Article from the Tropical Fruit News magazine of the Miami Rare Fruit Council International
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.

Like 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 fruits.

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.

Some very 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 variety.

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.

The '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

Closing note

A 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.

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Howe, Steve. "Letter from Big Pine Key: Carambola Tales." Tropical Fruit News, Miami Rare Fruit Council. Dec. 1994. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.

Published 21 Apr. 2017 LR
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