A ‘fruitful’ experience: Persimmons, avocados and the value of planting the best varieties

A Western journalist once got Indian farmers to taste pickles. These were American pickles made from baby cucumbers. Though India was one of the largest growers of these cucumbers, it was nearly all for export and most Indians had never tried the final product. The journalist took a jar of pickles to the farmers who grew them and recorded their rather bemused responses to the salty, sour taste.

This emphasised how, with cash crops like fruits and Western vegetables, Indian farmers tend to have little familiarity with their final taste. They start cultivation based on recommendations from government agricultural programmes, or procurement agents, like those working with companies making pickles. The produce is often unripe when picked, so it can travel without bruising. The fruit seller or customer does the final ripening, so farmers are even less likely to appreciate the ideal taste.

Persimmons show why this is a problem. Some years ago, persimmons grown in the hills of north India started flooding the market. They were eye-catching, large and glowing orange. Fruit-sellers called them amar phal, possibly acknowledging how, usefully, they lasted long without going bad. A better name was ‘Japani’, which references the country that most prizes persimmons. Japanese poets like Basho, Issa and Shiki wrote famous haiku on this fruit which, remarkably, ripens when it’s almost winter. But the persimmons which first came to the market in India were the hachiya variety, which is so full of tannins that it is unpleasant to eat. This is why they last so long though. In time, the tannins reduce and the flesh changes from astringent and hard to sweet and rather repulsively jelly-like. They can be made more palatable by treating them with alkaline water, or a process of drying and massaging, but evidently no one told the farmers about this. 메이저사이트

There is another non-astringent variety of persimmon that can be eaten when crisp and sweet or soft and juicy. Called fuyu, it looks like a large, oddly artificial tomato, but is delicious. These are what should have been first planted and, only now, are finally displacing the unsellable hachiyas from the market. Persimmons could have been popularised much earlier if farmers had known from personal experience which ones were best.

Another example is avocados. The Times of India has a reference to them being grown in India from as early as 1840. In 1935, when Paramahansa Yogananda , who wrote the best-selling ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’, visited Mahatma Gandhi in Wardha, he extolled the benefits of avocados. He sent saplings from his ashram in California, but they died on the way. Later on, their cultivation took off around Bengaluru and Mangaluru. Yet, Indians never developed a taste for avocados, until recently when their use in guacamole and avocado toast sent demand soaring. The earlier lack of demand is usually blamed on their bland taste, but I wonder if the varieties grown were also the problem. Buying avocados in India has always been a gamble because they ripen unevenly, and also, it’s common to open one and find that it’s mostly a huge seed with just a coating of edible flesh.

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