Lucuma, the Maple Syrup Fruit
The lucuma is one of those strange and obscure fruits that almost nobody has heard of, at least not here in California. But hispanic specialty stores apparently routinely carry the fruit in frozen form. Recently, I've also noticed lucuma powder showing up at our local health food store. Gullible customers are supposed to believe it's a new super-food.
I can assure you lucuma is no super-food, and in fact it's not exactly suitable for eating out of hand. In fact, indigenous Andean cultures used lucuma primarily as animal fodder. The trouble is that the flesh of most Lucumas is on the dry side. But when blended with milk, the end result is an exquisite sweet and frothy shake with hints of date and maple syrup.
Supposedly, there is a strain of Lucumas that has juicy flesh, but so far, I've never seen it. I'm fact, it appears that few cultivars have ever been selected of any strains. Most California grown trees are seedlings of essentially unknown origin.
The book Lost Crops of the Incas touts Lucumas as a high altitude (> 9,000 feet elevation) Andean crop, suggesting good hardiness and good adaptability to low heat climates. However, my own experience has shown Lucumas to be about as hardy as cherimoyas. In fact, Edgar Valdivia of the LA chapter of the CRFG lost almost his entire Simi Valley lucuma collection in the 2007 freeze.
I suspect the strains of Lucumas currently in Cultivation in The US originate at lower elevations, potentially even below the range of cherimoyas. That would certainly explain the lack of hardiness.
Our Backyard climate features Summer temperatures that correspond to about 8,000 feet in the Andes, yet my two trees are considerably slower than Edgar's Lucumas. They obviously prefer the Simi Valley Summer inferno over the cooler Santa Cruz mountains.
So far, my trees are both about 8-10 feet tall, and both have flowered two years in a row but have yet to produce any fruit. The trees are beautiful, with thick dark green leaves, making them look very tropical. So even if i don't get any fruit, I will still grow it. But let's see if patience will pay off.