Hills and Heritage of Penang – the durian experience
Every year after the hot and dry spell in January and February, durian trees in Balik Pulau will burst into a flowering frenzy in early March. About 90 days later, some durians will start to drop, paving the way for the durian season of feasting from May till July, sometimes stretching even to August.
If there is a hot and dry season in July and August, the durian trees will flower once again for another smaller harvest at the end of the year. However this common cycles have seen some disruption over recent years.
After a very disappointing 2017 for seasonal fruits, 2018 has certainly started off with a bang. As if making up for last season’s low yield, most of the durian trees around the Balik Pulau area are flowering with a vengeance. Barring weather calamities, we should see a bumper crop starting – a bit earlier than usual – in mid-March 2018. The hot and dry weather the past months plus all the storing of energy from the low yield has caused this explosion of flower buds.
Sensory Delight 1 - Scent
In mid to end November 2017, the durian flowers started to bloom and were ready for pollination.
For three weeks or so, the whole of Balik Pulau was enveloped with a sweet floral smell. A lot of people have never noticed this extra sensory delight but this would be the best time to visit Balik Pulau and be literally drowned in sensory overload.
Winding down your windows when you drive past any durian estates with flowers blooming and you would experience this unique sweet smell which only happens once or twice a year, only for this short period of time when billions of durians flowers bloom all at similar times.
Sensory Delight 2 – Taste
If you look at the bottom of the flowing durian tree, you will find the dropped durian flowers.
These look like very skinny “taugeh”(bean sprouts). Collect enough of the fresh ones and you can actually cook them. Cook them as you would cook “taugeh”. Just lightly pan fry them with garlic or a fiery sambal belacan for a delicious treat. The durian flowers have a slightly sweetish taste compared to “taugeh”.
You can also add them in kerabu (local salads) or nasi ulam (cooked rice tossed with finely shredded fresh herbs, turmeric, spices and toasted grated coconut).
The Forming of the King
After pollination, comes the forming of the fruit. Then, count 90 days for small durians and up to 120 days for larger durians.
From 2013, because of the relatively no discernable drought period, a lot of the Balik Pulau durian farmers have actually had durians year-round which is quite unusual.
However, in 2017, the durian harvest was extremely poor because of heavy rainfall that stretched throughout the year with no dry season.
2018 is going to be rather exciting. Early March, as the durian fruits are getting ready for harvest in a few weeks' time, on the same durian tree, flowers are blooming. This should result in another harvest in May or June this year.
So for nature lovers and for those who just want to experience this interesting phenomenon, go for a drive to Balik Pulau during the flowering season of the durian trees. This is not something that can be shared over YouTube or WhatsApp. You just have to be there to enjoy the experience. Remember to wind down your window.
About Green Acres
The writer, Eric Chong owns Green Acres. This emerald gem is a 16-acre orchard in Balik Pulau, Penang. It has been kept chemical-free since it was farmed more than 50 years ago. Signature to the farm is its sustainably built eco-lodges, fully restored from dilapidated Malay kampong (village) houses. Located 250 metres above sea level, it has its own spring water source and natural stream.
Green Acres is home to 450 matured durian trees with over 32 different durian cultivars to taste from. Older trees, between 80-100 years old, bear fruits that are exquisite in taste, like aged wine. Durians are usually in season between June to August.
At other times in the year, the farm is open for private orchard tours where the owners share their knowledge and experience in fruit farming, organic composting, building sustainable homes and the heritage of Balik Pulau orchards.
Green Acres offer farm stays - in lodges that are spacious and airy, with full-length windows and open balconies overlooking breathtaking views of the hills beyond. A fresh spring water dipping pool complete with darting fish inside is located in one corner of the deck for guests staying at the main lodge.
Dreams: Green Acres is built on dreams of giving their son a safer, healthier and more experiential learning environment. Walking the talk in leading a more sustainable lifestyle is the guiding principle at Green Acres.
Stark Reality: Dreams of being gentlemen farmers were shattered when the realities of running a farm hit. With difficulty in getting workers, it’s literally all hands on deck most of their time at the farm. The owners and their son have to do everything on the farm just to give it some semblance of maintenance.
Can’t afford the time to own a farm then “Farm Share”
For the like-minded sustainable lifestyle people, if you are interested in the experience of staying and sharing knowledge of sustainable practices at a farm, you may want to take up membership in Green Acres’ Farm Share Programme.
For more details, see http://greenacrespenang.com/
Written by Eric Chong
Photographs © Adrian Cheah
© All rights reserved
5 March 2018
Updated: 4 March 2022