Our durian harvest has begun. We have two trees, an older one of about 15 years which is roughly 18 meters tall, and a 5 year old which is maybe 6 meters in height. The young tree has her first fruiting this year, last year she gave flowers but they all dropped. I'm happy she's fruiting.
Durians are beautiful trees large yet somehow delicate with smaller leaves which are a mossy green above and a subtle golden bronze below. The flowers are fist sized and shaped rather like a bell with a ping pong ball stuck in the opening. They grow straight from the branches, and we had hundreds, if not thousands this year. If the flower is pollinated it drops the petals and looks a little like a bean pod sticking out from a tiny ball, this takes 3 months or so to grow into the most incredible geometrical wonder, full of sharp green spikes in a pattern that must correspond to the Fibonacci sequence, it seems so perfect. As the fruit grows and swells we worried about fruit set, sure enough many of the young fruits dropped and we had to cull several more for fear of branches breaking with the weight.
It's been 3 months now and the fruit are ripe. They have to fall by themselves and will lie on the ground for a day or so before they open. One can tell from some distance when the fruit splits along its 5 seams: the smell is intense and unmistakable. One can smell it from a good distance, maybe 25 yards. It's an unusual smell, heady, rich, strong, perhaps unpleasant. I've been interested in this fruit since I was a child watching David Attenburgh on the BBC wincing and retching as he sat beside a large open durian in the rainforests of Burma. It took a long time before I was able to smell what all the fuss was about.
Inside there are pockets of fruit, sometimes more than 5 segments with fruit hidden away in secret chambers which one has to find cautiously as the spikes are very sharp: one has to feel through the thick ridges within to see if there is hidden treasure. The fruit is white or yellow and dense and is shaped, to me, (and this may well sound strange), like the embryo of a manatee. The fruit is soft and tastes - well it's a matter of opinion. Some say it's divine, others that it's like rotten fish in condensed milk, others say carmelised garlic and onions in custard. It's a very personal thing. I love it.
The seeds are simple and carmel coloured and can be roasted and eaten or cooked in asian style dishes. Some say it's wise not to eat too many at one time, but with the average durian size being about a kilo and a half, there's not so many seeds to share around.
Recipes for durian include cakes, ice-cream, candies and savoury dishes with unripe fruits. Here it never gets as far as the kitchen, we scoop it right out of its beautiful shell. The dogs love it too. Today we took 3 to market and for those in the know it was the first durian of the season. The three were gone within 5 minutes. Last year I dried some fruit and added it to a connoissuer's mix. It was rather good mixed with jackfruit, champadeck and bananas.
Durians can be found in most Asian markets either fresh, dried, frozen or in cans. I'd recommend a sampling . . .