Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fruit Everywhere

One of the real unexpected pleasures in Central Asia has been the fruit. The climate here is perfect for apples, pears, grapes, apricots, walnuts, figs, peaches, and other wonderful stuff. As a matter of fact we've found ourselves repeatedly given huge bags of produce by people.

One big annoyance to me however is that people really mangle their fruit. For some reason nobody here seems to mind bruised or damaged fruit. At first I thought they just ate around the mangled bits, but I've seen people happily eat brown mashed apples although obvious rot is still avoided.

As a result of this strange immunity to bruised fruit people don't bother taking care of fruit at all. The standard way to pick apples is to shake the tree and then gather all the mangled apples off the ground. So far I haven't seen anyone actually remove fruit from the tree while it is still undamaged.

It's weird, and also a little bit gross when a well meaning person brings us a 10 pound bag of pulped apples with goo oozing out of the bottom. This is just not the type of thing that is easy to backpack with. But we also don't want to offend anyone by not taking it. A driver we hired the other day stopped his car and picked some pears for us. Off the road. It looked like they'd been run over by donkeys a few time. "We'll just have these later shall we," said Lara as she passed them back to me. The sheep loved them.

Still, on the whole it is wonderful to have so much fresh food, and never was it more so than when we visited the botanical gardens in Khorog. The gardens are the highest botanical garden in the world and they contain all sorts of native fruit plants. They seem to grow nearly wild and it feels like a natural garden of Eden.

We went there when the apples were ripe and there were probably 100-200 different varieties of apple trees all ready for the picking. I was in heaven and went into "wine tasting mode" where I took a bite from each apple, even spitting it out if I didn't like it, so that I could try as many as possible before getting full. It turns out that most of the apples that we eat are much superior to the wild varieties (which is no surprise given how hard we've worked to breed good apples). Still, it is hard to describe how many different textures, colors, smells, shapes, and flavors of apples there are. Anyone going to Khorog should check out the botanical gardens (on an empty stomach).

As an interesting aside, one of the really popular snacks here is apricot seeds. If you crack the shell of an apricot there is a nut inside which tastes and looks like an almond. People love them and I think they are more prized than the apricots themselves. For a few dollars you can buy long necklaces in the market which are made of the threaded seeds.

Of course I had always heard that apricot seeds contain cyanide. This actually turns out to be true and a quick search on the Internet shows that a number of people die every year from overeating them. Luckily cyanide isn't harmful in sub-lethal quantities, so if you don't overdo it Apricot seeds can be a lovely addition to your snack mix. Also lucky for me I have a sensible wife who said "Maybe you should not eat quite so many of those just in case the rumors are true."

No comments: