I’m lucky I live in a community where two tropical fruit trees are grown in almost every backyard. I’m talking about rambutan and lanzones. If you happen to drive along our barangay, you’ll notice there’s either a rambutan or lanzones tree in every garden. In our neighborhood, if your front yard doesn’t have any of the said trees, it’s either you had cemented any soil in your garden or you’re just plain lazy.
Rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum) is a native fruit grown in the Philippines. Its fruit has a thick skin covered with short, soft spiky hairs. “Rambutan” came from the Malay word “rambut” which means hair, an apt description for this egg-shaped fruit. The color ranges from deep red to yellow. If you’ve watched Julia Roberts’ film “Mirror, Mirror” you’ll notice that they’ve used rambutan as one of the Queen’s beauty regimen at the spa.
Our family has a rambutan tree that my mother planted several years ago. The plant was a budded seedling she bought at a plant sale. If you want your rambutan tree to bear fruits, cultivate budded seedlings since they are guaranteed to give you fruits after three years. A tree coming straight from a rambutan seed can still bear fruits but after a decade!
Rambutan fruits start from green, marble-sized babies before it matures within a few months. It’s tempting to pick those red ones with barely a hint of green color but we patiently waited until most of the fruits turned deep red, somewhat maroonish for the sweetest taste. Picking rambutans when they are not yet fully ripe is wasteful so better practice the waiting game.
July to September is the season of rambutan. However, weeks of incessant rains postponed the ripening of the fruits. Rambutans love sunlight and despite the rains, our beloved tree gave us lots of fruit this year. The tree has a Christmasy vibe in it because the green leaves look like they are decorated with bright red balls.
Rambutan is known for its sweet taste, with a bit of juice once you open it. Each fruit has a seed at the center of the soft flesh, similar to the flesh of a lychee. There are two types of rambutans I know: tuklapin (took-la-pin) wherein the flesh is easily peeled off the seed everytime you bite it, and supsupin (soup-soup-in) where you suck the flesh and juice of the fruit. Ours is tuklapin.
Unlike other fruits like mango or santol which can taste either sour or sweet even if they look ripe, rambutans are guaranteed to be sweet when ripe. This sweetness attracts an army of black ants. We know which fruit is the sweetest by the number of ants surrounding it. The more ants outside the rambutan fruit, the sweeter it is.
In harvesting rambutans, we use a long stick with a sharp hook at one end. The stick allows us to lower the branches and pick the fruits with our bare hands and the hook is used to cut the twigs holding the clusters of rambutans located in the topmost parts of the tree. Sometimes, we ask someone to climb the rambutan tree and from there, he maneuvers the stick to get the fruits. A large basket is with the harvester for easy collection of fruits. If there’s no basket, he can just cut the rambutans and let all of them fall to the ground were many await for the fruit’s goodness. A benefit of letting the rambutans hit the ground is that the ants scurry away from the fruit they’re feasting on. Harvesting rambutan fruits is such a simple but fun way of bonding with family members.
Our tree is able to produce several large basins-full of rambutans! We shook the basins to rattle the ants and make them leave the fruits. Filling the basins with water is also another solution of getting rid of those insects. Rambutans can be stored in the refrigerator first to have a cool fruit to eat but since we can’t wait anymore, we feasted on rambutans after harvesting them.
We picked all the rambutans from our tree in several days; gave some to family and neighbors. Since the tree bore much fruit this year, it will not bear the same quantity next year based on our experience. So, we wait for another year to taste the delicious rambutan.