In Praise of Lanzones

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September is when we have a surfeit of lanzones in Leyte, Philippines. The fruit reminds us of our dear mother, who passed away this month back in 1997–people would offer bunches of the fruit at her interment, and our grief was a bit assuaged knowing that it was the fruit of the gods.

Lansium parasiticum (syn. Lansium domesticum), also known as langsat (/ˈlɑːŋsɑːt/) or lanzones,is a species of tree in the Mahogany family. The plant, which originates from western Southeast Asia, bears edible fruit. It is the provincial flower for the Indonesian province of South Sumatra. The tree is average sized, reaching 30 metres (98 ft) in height and 75 centimetres (30 in) in diameter. Seedling trees 30 years old planted at 8 x 8 meter spacing can have a height of 10 meters and diameter of 25 cm. The trunk grows in an irregular manner, with its buttress roots showing above ground. The tree’s bark is a greyish colour, with light and dark spots. Its resin is thick and milk coloured.[2]

The pinnately compound leaves are odd numbered, with thin hair, and 6 to 9 buds at intervals. The buds are long and elliptical, approximately 9 to 21 centimetres (3.5 to 8.3 in) by 5 to 10 centimetres (2.0 to 3.9 in) in size. The upper edge shines, and the leaves themselves have pointed bases and tips. The stems of the buds measure 5 to 12 millimetres (0.20 to 0.47 in).[2]

The flowers are located in inflorescences that grow and hang from large branches or the trunk; the bunches may number up to 5 in one place. They are often branched at their base, measure 10 to 30 centimetres (3.9 to 11.8 in) in size, and have short fur.[3] The flowers are small, with short stems, and have two genders. The sheathe is shaped like a five lobed cup and is coloured a greenish-yellow. The corona is egg-shaped and hard, measuring 2 to 3 millimetres (0.079 to 0.118 in) by 4 to 5 millimetres (0.16 to 0.20 in). There is one stamen, measuring 2 millimetres (0.079 in) in length. The top of the stamen is round. The pistil is short and thick.[2]

The fruit can be elliptical, oval, or round, measuring 2 to 7 centimetres (0.79 to 2.76 in) by 1.5 to 5 centimetres (0.59 to 1.97 in) in size. Fruits look much like small potatoes and are borne in clusters similar to grapes. The larger fruits are on the variety known as duku. It is covered by thin, yellow hair giving a slightly fuzzy aspect. The skin thickness varies with the varieties, from 2 millimetres (0.079 in) to approximately 6 millimetres (0.24 in). The fruit contains 1 to 3 seeds, flat, and bitter tasting; the seeds are covered with a thick, clear-white aril that tastes sweet and sour.[2] The taste has been likened to a combination of grape and grapefruit and is considered excellent by most. The sweet juicy flesh contains sucrose, fructose, and glucose.[4] For consumption, cultivars with small or undeveloped seeds and thick aril are preferred. Source: Wikipedia

Lanzones grow wild in the hinterlands of Guinarona, although a lot of cultivars are in the front yard of homes. (We wonder now if the super typhoon in November 2013 blew them away as well.) More sweet are the wild ones perhaps because they thrive on the whispers of insects and birds–and on the banks of the Ibugue creek, the singing of rivulets. We used to have one supple true at Ibugue, which, in September, bore fruits in profusion. The joke then was that a pregnant woman should stay away for the fruits would die away. Which was why we would promise to share the harvest with anybody carrying a baby.

It’s only once a year that you get to eat lanzones. The velvety, sweet and tangy flavor of the fruit is to die for.

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