Santol (Sandoricum koetjape) is an extremely familiar fruit to most Filipinos and for me, another top hit on my list of local summer fruits. The tree is believed to have originated in the Indochina region, specifically in the Cambodia or the Southern Laos area, according to the Purdue University website on tropical fruits. Our name, santol, is very close to the malay term for the fruit â€“ sentul. The tree has since spread to most of Southeast Asia and also thrives in India. It is probably the only tree in the Meliaceae family that has edible fruit. The outer pulp of the fruit can be extremely unpalatable and astringent when the fruit is unripe but miraculously transforms itself into a sweet and flavorful ripe specimen. I love santol. I spent a few years of my childhood in Quezon City and in our front yard we had a humongous â€œBangkokâ€ santol tree that must have been a good 40 feet tall, or so it seemed to a short toddlerâ€¦ There are essentially two local varieties of santol, the â€œnativeâ€ one with smaller fruits and the imported â€œBangkokâ€ hybrid that was first introduced over 50 years ago.
Our tree in Quezon City bore the largest and sweetest fruit. Average fruits were bigger than a softball and the flesh and seeds were incredibly sweet/tart and seriously habit forming. I used to eat them from right under the tree, with rock salt, and also as santol jam. As I got older, I used to buy santol outside my various elementary and high schools growing up even though I was prohibited from buying street food! When I moved abroad for many years I went a good 15 years without tasting santol until we moved back to the Philippines. Today, I live in a house whose garden has two full grown santol trees. Both are native, one yields incredibly sweet fruit and the other incredibly tart. This week they are ripening like crazy. Dozens are falling onto the roof above our bedroom causing such a ruckus. I had the gardener harvest the fruits yesterday and he came down from the roof with over three grocery bags filled with santol or nearly 40 kilos of fruit! In case you are wondering what those leprosy like lesions are on the leaves of all santol trees in the Philippines, the species was hit by a massive virus? blight? nervous breakdown? over 20 years ago and they have never recovered.
Last year there was such an incredible crop of Bangkok santol in the markets that I decided in a fit of madness to make santol jam like my mom used to decades ago. I searched cookbooks and the internet for recipes and not finding a single one that struck me as the â€œoneâ€, I peeled a whole bunch of santol and â€œwinged it.â€ I soaked the santol peels in water overnight, changed the water and did this 3-4 times over several days. Put them in the fridge while soaking. Then I boiled up sugar and water, threw in the santol and keep cooking until the consistency looked right. I bottled them up in proper jam jars and let them sit for a few days until I tasted the first jar (second photo above). It was absolutely sublime. Perhaps I am just a sucker for memory jarring foods but I swear this jam was really, really good. I gave several jars away to friends and unless they were just being polite, they too felt it was really old-fashioned style santol jam. The stuff went superbly with cheese and crackers as well. It approximates the pairing of Spanish membrillo (quince jam) and manchego cheese. To be honest, I canâ€™t give you a specific recipe because I didnâ€™t measure the ingredients! Bummer. Quick reader poll question: which do you prefer to eat most: the brownish pulp or â€œskinâ€ or the cottony seeds???