Having durian tropical fruit trees has been quite a trip. I have often been astonished at the behavior of what has come to be called a “durian addict.” If you can imagine someone actually being addicted to fruit.
Over the years, we have had many encounters with durian addicts. They would rip a durian apart with their teeth if they had to, but for the rest of us, opening the fruit can be quite puzzling.
One of my first encounters with a durian addict was at 7:00 in the morning while I was watering my garden. He ran up to me, out of breath and in a state of mixed euphoria and anticipated disappointment. Somewhat like I felt when I went to pick up my college diploma from the registrar not knowing if I had actually graduated. The big question was whether or not a durian had actually dropped and was available to him. Since he had already broken a sweat, I pointed him in the right direction to run and check.
You don’t actually pick durians. They need to detach themselves from the tree. We mostly let chance and a few well placed coconut fronds cushion their fall. In some countries, they are secured to the tree with ropes to prevent them dropping and cracking open when the fruit lands. I would entertain the idea of doing that, if I felt comfortable climbing a 70ft tree. Until then, mine will most likely succumb to Newton’s law of gravity.
First thing in the morning, is the proper time to check for fallen durians. It’s very risky walking under fruit laden durian trees. I usually do so looking up. Same thing for coconut trees. It’s always good to see what might be coming down on your head and to position yourself accordingly.
Upon finding a dropped durian you must first examine its stem. Was it willfully detached or did it break off along with a section of branch? Often it will drop prematurely if its too heavy or another durian knocks it off its perch. If this happens, it rarely ripens correctly. It’s best to see a clear swelling at the node and natural detachment.
Sometimes a ripe fruit will drop from the tree, but most often it needs a few days to ripen to perfection before eating. A clear sign of a ripe durian is the intense smell of the fruit. Durian addicts can smell a ripe durian from about 100 yards away. Some people can’t stand the smell of a durian which is overbearing. But when you are a durian addict it smells divine. So much so, that you would hang it over your bed while you slept in order to be as close to it as possible before eating it.
Durians are expensive except in Malaysia and Thailand. Often people will tell you how cheap they are in foreign countries or laugh at the price of durians as if this wasn’t Hawaii and it wasn’t part of the United States of America. On the mainland you probably can’t get a fresh durian, only frozen. Frozen durians are going to be a lot less money.
A good way to determine if you are buying a good durian, instead of wasting your rent money on a rotten fruit, is to make sure there is a good smell to it. Also, look for cracks, soft spots or mold. It’s okay to buy a cracked durian, sometimes that’s what they do during the ripening process but make sure by asking the vendor. Sometimes your fruit can be discounted for minor imperfections.
With durian in hand, emanating the sweetest smelling aroma, place it lengthwise on your kitchen counter and place a kitchen towel well-folded on top to protect your hands from the very sharp outer shell. With a dull, unpointed knife blade (we use a duct knife) insert it in the bottom of the durian at the apex and slightly turn it back and forth. A ready-to-eat durian will start to crack along its natural seams. Never try and cut or saw a durian. If it does not open naturally, it’s not ripe.
The durian should give way and you can use your hands to pull it apart. Inside you will find the custard-like fruit tasting somewhere between a sweet maple custard pastry to an intense garlic-onion flavor. A good durian will have a small seed and abundant fruit and will taste very complicated. A novice durian eater will be happy with any fruit but a well seasoned durian addict will want the most stinky, strong flavored fruit and a lot of it.
Durian addicts will fight over durians, they will unfriend you over durians, they will steal durians, they will give you the side eye (or stink eye) if they thought you treated them unfairly and they will buy the last durian of the season for 10 times the price even if it is overripe and fermented.
I suppose there are way worse things to be addicted to and most durian addicts are nice people as long as you don’t get in their way of their most prized durian. I’m sure they’d even share a piece with you if they could stop stuffing it in there mouth long enough to answer you back.