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Hidden, healthful qualities of passion fruit

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Passion fruit is widely grown and valued throughout the tropics and subtropics for its antioxidant nutrients. Although still relatively unknown in Florida, locally grown passion fruit is now available at Bramble Creek Farms in Brooksville.

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“My first taste of passion fruit was in the Cayman Islands some 20 odd years ago,” said Gene Altman, owner of Bramble Creek Farms in Brooksville, Florida. “But, it was not until about 4 years ago that I decided to start growing and selling them locally.” Gene, a retired SWFMD professional engineer, and his wife, Ann, are the owners of Bramble Creek Farms – a 12-acre blackberry farm nestled on the beautiful Brooksville Ridge. The farm was awarded the first “This Farm Cares” award in Hernando County by the Florida Farm Bureau.

“We mostly grow thornless blackberries for easy picking and we grow figs as well,” he said, “but passion fruit is our new adventure.”
A small, tropical fruit that originated in S. America and now grown in most tropical parts of the world, passion fruit comes from a type of passion flower. The fruit has a hard purple, inedible skin but, when cut open, reveals a soft, juicy, yellow center with black seeds that’s heavenly tart and tropical in taste. Its name stems from around 1700 when missionaries to Brazil used the fruit to explain Christianity. The plants’ components were named after an emblem in the Passion of Jesus – hence passion flower and passion fruit.

“We decided to grow the purple possum variety here,” said Altman. “There are other varieties and contain a ton of Vitamins A and C, plus fibre and nutrients to keep you looking young and hydrated,” he said. And we certainly need those to help us cope with Florida’s heat.”
Altman said he was surprised that most Floridians hardly knew anything about passion fruit and hoped that by making them available locally, people would begin to appreciate not only the taste and versatility in recipes but its healthful qualities too.

“It’s got so many nutrients that can lower cholesterol, risk for diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers,” he explained. “The fruit also provides calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and folate that can help your kidneys, nerves and muscles,” he said.
Located in central Florida, Bramble Creek Farms is considered to be quite northerly when it comes to protecting the passion fruit crop from frost. Like so many tropical crops, passion fruit is sensitive to freezing temperatures.

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“I love what I do. It’s a good lifestyle, even if I might groan a bit about getting up early in the morning,” said Altman. “I walk out the door and I’m at work, not having to sit on the highway for hours and it’s very rewarding putting new plants in the ground and know you’ve got fruit a short time later.”

“I lost several vines to frost one year but by protecting the roots of the plant with insulation, it will prevent the entire plant from dying,” he explained. “Because the ground is covered and protected and it helps harvesting the crop too.”
“This year’s Spring crop is beginning to drop and ready to sell. The next harvest will be in November,” Altman said.

Gene’s wife Ann said, “A working farm can get quite hectic at times. We do have some quiet times but then it gets busy during the summer months.”
Ann said she likes passion fruit because it’s so versatile in recipes and is known amongst family and friends for her passion fruit cake.
“Passion fruit is great in smoothies, sangria, yogurt and ice cream. I also make a triple-berry tea from blackberries, raspberries and passion fruit,” she said. “But it’s the passion fruit cake that’s the favorite.” The farm also has acres reserved for growing figs, another product that is not that too familiar to Americans as a popular fruit. “It was my aunt in Alabama that first introduced me to figs,” said Altman. “Our first two trees were propagated from cuttings that she brought here.”

Bramble Creek Farms sells pre-picked passion fruit and figs directly to the public via their website at bramblecreekfarms.com.
Passion fruit and figs are ready for sale now. Please check availability of frozen passion fruit puree, blackberries and other products. Shipping is available. To order, please contact the farm directly, via email or by phone message.

Passion fruit is sold by the pound at $12; figs are $9.50 per pound but check with the website for the most current price. Details for collection of orders is also via the website or by voicemail. Bramble Creek Farms also produces its own honey, Granny Nichols Bar-B-Q Sauce, Cane Syrup, Goats Milk Soap and Blackberry Jam.

There are several varieties of passion fruit, purple possum being the most popular and recognizable. The outer skin is inedible but the inner pulp and seeds are heavenly.
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