In a land where the temps seldom stray, it is hard to measure the seasons in an occidental way. It is 90 plus degrees and humid give or take a degree or percent all the time.
A more pleasant, but subtle marker of time, is fruit. What’s in season at this very moment? Yellow mango season peaked a couple weeks ago, and is on the wane. The amount and quality is starting to lag and the price for a good one is creeping up.
This week the streets are perfumed with the scent of durian. Trucks ply the street and people queue up for theirs to be thumped by a rubber stick, selected and cut for a quick snack at home. The best ones have fallen off the tree naturally. If you ask, the vendor, they’ll tell you which tree it came off and when, ostensibly. This seems like a lot to keep track of.
Mangosteens and Rambutan seem to have a prolonged season. Their trucks have made the rounds for weeks now. Loudspeakers bellowing and bragging about the quality and the price. At a buck fifty a kilo, it is hard to beat the taste of these splashing across your throat.
If you blink too long, sometimes, you’ll miss a season. Sapodilla season is tragically short, as this is an amazing fruit, tasting of warmth and honey. I would eat an entire truck full if there were a truck. It is never plentiful enough to warrant its own truck, and doesn’t transport well. It may last only 2 or 3 weeks, it seems.
And because some seasons are so short, you can miss a fruit altogether. I stumbled across one last week. Santol, is also known as Yellow Mangosteen or Cottonfruit. I’d never been aware of its existence and then suddenly, I saw it everywhere, from the gourmet market to the fruit lady on the street.
I picked up a few for experimentation. I cut one hemispherically and pried it open. Juicy, yet fluffy white pods were in the center. I popped one in my mouth. It was like eating a baby’s sock soaked in juice, and maybe the baby’s foot was still inside, annealed to the fabric. It was not a totally pleasant experience. I thought there must be more to this.
I consulted the web and found a Phillipine witch, who wrote that the fruit grows there quite a lot. They dice up small and cook with pork. Some people even preserve it for salads, but I wasn’t in a pickling mood that day. Lots of people eat the outer flesh raw and dipped in salt or shrimp paste. This was not bad.
I also found a recipe for Santol Juice whereby santols are peeled, cut up and steeped in simple syrup. This seemed to be the most efficient way. The following morning I had a liter of juice which was a touch too sweet, but a refreshing breakfast drink.
Mixed with rum for dinner made a nice exploratory cocktail to bookend the day at happy hour.
And then just like that, Santol season had come and gone. There were none to be found. The second wave of rambutan is coming in, and, maybe next week, the rose apples will show. And the fruits of time will continue to bloom, ripen and fall off the tree.