|It All Began Here.|
Last year, Rob and I spent a frenzied 346 days hopping from one island nation to another in a determined search for the King of Fruit, the Durian. It sounds a bit insane, and I think it probably is, but we’re actually not the first fruit hunters out there. Fruit hunting is an established hobby, shared by a close knit if peculiar group of fruit fanatics that goes back for generations.
So what inspired us to dedicate a year of our lives to chasing a fruit across the world? It all started years ago with a book called The Fruit Hunters, written by Adam Gollner. It’s now been turned into a documentary. For now, you can watch it for free on youtube. See it while you still can!
Scroll to the bottom for links to the documentary, or read on for the story of why we did Year of the Durian. This is the closest thing to an autobiography you will ever find on this site (So read all about us!)
Back Story or a Short Summary of Life Since College
Four years ago, I had just quit the Journalism School at the University of Oregon after blowing most of my money on a disappointing magazine writing class in Ecuador. The class may not have been worth the cash, but the fruit certainly was. For the first time I enjoyed papayas, mangoes, mamay sapotes, cherimoyas, and those weird purple cucumbers (which are actually really bitter). I was fascinated.
|Eugene, my first home|
I returned home to my then boyfriend Rob, where we lived in a radical environmentally active student cooperative in Oregon. I was 19 years old, a vegan, and disillusioned with the American media. I decided that journalism was a lame game played by corporate tools. I quit writing.
We lived in that big, rambling run-down mansion for almost two years, until local-vorism became the unspoken house rule. I got a lot of flack from my housemates for my imported bananas and oranges, dates, pineapples and the occasional papaya, which were killing the earth by being shipped long distances to greedy people like me. I felt guilty, but couldn’t quit – I was addicted to fruit. There were other issues too, so we left the student co-ops.
Rob and I had been dabbling in a raw foods diet. I hadn’t made the switch to 100% yet, but our diet was increasingly becoming fruit-based following the teachings of Douglas Graham and the folks over at 30bananasaday.com (some of whom really do eat 30 bananas a day!).
Rob and I volunteered at some raw food festivals. All these people could talk about was durian. They called it the King of Fruits, and their faces took on a dreamy, almost drugged cast when they spoke of it’s interior cream, the butterscotch garlic pudding hiding just within the thorny casing. It sounded bizarre, and some of those people were kind of bizarre, so of course I was intrigued.
|Yup. That’s me as a watermelon|
Enter The Fruit Hunters by Adam Gollner. I found a reference to this title one day while gawking at online photos of weird looking fruits. I immediately checked it out of the library and was so hooked I finished it in three days.
Gollner was writing about individuals who become so intrigued by the world’s diversity of fruit that they travel the world looking for new or interesting species of fruit. Fruit Hunters are part jungle explorers, part conservationists that scour the world looking for nature’s visual and taste sensations. In the process of writing the book, Gollner ends up traveling to Borneo, the Chez Seychelle Islands, Thailand, Bali, and Hawaii, in the end joining the ranks of the fruit fanatics.
I happened to be reading this book while visiting my grandparents in Los Angeles. Inspired, I took a day trip out to a date farm. There I indulged in the hundred-or-so varieties of dates while reading about blue apricots, white blueberries, oranges that taste like chicken noodle soup, red berries that make sour things taste sweet and 100-pound coconuts in the shape of a female’s private areas. I became enthralled with the unquantifiable diversity, the sheer imagination of the universe. I wanted to travel and find more varieties of everything.
Gollner also dedicates an entire chapter to the durian.
|available on amazon|
The First Durian
Between the raw foodists’ praise and Gollner’s fascinating book, I decided we had to give this durian thing a try. Rob was not into it. We were really short on cash and needed the $13 I spent on the frozen monstrosity for real things, like food. He didn’t see the point in buying a really expensive fruit that everyone said smells so bad we would probably just put it in the trash.
Reluctantly he walked with me to the local park to open our first durian. It was only partially thawed, ice crumbles still spattering the thorny crust. I had brought a large knife, but I didn’t have the least idea where to start. I remember standing by the picnic table, knife in hand, just staring. I couldn’t imagine it growing on a tree.
I don’t remember how we got it open, but somehow we did. I was immediately infatuated. It tasted like the best vanilla ice cream, the most wonderful banana pudding, the cliched sheer heaven. I spent the rest of the year sulking because we couldn’t afford to buy another. Rob, my future Durian Man, didn’t like his first durian (gasp!).
When I graduated the following year with a rather useless degree in Spanish, we were now Mr. and Mrs. and had saved enough to do a little traveling. We went to the Philippines, where we tasted fresh durian. Rob was hooked. I was hooked. And that’s the end of the story.
|Rob in the Philippines, 2010|
The Year of the Durian was ultimately Rob’s idea. After our first travels, we were still really into fruit and my feet were still itchy for more globetrotting. We went to the Woodstock Fruit Festival, where we ate a heck of a lot of frozen durian and enjoyed the company of other fruit freaks, and then moved to Costa Rica to study how to grow tropical fruit (By the way, we have been invited to speak at the Woodstock Fruit Festival this summer. Sign up here)
|Durian Party at the Woodstock Fruit Festival|
Costa Rica was amazing, with all sorts of really delicious fruits. There we became acquainted with the mamay sapote, the sour sop, the sapodilla, and the rambutan. But one thing kept irritating Rob. There was no durian in Costa Rica. “What’s the point of being in the tropics if there’s no durian?” he complained.
One night, we were lying in bed looking out at the stars through our screened-in one room bungalow. It was the first time we’d seen them in weeks, as it had been raining continuously. Our floor was damp and our clothes on their hooks had begun to mold. Rob hadn’t read The Fruit Hunters, but he’d heard me talk almost continuously about it since that first summer. “Let’s just go to Asia and eat durian,” Rob said. “We’ll make a year of it. It’ll be a year of durian.”
This is part of what he wrote me:
of this to say that you should totally pursue your dream of writing the
book. Be aware that it will take much effort, but that it will be worth
it. It’s true I was already a journalist, but that only means that I’d
been doing smaller things for some years before embarking on that longer
story. I don’t know if I have any tips or advice other than this:
I think a book about following the durian season through Asia would be
amazing. Please let me know when it is ready! And if you don’t mind,
I’ll pass your contact on to a film production company who is making a
film out of the fruit hunters”.
Well, apparently the film production company wasn’t interested in we durian hunters, because nobody ever contacted us. The film was released for Canadian television in November, while we were upriver in Borneo, and is still available on youtube in two parts for anyone who is interested.
I was really excited when I heard that the book was being turned into a documentary. Maybe too excited. It’s a nice enough film, but I don’t think it really does the book service. It’s fun to see some of the characters in real life, like Hawaii’s Ken Love and avid fruit hunter Richard Campbell, but the film leaves out most of the really interesting fruits. I did enjoy learning about the Canadian Haskap, a purple berry that is apparently taking Japan by storm these days. There is a commercial with the little Japanese girl in a Haskap outfit that is just awesome.
The Fruit Hunters: Part 1
For those of us rooting for durian, the worst part of the film is that it doesn’t talk about durian. At all. It shows a lot of teasing footage of durian – the camera ogling over it’s inherently foreign form, panning sunshine thrown across the spikes – but the narrator never says what that amazing tropical fruit is. I don’t think the film even mentions the word “durian.”
This annoys me to no end. Doesn’t our favorite fruit at least deserve an honorable verbal mention?
Instead, the film spends a lot of time talking about my least favorite fruit: the wani. Apparently some people (like Rob) think the wani is really special and delicious, but I think it smells like vomit and deserves to rot in the unseen (and unsmelled) corners of the world. Here’s where you can read more about my opinions on the wani.
The film is interesting and definitely worth taking the time to watch, especially if you are interested in the activities of a group of American fruit hunters called the Rare Fruit Council. If you want to chat, most of them are active on a The Tropical Fruit Forum. Better though, is just to read the book.