Papaya plants

I love breakfast. I wake up hungry and look forward to munching on fruit and toast and fresh coffee every day. In fact, if I don’t eat breakfast I am not a happy person, as my husband will testify. I never tire of eating breakfast and I think my favourite dish would be papaya with its colour of a pink and gold sunrise, the sweet distinctive smell and then the delicious flavour enhanced with a touch of lime juice. Yumm! This treat I took for granted until living in Los Angeles where I was disappointed in the quality of the imported papaya. USA import regulations use a hot water treatment which requires the papaya to be immersed in hot water at 48°C for 20 minutes that although it might kill fruit fly, tends to cook the outer layer of flesh and skin of the fruit thus altering the taste and flavour of the papaya. The fruit end up looking wrinkled and unappetising and I am not going to tell you what they remind me of (just use your imagination).

So it was with great excitement after moving back to Brisbane and its sub-tropical climate that I have grown a couple of papaya trees in my backyard. Tim, my neighbour has a papaya tree which bears so many fruit that he puts them in a box outside his front gate for local walkers to take. I decided that if he could grow them so could I. Plant lore suggests using local trees when planting the same species as they have already adapted to the nearby environment, so after enjoying my breakfast I kept the seeds from one of his papayas. I left the seeds on a sheet of kitchen paper to dry out then rubbed them in a sieve to remove the papery coating. Then it was a simple matter of planting a couple of seeds in the garden and waiting for them to sprout. And sprout they did with enthusiasm. I also had to wait until the trees flowered to determine whether I had male or female trees, which bear the fruit. The problem being that you only need one male tree to about a dozen female trees but I seemed to get more males than female trees growing. Male flowers are carried on long stalks where as the female flowers are carried very close to the trunk of the tree.

Yesterday was culling day for the males and I approached the trees carrying my tree knife, with great sadness, as I hate destroying plants. As I watched the vigorous saplings fall I was thinking what a waste of the flowers so I broke off the flower stalks and put them into my watering can.

Papaya flowers in watering can

Papaya flowers in watering can

It was fun challenging visitors to determine what type of plant they had come from because I don’t think I have seen anyone use them as a decorative flower. I can understand why as sadly the flowers don’t last very long and soon fall all over the floor or table. Does anyone have a suggestion on how to make the flowers last longer than a day or two?

I also wondered whether you could cook with them so did a bit of searching on Google and sure enough recipe posts started appearing. They are said to be bitter when used in Indonesian stir fries and the sap is caustic but if you rinse them well first then blanch the small flowers they can be delicious to western palates in stir fries. As my daughter has suggested she might cook a chicken satay tonight to celebrate Chinese New Year, I think I will contribute a new vegetable dish with stir fried papaya flowers and broccolini. I will let you know what it tastes like. Hopefully I will have found a use for the male of the species.

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