In my new story for The Atlantic about young chefs in Santiago, I mention Sonia Manzi's tiny lucuma orchard in Quillota, Chile. I'd never tasted the green-skinned Andean fruit before this press trip--its dense orange flesh is soft, starchy and sweet, with a beautiful melon-nose. And it's a favorite in traditional Chilean desserts: The fruit ends up in ice creams, cookies, yogurt, manjar and hot, frothy milk.
Mrs. Manzi has a small orchard of about 200 trees, and walks beneath them each day, picking the fruits that are ripe and processing them into cryovac bags of puree, which she sends to Santiago's high-end pastry shops. She loves lucuma. Fruits that aren't up to standard end up in the dogs' bowls outside her home, and they love lucuma too.
The problem with most of the fruit's industrial production in Chile, according to Mrs. Manzi, is that the product lacks flavor because it's hardly ever processed when ripe. Worried that Chileans were forgetting what the fruit actually tasted like and opting for newer, imported flavors, Mrs. Manzi decided to remind chefs of its magic and go into small production.
I made a point to go to several grocery stores and check out the lucuma-flavored products. There are tons, and they certainly paled in comparison to Mrs. Manzi's striking orange puree, full of perfume, with its toasty, caramel flavor.
Mrs. Manzi is also a very charismatic and enthusiastic hostess, and on my visit she had prepared an elaborate tea. She made a 1960s-style, big ol' bowl of soft Italian meringue, flavored with lúcuma and set with a little gelatin, which we had with cold vanilla custard. She also served a huge old-school layer cake of crispy/chewy meringue and lucuma puree.
These photos were taken by Santiago-based photographer, Araceli Zuniga--you can see Mrs. Manzi with her husband, a soft-spoken, retired doctor, and their beautiful ranch home in Quillota. The company doesn't have a website, but I recommend calling about a visit if you happen to be in town. Plan to go at tea time!
Sonia Manzi R., Quillota, Chile
Telephone (33) 314987