Nov 16, 2021
A PASSION FOR PASSION FRUIT
And How it Came to be in Britain's Favourite Drink, the Pornstar Martini.
Oh, the piquant and pretty passiflora edulis, or passion fruit to you and me, is a vine plant native to southern Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina that is commercially cultivated for its sharp, sweet, seedy fruit. Cocktail aficionados will know it as a key ingredient in the Pornstar Martini, the UK's favourite drink.
Passion Fruit as an Ingredient
This wrinkle-shelled fruit is actually a pepo —a type of berry. And it comes in two different forms, with both an oval yellow or spherical dark purple fruit. Both, however, have a succulent, juicy interior jam-packed with woody seeds and fragrant, flavourful pulp.
The name 'passion fruit' comes from the colonial history of South America. Missionaries in Brazil attempted to educate local indigenous people about Christianity. The flower's characteristics looked to the proselytising Jesuits, like representations of the Passion of Christ symbols: the crown, the whip, the cross etc. So they named it flor das Cinco Chagas or 'flower of the five wounds.
All parts of the passion fruit plant are edible, including the stem and leaves, and the flower is used in indigenous medicinal tea to heal epilepsy, hysteria and insomnia. The fruit is both eaten and juiced. The juice is often added to other fruit juices to enhance their aroma. The dark purple 'edulis' variety is smaller and less acidic than the yellow passion fruit and has a richer aroma and flavour. It is used in cooking as both flavouring and decorative agents, fermented and distilled for wine and liqueur, and preserved in purees, cordials, jams, and syrups. So there is a myriad of uses and ways you could use passion fruit in your cocktails.
The History of Passion Fruit in Cocktails
In the countries where passion fruit grows freely, people must have been using passion fruit pulp as a suitable alternative ingredient for lime in cocktails like the Caipirinha for as long as they've been distilling.
There's a twist on the Peruvian classic Pisco Sour cocktail called a Maracuyá Sour that uses passion fruit juice as well as lime. The Pisco Sour became famous in the 1920s, but the locals most likely used passion fruit as a flavouring agent in mixed drinks long before any Westerners got wind of it.
While the first cocktail books in the western canon were being penned, passion fruit is strangely absent from back bars. There are several mentions of grenadine syrup and pineapple juice or syrup as ingredients, so tropical flavours were used.
This is because passion fruit was yet to be grown on a commercial scale in Western trading points. Growers in the colonies of Australia, New Zealand and Kenya began exporting high volumes of the juice during the 1930s. The UKBG ran a competition across the Empire in 1934, the winner used PASH, a dry passion fruit juice mixed with Booths Gin. The Cafe Royal Cocktail Book, printed in 1937, includes the winning Royal Romance recipe.
“The passion fruit juice, surely a quite innovative ingredient at a time before globalisation, was “Pash” Dry, a special product created by Pashon Products Ltd of Slough and made of New Zealand passion fruit juice.” UKBG Website
Passion Fruit gets a World Stage thanks to the Hurricane Cocktail
Or, at least, a blended cordial called Fassionola. A passion fruit flavoured fruit punch concentrate used (and arguably invented by) Don the Beachcomber, the daddy of Tiki cocktails when developing his cocktail recipes in the 1930s.
Then, circa 1942, at Pat O'Brien's Bar in New Orleans, the Hurrican cocktail was born. The owner, Pat, was arm-twisted into buying some knock off rum to get the whiskey he desired. America was thick in World War Two, and there was a grain shortage. So Pat then had to come up with a drink that would help him shift the less popular rum. He poured the cocktail into hurricane lamp–shaped glasses and gave it away to passing sailors.
The first Hurricane was actually a simple blend of A LOT of rum, passion fruit syrup, and lemon juice. It went down surprisingly well and soon became a house special. This meant Pat O'Brian had to find a way to make it quickly, so he began pre-batching his cocktails. There's speculation that these early Hurricanes were made using Fassionola syrup, which was dyed bright red.
Perhaps that's why contemporary recipes call for all kinds of additional ingredients like orange juice, lime juice, pineapple juice, and especially grenadine as sweeteners and colourants.
Then in the 50s, along came vodka.
A Star Was Born, A Porn Star
On its own, passion fruit martinis weren't quite good enough to hit the big time, though. It took a few more decades for the most ordered cocktail in the UK (according to research by CGA Strategy) to come along.
Now viewed as an absolute classic, the Porn Star Martini was created in 1999 by bartender and LAB bar founder Douglas Ankrah at The Townhouse bar in Knightsbridge, London. It contains vanilla vodka, fresh passion fruit, passion fruit liqueur and lime juice, and a champagne or prosecco shot on the side.
The recipe was in place. The London-based Brit Pop centric wave of cool had lads and laddets running around town, drinking insatiable amounts, splashing their pre-stock market crash cash on fancy, fruity cocktails. Celebrities were in the papers necking Met Bar martinis.
LAB had cornered the Soho market with his laid back cool but paradoxically mentally fun bar, and Townhouse was just about to open, but the name...The name wasn't quite right yet. Ankrah first christened it the Maverick Martini. As soon as he changed the name to the Porn Star Martini, the bravado of ordering it, the theatre of serving it and the ritual of drinking it combined made everything come together. It flew off the bar.
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