Article from the
Tropical Fruit News magazine of the Miami Rare Fruit Council
by Steve Howe
Letter from Big Pine Key: Carambola Tales
The history of the carambola in Florida dates to the early explorations
of David Fairchild in the garden isles of the East, and since much of
his exploration for plants was in jungles, it was the small, sour,
jungle variety he introduced.
the mango, however, the carambola had been undergoing some fine
selection the Malay Indochinese region since ancient times. Somehow,
Dr. Fairchild missed these 'improved' varieties in the city markets and
we started off as the Asians had centuries before, with wild sour
In the decades that followed, some seedling selection
had been made but by 1960 for the most part they were still behind what
was available in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The local
'Newcombe' variety, a medium sized, medium sour fruit is as good as
carambolas got until Dr. Bob Knight and others backtracked the
carambola trail and brought the big sweet ones in.
fine selections were made from these 'Thai Knight' seedlings. The
'Grimal' and 'Arkin' are two such, and recently a new selection of this
series had been made at Possum Trot nursery and is called 'Golden
Possum'. A large firm fruit of mild flavor, it seems to promise to be a
good shipper with fine shelflife, potentially a very good commercial
My own taste still runs to the 'GrimaI' as a favorite
eating fruit for its big flavor and sweet tender juiciness. Near
seedless, it is more of a prize dooryard variety.
There has been
a third wave of imports from Southeast Asia of very large, mild, sweet
varieties. Some have pale wavy segments and some have cream or ivory
colored fruit -looking as though they were carved from way.
'Fwang Tung' is of this group and they are big beautiful fruit - very
impressive when on display. They simply don't have the flavor, being
too mild and watery for real carambola fans used to the 'Thai Knight'
varieties introduced in the 1970's.
The carambola is very
important to Southeast Asian cuisine and has medicinal properties as
well. Asian medicine believes that most illness begins as digestive
difficulty, and old people unable to produce enough saliva to mix when
chewing food is paramount. Here is where carambola shines above most
fruit. Carambola is an appetizer and a digestive, especially useful
with meat dishes.
Southern Chinese cuisine features a special
sweet sour sauce based on carambola while in central China the Mandarin
orange takes over this duty; and in northern China the apricot is the
sweet sour base. All these fruits are special in their region, used in
much the same way and healthful medicinal foods loaded with vitamin c
and other good nutrients.
The drinks, sherbets and marmalades
made from carambola fruits are all superb. In salads, fresh as a
garnish or sliced appetizer they are elegant. For me, a trip to the
tree to select a big deep orange beauty, then skin off the edges of the
ribs (where most of the bitter unwanted oxalic acid seems to be stored)
with my knife and bite in is the best way-- an exotic treat from a
beautiful tree that is loaded most of the year with fruit (three or
four crops!) - it doesn't get much better.
P.S. As I write, a
young seedling of the 'Grimal' is coming into production at my place;
it may take the prize. If this is the case, this fruit that seems to
have everything in abundance will be called 'Sun Shower'. I first
noticed the huge ripe fruit glistening during a sun shower and the
ornamental.value of the tree stuck me speechless. Now that I've eaten
over ten fruit from it let me say that this is the finest carambola
yet. I am going to begin grafting from this
local winemaker has brought some wine and vinegar made from last year's
windfall crop at Adolf's and it is hard to beat. Dr. Fairchild had the
right idea, pioneer fruit nurseryman Newcombe improved on his work,
Knight improved on Newcombe, Grimal and Arkin improved on Knight. Bob
Barnum and I have tried to improve further, and succeeded. All this in
the half century we've had this beautiful and useful fruit. the
carambola has been know for many centuries in southeast Asia for its
cooling refreshment, aiding the appetite and digestion of the aged and
infirm, and delighting everyone who tries it in the many ways it is
used Enjoy them and this beautiful autumn.