HOW TO EAT A PUMMELO

A pummelo looks like a giant grapefruit, and it tastes like one, too. Only better.

It’s sweeter. It’s not tart, or bitter, like a grapefruit can be.

But a pummelo is hard to eat. At least I used to think so. Until I learned the trick.

The pummelo (also called pomelo) is an ancestor of the grapefruit, and has been popular in Asia for centuries. Only recently, though, have we started to see pummelos in American markets. Even Costco occasionally stocks them, in heavy bundles of four.

I love grapefruit, so naturally I took an immediate interest in pummelos. At first I tried to eat them like I eat grapefruit, cutting them into sections like I do with an orange, and eating them out of hand. But the membranes of a pummelo are much tougher than the membranes of a grapefruit. Virtually unchewable, actually. So biting a slice of pummelo, and extracting the flesh from the membranes with your teeth and tongue and lips, is a somewhat challenging, and unsightly, performance.

I also tried taking a knife to each slice, and surgically separating flesh from membrane in each pocket. It’s sort of like separating flesh and fat when carving meat. It’s difficult. And time consuming.

Finally, it dawned on me. Why not eat a pummelo in the old-fashioned way that we used to eat grapefruit? Cut it in half. Then gouge out each pocket of flesh with a sharp spoon, and enjoy. Pummelos actually offer an advantage here, because the pockets of flesh are larger, and the tough membranes provide firmer sides for the spoon, thus making for easier scooping.

This is the way everyone used to eat grapefruit. There even were special grapefruit spoons, with serrated tips. You could order grapefruit in fancy restaurants, sometimes heated, or even broiled, and sprinkled with brown sugar or cinnamon, or poured over with syrup. Sometimes the pockets of the grapefruit were pre-cut, to make scooping easier. Sometimes there was even a maraschino cherry in the middle, for garnish.

You don’t often see grapefruit these days on the menus of fancy restaurants. You don’t often see grapefruit spoons anymore. I think most people now eat grapefruit the same way I do. Like an orange.

But the old way of eating a grapefruit is the perfect way to eat a pummelo. I’m glad I remembered.