A fascinating-fruit sampler

It's practical to know a little about the new fruits before going shopping. Here are the names of some with a brief description. Carambola. Also called starfruit. Shaped like a star when sliced -- used in salads, seafoods, and desserts, as a garnish, or to float in punch bowls. It is juicy, ranging from sweet to sour in taste. If sweet, it can be eaten without cooking in salads. Some flavor is lost in cooking, but certain varieties are especially good for jams and chutney. Available in late summer, early fall.

Cherimoya. Heart-shaped green fruit with a thumbprint surface pattern; looks somewhat like a fat pine cone. Sometimes called custard apple because of its silky smooth, melt-in-the-mouth texture when ripe. It is delicious and sweet. Peel, halve, remove central fiber and seeds. Combine with delicate fruits such as grapes, berries, melon, pears. The season is from late November through May.

Feijoa. Because of its pineapple flavor, the feijoa is sometimes called the pineapple guava, but it is not a true guava. It has a slightly bumpy, thin skin, and the color ranges from lime-green to olive. The flesh is tan and medium-soft with tiny seeds. The taste is tart, fragrant, and usually bitter. Pur'ee in syrup for souffl'es, desserts, or sauces for meats or puddings. When very ripe, good in salads. Available in summer months.

Passion fruit. Passion fruit is about the size of an egg with hard, tough, leathery, dark-purple skin. The aromatic pulp is inseparable from seeds. Its fragrant, sweet, pleasantly acid juice is a key ingredient in Hawaiian Punch. Best when overripe and wrinkled. Slice in half and spoon out of the shell. Use for beverages, sherbet, and desserts. Especially good with melon and lime. Available in spring and summer months.

Tamarillo. The tamarillo is also about the size of an egg, with a smooth, firm skin. It comes in two colors -- red and yellow. The tart-sweet flesh (yellow tamarillos are often milder and sweeter) tastes a bit like a mango and has a number of small, dark red seeds. Usually tastes better when cooked. Works well in relishes, chutneys, and sweet and savory sauces. Can also be used in sherbets and compotes or with other fruits. Available early summer through fall.

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