(Sorry, all my lovely photos are corrupted and can’t be moved into this post…)
Over the years, I’ve sent many readers to Frankie’s Nursery in Waimanalo, renowned for its collection of rare and hard-to-find fruit trees, dwarf varieties suitable for small yards and lanais and knowledgeable free advice handed out by Frankie Sekiya and co-owner Lynn Tsuruda.
Finally, last Saturday afternoon, I made it out to Frankie’s myself, with my friend Ken Love of Captain Cook, a well-known fruit expert and agricultural activist. (See previous blog.) The seven acres of hills, ravines, orchards and greenhouses, overlooked by the spiny backside of Mount Olomana, proved to be a refreshing, educational and peaceful place to spend a sunny afternoon.
Shy but hospitable, Sekiya cut open a a ripe Yanni avocado, creamy smooth and buttery flavored, for us to try. Then it was time for me to give Ken a laugh: He challenged me to try durian, the storied stinkfruit of Indonesia, so nauseatingly scented when ripe that you famously cannot take it on an airplane. Fortunately for me, the only specimens Sekiya had at the time were not yet fully ripe, and didn’t smell like much at all. He struggled to sink an ax into the spiny-skinned green, football-sized fruit, splitting it in two with strong hands and exposing the custard-like meat, which resembles nothing so much as a cream-colored lobe of lizard brain. The flavor is —well, — interesting; as though you’d caramelized green onions in brown sugar (which is not at all as unpleasant as it sounds). Later, I would try a sharply spiked smaller dorian cousin from Borneo, durio graveolens. Frankie said it would taste like Cheese Whiz but I didn’t get that; it was sweeter and silky textured.
While Love met up with a friend to discuss a writing project, I poked through the boxes of fruit and spices for sale on the Sekiya’s lanai (Lynn had dried cloves and nutmeg, green peppercorns and home-grown vanilla beans, as well as vanilla extract made by a Tahitian friend). After making some purchases, I wandered the rows of plants and groves and gullys of randomly planted fruit trees, taking pictures.
Later, I tagged along with Frankie and a customer as they through the filtered light and shade, identifying each tree as though they were old friends. He showed me cha-on, an acacia, cousin of the koa tree, whose sweet shoots are enjoyed by people in Indonesia. They taste almost like pea shoots and are used in stir fries and soups.
We tasted garlic bean, a soybean-like green bean that roughly like garlic, prized in Malaysia and Indonesia. I gingerly nibbled a wax rose, a triangular fruit that was perhaps the tartest thing I’ve ever tasted and that looked like something you’d see in a sci-fi movie. I met a bilimbi, what Filipinos call camias or pias, the based for tart soup stocks. Ken makes something called Fruit and Fire with bilimbi and Rangoon lime, an achar-type relish (achar is a generic name for salty, tart pickles favored in India and elsewhere).
Frankie leads such impromptu tours whenever he has time (call ahead if you’re looking for something special or want to book a group tour).
Every once in a while, I would catch sight of a couple who had arrived equipped with plastic bags and sun hats and were picking fruit as they came across it. They started with jacoticaba, grape-size, grape-colored tart fruit that grows right out of the tree bark. Frankie’s encourages U-Pick customers, who have their plunder weighed afterward and pay (cash only) on the lanai.
We took our leave after sampling a glass of delicious araca boi juice (sourfruit, heavily sweetened) — delicious. I’ll be going back.
Frankie’s Nursery, 41-999 Mahiku Pl., 259-8737, Mon–Sun 9am–4:30, call to check hours and ask for directions.