Bring Us Your Teeming Masses (of Mangosteens)

The legendary mangosteen—that sweet, creamy, fragrant orb that fruit connoisseurs tell their children bedtime stories about—has long been barred from entering the United States for fear of insect stowaways. It’s hard to grow here, too, so U.S. fruit fanciers have generally been out of luck if they wanted to sample it.

But a quixotic grower in Puerto Rico has succeeded in coaxing his mangosteen trees to bear fruit, and the first commercial crop has been arriving in gourmet grocery stores in New York and Los Angeles. The Panoramic Fruit Company is the project of a Connecticut private investor with a BA in agriculture, Ian Crown, who just over a decade ago bought a farm in the hills of Puerto Rico and planted it with wholly impractical Asian fruits like longan, rambutan, and mangosteen. Mangosteen’s very difficult to graft, and by seed it takes 8 to 10 years to produce fruit—if it bothers to at all. It’s not really something you grow. It’s something you conjure.

So when the pastry chef at Spago Beverly Hills got a sample of Crown’s fruit last year, she said, as quoted in a profile of Crown in the New York Times, “This is like seeing a unicorn.”

That might explain why in a few grocery stores in New York City, the price for a single mangosteen has been $12 to $15. After all, how much would you pay for a unicorn? Crown had anticipated this fervor of fruit lust. In the New York Times last year, he’d said, “I’m mulling going into hiding.” Now that the mangosteens are on the market (and with his distributors), Crown has had to plaintively spell out his situation on his website (warning: The following quote may upset our more sensitive fruit-loving readers):

The mangosteen are sold out indefinitely. I continue to receive emails about the supply and would ask everyone reading this to know that no one is sorrier than I am that there is no extra fruit beyond my current commitments. None. I have no mangosteen available for sale in 2007, 2008 and possibly ever.

Meanwhile, for those of us with a smaller monthly fruit budget, the FDA has formally approved the shipment of irradiated mangosteens and other fruits from Thailand. The mangosteens should arrive sometime in September, and we’ll be here covering their breathlessly food-blogged reception.

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