23 February 2010

The Starfruit Orchard

Chekhov's Madame Ranevskaya had her cherry orchard. Our village has its starfruit orchard, located on the eastern frontier, between the last houses and the steep base of a hill. Like the Ranevskayas, the owners of this last undeveloped fruit farm in the valley left it behind long ago. As with all the other farm plots in the village--including the former lychee and longan orchard, part of which survives in our garden--it was likely abandoned thirty years ago.

The trees remain, dropping hundreds of fruit throughout the fall and winter, left to sit on the ground and rot. What an appalling waste, you think. Until you take one home, cut a slice and pop it into your mouth. Ptui! It's more sour than a cross between a lemon and a rotten chili pepper. That's what happens when no one cares for the trees. Some ambitious pruning, fertilizing and TLC would probably bring these trees back to life, producing sweet, refreshing, juicy bright yellow fruits. They're so popular during the mid-Autumn Moon Festival that many people even carry around traditional lanterns shaped like starfruit.

The current owners, wherever they might be, probably think that resuscitating these graceful, elegant trees and harvesting their cartoon-like fruit doesn't offer enough return on investment. They're most likely holding out until this land is zoned for development, so they can chop everything down and pocket some easy money. That's how The Cherry Orchard ends. I hope that the starfruit orchard manages to dodge that fate for another thirty years.


  1. Bitter though these fruits be, your description of them is sweet indeed -- or perhaps all small villages share a common problem: on which side will such stars fall?

  2. Just to clarify: starfruits, when properly grown, are sweet and juicy! We had the same problem with our pomelo tree, neglected for thirty years before we moved in. Its fruit were bitter as black pepper until, after two years of nurturing it into health, it burst with ripe, delicious fruits.

  3. I picked up one of these at the local Whole Foods -- not sure whether it was ripe (or how to tell if it is) but it was fairly tart, although not unpleasant. But yes, I do know what happens to the fruit of neglected trees; we have an ancient pear tree in our back yard, probably planted by the Reverend Cocroft back when out house was his Rectory in the 1890's. It's incredibly twisted and gnarly and 2/3 dead, and the occasional fruits it bears are deformed and bitter indeed.