The most prolific fruiting tree growing in our garden has got to be the belimbing tree.
What is belimbing? The proper name for this fruit is Averrhoa bilimbi, but we use the Malay name of belimbing asam – “belimbing” means “starfruit”, and “asam” means “sour” – so I guess that would translate to “sour starfruit”.
Interestingly, one of the English names for the plant is “cucumber tree”. This could be because the fruits are similarly – but not identically – shaped to cucumbers. The skin and interiors, however, are like the starfruit’s – waxy skin and very juicy flesh. When I was younger, I discovered that the waxy skin made the fruit very buoyant, so I used to toss them into water at every possible opportunity…
From a distance, the tree looks similar to the curry leaf tree. On closer examination, though, you will see that the bark looks more dry and flaky than the curry leaf tree, and the leaves have a drier texture.
The fruits grow on the main trunk as well as the branches. Our tree is about 30 years old, so the trunk is impressively stout. That means it has more surface area to flower and fruit – and it does this several times a year. The fruits grow in clusters, like grapes, and ripen at staggered rates, so if we don’t harvest the earlier fruits fast enough, they can start rotting on the tree before they fall off. Since there are always way more fruits than we can consume, the ground surrounding the tree tends to be littered with fruits.
And even when we give them away, we get them back – in cooked form. Belimbings are great in pickles and sambals, and can be used as an alternative to tamarind. We are always looking for new recipes to use up the fruits, but there’s more joy in sharing the fruits with others who enjoy them – especially when they have the chance to come and harvest them themselves. It brings us back to our “kampong” roots, when folks used to share the bounty from their gardens …or when naughty kids used to help themselves to the bounty!