The durian


Deghoyan, in Perak-speak.

“The fruits of Perak are almost endless, and embrace some of the most delicious under the sun ; but many of them bear names that would be little better than puzzles to the reader.

“Some of the principal must however be given by their native titles. Mr. Wallace, in his Malay Archipelago, says that the durian, which he seems to have found in a great many of the islands, is the king of fruits, and the orange the queen. To give place aux dames, the queen of fruits, does not exist in Perak at present; but the country is eminently suitable for its growth, and those specimens which are brought in from Tringanu, on the east coast.

Engraving of tropical fruits

Engraving of tropical fruits, with the durian in the centre. (Source: Google Images)

“The king of fruits, however, flourishes largely, and is peculiar to the archipelago. It grows upon a large tree something similar to a walnut, ripe fruit and flowers being seen upon the tree at the same time; and, as if to startle the learned gentleman who is said to have refuted – the atheist about the acorn, the durian will grow as large as a man’s head, is covered closely with terribly sharp spines, set hexagonally upon its hard skin, and when ripe and it falls, if it should strike anyone under the tree, severe injury or death may be the result. So fully awake are the natives, to the danger of a blow from a falling durian, that in populous places they take the trouble to stretch nets at some distance from the ground, where a road or pathway leads beneath a durian grove, so as to catch the ripe fruit as it falls.

“Five faint marks exist on the shell, which show the line of the carpels, like those of an orange, and following these the fruit can be opened with a heavy knife. Inside there are, to each carpel or division, two or three seeds as big as chestnuts, and these are surrounded by a rich thick cream, upon the flavour of which opinions are wonderfully divided. The natives are excessively devoted to it, and some Europeans declare it to be like a rich buttery custard flavoured with almonds; while Mr. Wallace says, “with it come wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion sauce, brown sherry, and other incongruities.”

“The writer’s testimony is that it is, no doubt, to some palates a very delicious fruit or food, as it may be termed, but when over ripe, its odour is foetid to a degree. The disagreeable odour of this fruit has formed the basis of many an anecdote, and if one or two are given in passing, it is only what would be expected when the durian is mentioned.

“A high official, on his way from England to China, was sumptuously entertained by the then resident councillor at Penang. This gentleman was a great admirer of the fruit, and had one of the very best his garden could produce placed upon the table. On his lordship being asked his opinion of it, he replied sharply to his host :”It may have been very good last season, Mr. L., but, if you will excuse me, I would rather not venture on it now.”

“Ladies are supposed to look upon this production with extreme disgust, but get the credit of being very partial to it nevertheless. The story goes that a lady, the descendant of one of the old settlers of-the peninsula, made a confession in an unguarded moment, when, being condoled with upon the question of having to go and live in a very out-of-the-way bungaloh, she declared she should not feel dull, for there would be plenty of durians there. So strange and unwholesome is the odour of this fruit, that it is possible it may possess the quality of temporarily destroying the sense of smell in those who partake of it; otherwise this intense fondness for the fruit seems almost a mystery. It may be detected  at a considerable distance, and about the nearest approximation to its peculiar smell is that of a brick kiln when in full burning. The natives cultivate it largely, and esteem it above all others.

“An old writer says that the Siamese would barter their liberty to obtain it ; certain it is that a Malay would give a  considerable portion of his day’s pay to obtain one.”

Source: McNAIR, Fred (Major). Perak and the Malays, “SARONG” AND “KRIS.”

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