Monday, July 12, 2010

Missing the fruit trees of the good old days

WHERE have our fruit trees gone? Do you remember the red "jambu air" (rose apple) that was so sour that you could only eat it dipped in thick soya sauce and "cili padi"?

How about the green ones, so crunchy and sweet that you had to watch out for worms within its cottony pith?

Maybe you remember the red and white "jambu batu" (guavas) that used to grow along the roads and whose leaves were home to the best fighting spiders.

No, they are not the same ones you find at fruit stalls today. I am not talking about the giant ones but the smaller variety that are harder to bite into unless ripe. The fruits ripen on the trees if they are not plucked and they attract flocks of birds and other fruit eaters.

There were quite a number of "rambai" trees, too, in Jalan Sentul in the 1970s. There were a few "bacang" trees as well, until a road-widening project got rid of them. In the mornings, when you passed by the area, you could see freshly dropped fruits waiting to be picked.

Did you know that people did not pluck "bacang" those days? You collected them after they dropped from the tree because the fruits are considered sweeter once the tree is ready to give them to you.

There were other trees, too, including "buah sentul", "kuini", mangosteen, "ciku" and even wild durians. If you knew how to climb trees, you just helped yourself to their bounty. But if you couldn't, there was always something that you could use as a boomerang. And if the fruits were out of reach using either methods, you left them on the trees for the animals.

A friend with whom I shared some "emping belinjau" (a type of cracker) recently said that the nut from which the snack was made could only be found in Indonesia. I said we also had some in Kuala Terengganu back in the '70s. We called them "buah sakok", not "belinjau".

The tree had a cone-shaped foliage, waxy leaves, and bore fruits in small bunches. The fruits changed from green to yellow-orange as they matured, and to wine-red when ripe, after which they fell.

Locals collected the fallen fruits, stripped off the skin and fried the nuts in a "kuali" of sand over a slow fire.

Once cooked, the shells could easily be removed and the nuts eaten. They leave a bitter aftertaste and were popular snacks before potato chips were here. The nuts can also be flattened with a pestle, dried and deep-fried in oil to make tasty crackers.

During my recent trip there, my wish to show my friend the "belinjau" nut and the "buah keranji" (the velvety tamarind which has been immortalised in a "pantun") was dashed.

The fruit sellers at the Pasar Kedai Payang did not have any. One chap who was selling apples and oranges told me that both "tok peseng doh", which in local lingo loosely means the fruits were no longer fashionable. I hope he was joking.

Many of our indigenous fruit trees have disappeared, some because of development, others likely because people did not know how to enjoy them. I now wonder how the animals whose diet comprises the fruits that have disappeared are coping.

The morning roll-calls of the bulbuls and magpies that I used to wake up to are fading away.

One day last week, the lone tree shrew that used to scuttle across the wall of my condo at 7.45am each day to feed at the rubbish dump across the road did not appear. The next day I saw a flock of crows feeding on a carcass of a small furry animal.

I hope it was not the tree shrew's remains.

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