Thanksgiving is officially just around the corner, but in Hawaii every day should be a day of thanks. My work in Africa, the West Indies, South and Central America and Asia has taught me the best lesson. There is no place like home. Hawaii is blessed with a variety of climates and people from many cultures with many different tastes.
We live together in harmony with a form of government that is stable compared to most of the world. Each culture has added to Hawaii especially when it comes to foods. For example, we probably grow more different kinds of fruits than any other state. Many local folks have visited Asia recently and have been bitten by the tropical fruit bug. So have many Big Island farmers. Not only do we have folks trying new fruit introductions, but we now have a statewide tropical fruit growers group to study and produce exotic fruits.
One of the crops of interest is the famous durian. There is no other fruit in the plant kingdom that can conjure up such an elaborate mythology or generate so much controversy. In the fruit’s homeland of Southeast Asia, it has been revered for centuries. It’s first exposure to western palettes brought forth a divergence of opinion that continues to this day. Charles Darwin hated it, but his contemporary, Alfred Russel Wallace, loved it. This has been the typical response of those who have tasted its bizarre qualities.
The Durian is a lowland, forest tree of the Malay archipelago and adjacent islands. Its mature height can range between 90 to 120 feet although in cultivation it rarely grows more than 30 feet. The fruit resembles a medieval battle mace covered in spikes, weighing from one to 18 pounds. For an object to be called “The King of Fruits” you would expect a whopping flavor upon first eating, and here the Durian is full of surprises.
Skillfully cut open to avoid its spines, the hard outer shell slips off in sections to reveal a sulfur-colored pulp with the consistency of peanut butter. The flesh has so distinct an odor that it causes some to salivate while others get nauseous. The flavor itself is so complex and bizarre that few have ever come to a consensus as to just what it tastes like.
The first flavor is a strong garlic taste, then some onion, avocado, jackfruit and so on. The fruit has been grown in Hawai’i as a curiosity for almost a century. The tree is quite handsome and is worth trying simply for its orna-mental value. Durian are avail-able at some local nurseries. There are other Asian introductions that have potential in Hawaiian gardens.
The loquat, Eriobotrya japonica, is originally from Japan. The large stiff leaves, glossy green on the upper surface and whitish underneath, give this tree unusual character. The fruit is firm fleshed and juicy, excellent for fresh use as well as pies and preserves. The loquat is an excellent source of vitamin A.
This tree is best adapted to cooler areas of the island. For an eye-catching attraction and something different, try the carambola, Averrhoa carambola. Popular in China and India, this tree is symmetrical in shape with a covering canopy of dense leaves of very attractive color. The fruit is a golden yellow with a shiny, waxed appearance when ripe.
They are ellipsoid and average four to five inches in length with four or five prominent longitudinal ribs, the cross section having a distinct star shape. The fruit taste is like strawberry Koolaid and is high in vitamin C. A must for a taste treat is the lychee, Litchi chinensis. The tree is attractive in shape and color and is most eye-catching when in fruit.
The bright red fruits hang in clusters throughout the tree. They are most tasty when eaten fresh. The fruit supplies vitamin – and niacin. Plant lychee trees where they are protected from wind and can get plenty of water. Several varieties are now available at local nurser-ies. One of the best is Kaima-na. Other close relatives to try are the rambutan and longan. Of course, the famous mango is popular throughout the tropical world. Most folks don’t realize the origin of this species is Southeast Asia.
There are hundreds of varieties. Some have been grown in India for thousands of years. Some new varieties are now available locally. By planting types that fruit at different seasons, you can have delicious mangoes from May through October.