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Faithful Fruit: Sign Of The Cross Hidden In The Passion Flower

Fruit’s flowers are said to contain the sign of the cross. 

It is a tradition of Latin American Roman Catholics to eat passion fruit during Lent and Easter to commemorate Christ’s death on the cross.

“In Venezuela, we call the fruit ‘parchita,’ and yes, it is the fruit of the season,” said Lesaida Rodríguez, originally from the state of Falcón, Venezuela. “The fruit is ubiquitous. Once I had a plant that I did not water, and it grew to the roof. Every so often, I gave [some fruits] to the neighbors, to prevent them from spoiling.”

Passion fruit grows in Central and South America. Its name in Portuguese is “maracujá,” and in Spanish, it is “maracuyá.”

People call it passion fruit because the Jesuit missionaries who evangelized the area saw in the flower’s shape symbols of Christ’s Cross, nails and hammer.

It has white petals that the missionaries took as metaphors of Jesus’s actions and the value of his sacrifice. They related its shades of purple, cherry and violet with the liturgical color of Lent.

Over time, Latin Americans included it in their diet, and now it is a popular refreshing fruit.

The passion flower is endemic to the warm regions of Central and South America. People grow it commercially in tropical and subtropical regions. (Public domain)

“Passion fruit is quite dear to us,” said Rodríguez. “It helps [the body] fight the heat when blended in cold water, which is the way we Venezuelans have it, although some make sweets and desserts with it.”

Passion fruit’s skin is smooth, and it turns rough when ripe. Its pulp is yellow, slightly acidic and highly aromatic.

Beyond its religious connotation, Silvia Nicte-Ha, a gastronomy graduate from the Mexican University, recognized passion fruit’s nutritional value.

“We should eat passion fruit almost as often as we have orange or guava for many reasons. It is rich in vitamin C, but is not as recognized as other fruits,” said the chef.

Passion fruit also has beneficial properties for the immune system.

Mexicans have been growing it since at least the 1990s in the states of Puebla, Veracruz, Michoacán and Colima. It’s easy to find in local markets. People enjoy it fresh or use it to prepare juices, jam, wine or liquor.

Peru’s indigenous people gifted the missionaries some specimens of passion fruit. Its indigenous name was poro-p’osqo, which could translate to “acid bag.” (Christian Valera Rebolledo/Café Words)

Try making chef Nicte-Ha’s passion fruit jam.

Ingredients: 

1 pound of passion fruit pulp

2/3 cup of sugar

1.6 ounces of water

Procedure: 

First, wash the fruit. Then, put the passion fruit pulp, sugar and water in a pot. Cook over low heat for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the mix turns into a smooth syrup. Strain and remove the seeds. Return the mixture to the pot and cook over low heat for another 10 to 15 minutes. The jam is ready when one can draw a line in the mix using a spatula or spoon and the bottom of the pot is quickly visible. Allow time for cooling.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos; edited by Matthew B. Hall.)