango (firm, perfect and unstringy in Mexico — my first), green beans (garlicky and crisp, Spain), shrimp (buttery and “barbecued” in New Orleans), chicken tamales (DC. Yes, DC), passion fruit (tangy and billowy in pie, Venezuela). I cannot drink Corbières without remembering a particularly indulgent evening at a Brooklyn bistro. (Rebecca, you know the one.) And being in the same room with steamed mussels brings back a particularly nasty evening in Paris spent mainly on the floor of my hotel bathroom.
So it is with the taste of lúcuma. (The transcendental part, not the vomity part.)
Custardy, caramelly, cashewy, lúcuma means Chile, my birthday and a surreal evening with one of the country’s famous chefs, Coco Pacheco, who made dinner for me and my friends in some fancy-car dealer’s home in the mountains above Santiago. Lúcuma was the key ingredient of my birthday cake. It was swirled into whipped cream, slathered between and on top of the white cake layers and covered with crushed nuts. It was unusual and divine. My friends told me it was a fruit but it tasted like a nut. Its name had no English translation. Unfortunately, out of Chile (and Peru), lúcuma also was unattainable — one of those mythic foods that I have discovered on the road over the years and which have managed to escape globalization’s dragnet.
Until now. On a recent hard-target search for passion fruit purée at my local bodega, I came across frozen lúcuma pulp! Goya sells 14-ounce packages of the frozen fruit, which is brown, sweet, gooey and kind of gross looking when thawed. I bought every package they had, blowing off the passion fruit tart I had promised to make for a dinner party and instead whipping up a batch of homemade lúcuma ice cream to serve with a fresh peach pie. It was a nutty, caramel-custard, creamy hit.
The recipe, based on one for vanilla ice cream that came with my Rival ice cream maker, is on the recipe page. [NB: I have made every attempt to corner the lúcuma market in DC, so if you cannot find it, blame me.]