Sunday, 31 January 2016

Looks similar but different: Pisang Rastali versus Pisang Raja Udang

At a glance they may look similar but they are different in taste and texture as well as the pisang rastali being smaller than pisang raja udang..  Both fruits have a brownish design over the yellow skin but that is where the similarities end.

The Pisang Rattail is sweet with subtle undertone of sourness and when not fully ripen, will have a distinct "kelat" taste when not fully ripen.  When fully ripen, there should be no more green areas on the banana.  The bananas pictured above will be fully ripen in about 1 day.  The flesh is almost "fluffy" and relatively dry and is cream in colour.  This fruit is more often eaten raw but due to its "fluffy" texture and sweetness, is also a favourite for making banana cakes and muffins.

In comparison, the Pisang Raja Udang has a very sweet and sour taste - almost in equal measure.  The flesh is dense and has more moisture and is yellow in color.  When not fully ripen or harvested when not fully matured, the sour taste will overshadow the sweetness hence locally, it is also known as Pisang Masam or Sour Banana.  When harvested properly and fully ripen, the sweet taste is stronger than the sour taste.  This fruit is eaten raw or works well in fried banana dumplings. due to its taste and moistness.  It can also be used to make a dessert, serawa pisang or bananas cooked with a sweet coconut gravy.  It is also an option for banana splits.

So, be sure to pick the right banana for what you want or you may be disappointed in the outcome :)

Monday, 25 January 2016

Pisang Emas or Lemak Manis: Which is which?

Often I see and hear the argument of which is which between pisang emas and pisang lemak manis as well as pisang lemak manis labelled as pisang emas.   When buying them, please do not press or squeeze them to as this will bruise the fruit.  You can tell the ripeness of the fruit from the appearance.

There is a difference in taste and appearance.  The pisang emas has a honey-like sweetness to it when ripe as opposed to pisang lemak manis which has a sugary sweetness to it with a subtle sour undertone.  With their smaller sizes, they are great as a breakfast fruit - one that my son loves to have - and easily finished.  Full of natural goodness and fiber.  For children, they can eat it at one go so you won't be left with half a banana to store.  It is also easy for them to hold and normally my son will have a couple of fruits.  Rich in vitamin B6 as well as magnesium and other mineral, it is great for a growing boy.  A key function of magnesium is to aid in the absorption of calcium which is critical for strong bones in my son - and for adults as well.  Amongst the important benefits of vitamin B6 that I aim for is the proper brain development and function.

When not fully ripe, the pisang emas skin has a yellowish green colour versus a light green of the pisang lemak manis.  You can see the colour at the top of the banana the colour difference.   For both varieties, when the skin has turned yellow with some areas slightly green, it is ready to be eaten and considered ripe.  If bought at this stage, the banana can last about 1 week before it becomes overly ripe.  The flesh of the bananas are yellow with pisang emas being more golden in the inside hence the name.  As it ripens, the flesh will become softer before becoming "mushy" when over-ripe where at this stage it is perfect for making cucur kodok or fried banana dumplings.
L: Pisang Emas, R: Pisang Lemak Manis

Top: Pisang Lemak Manis, Bottom: Pisang Emas
To start with, the size of the fruits are different: pisang lemak manis (average 8.5cm long) is larger than pisang emas (average 6 cm).    Pisang lemak manis also has a "rounder" appearance.  A quick check when buying is to measure it against your index finger.  If it is longer  than your index finger, it is pisang lemak manis.  If it is shorter than your index finger, it is probably pisang emas.

The skin of the pisang emas is thinner and more delicate than pisang lemak manis.  If the pisang emas is not just ripe, the skin will tend to stick to the flesh making it more difficult to peel.  Pisang lemak manis has a thicker peel so it is more forgiving.

Both the varieties are popular and not easily found in supermarkets but can be found in fruit stalls in wet markets and at the roadsides.  So, go ahead and enjoy our local either bananas which are natural and may it bring all the great health benefits with it for you :)

Thursday, 7 January 2016

SHL 2016: What we are

Many have visited our farm during our events and many have asked about our farm.  This farm was born out of my passion for edibles and therapeutic plants and trees as well as to prepare for my old age.  Since I have always been busy and active, I couldn't envision myself without activity once I reached the retirement age and forced to retire.  So, I opted to leave the corporate world and begin an adventure in natural organic farming - producing quality, healthy produce in an integrated farm
environment, maximising nature's bounty and maintaining an environmental balance.  One of the underlying core principles of the farm is to work with the natural resources and not destroy it.  The farm is slightly over 1 hectare (2.5 acres) in size and is located in Sg. Liu, Hulu Langat.  It took me 10 years to find the right piece of land, one that met my criteria.  Amongst the criteria was the location must be under 2 hours from K.L., availability of infrastructure (road, electricity, communications, etc.) as well as an abundance of one of the most basic resources: fresh, natural, uncontaminated water.  Anything else is considered as a bonus.  When I first got the land, you can play Tarzan - it was jungle-like with vines hanging from trees that was thick and strong enough for you to swing on.

After a challenging 7 years, today the farm is an integrated farm that produces natural, organic produce from fruits and vegetables, chicken and eggs, to fresh water fish as well as organic fertilisers and sprays as well as seeds and plants.  We have a very lean operation with  2 workers working with me.  This means that I am very hands-on.  Most of the seeding and planting as well as quite a bit of the maintenance work is done by me.  Being a stickler, I have specific things that I want done specific ways so my workers are there mainly to assist me and to take basic care of the farm and its inhabitants when I am not there.  It is pretty much on a small scale still but we hope to be able to bump up production substantially this year.  We sell our produce at the Sg. Penchala Sunday morning market and throughout the years, we have built relationships with our customers, many of whom are our regulars.

Another aim of the farm is to preserve our banana diversity.  We do not have any genetically modified bananas but focus on the many wonderful varieties of local bananas - many of which are difficult to find in the market.  We more than 25 varieties of local bananas and week to week, we have different varieties of bananas.  We have managed to weather the various problems that have occurred with the banana plant diseases and continue to be able to grow them healthily.  Of course we take quite a few preventive measures.  It is gratifying when people come to us looking for the rarer species.

Over the years, I have experimented with papaya trees and have finally settled to the few varieties that we have which are sweet and the flesh is either red, orange or like cantoloupe in colour.  Not all the papaya trees produce fruits - we have both male and female plants.  The male plants are for the flowers and leaves.  Our other fruit trees include rambutan, pulasan cempedak, nangka, mangosteen, mata kucing, pomegranate, soursop, jambu madu, lime, calamansi and abiu.  Not all have made it to market as they are enjoyed by family and friend, and some have just started to "learn" to fruit.

Chemical pesticide free vegetables are important to me and since I began the farm, I have planted many varieties and got to enjoy many of them.  I have learnt a lot regarding growing them, caring for them, soil composition and fertilising.  Looking forward to 2016, we are getting more organised in producing them as well as hope to have finally obtained the rhythm so we can have a continuous supply for our weekly market.  By not introducing toxic chemicals, I have discovered that many varieties of vegetables can be eaten raw where it is at its best.

I never used to enjoy fresh water fish like catfish (keli), tilapia and lampam.  I always associated the muddy taste as well as a strong, unpleasant smell with them.    With the availability of fresh, clean, uncontaminated water at the farm as well as the natural contour of the land at the farm, I had a fish pond built albeit it is not like the many fish ponds that you see at the fish farms.  Our fish pond resembles a flowing river with water flowing in and out all day long, every day.  Without feeding the fish wastes like chicken innards, carcasses, etc. like many fish farmers do and keeping the water clean, our fish tastes great without any muddy taste and a natural sweetness to it.  The ultimate test was when I have friends and customers who have steamed them and said that they taste good.  If you are familiar with steamed fish, you know how unforgiving it is if the fish is not fresh or good.  Our plan this year is to be able to bring fresh catfish once a month to market and to be able to produce about 10 kg of smoked catfish per month.  Both these items are a favourite with our customers so our aim is to be able to be consistent.  The tilapia and sampan will take longer to bring to market.

Another area of interest that I have and which I pursue is the area of herbals and therapeutic plants.  Over the years, I have collected and planted many plants from all over our country.  I enjoy using these natural flavourings in cooking, eating them as a salad as well as producing teas.  We have numeric, white basil, Thai basil, Holy basil, Small galangal, citronella, lemon grass, cekur, belalai gajah, misai kucing - to name a few.  When I walk around the farm, I graze a lot - picking a leaf here, a leaf there, a fruit here and a fruit there.  It feels great to be able to do that without worrying what chemicals are on it.

We have all sorts of other plants and trees not mentioned in this article but covering them all would make this article too long.  From time to time, we have open farm days where we accept visitors and have our produce on sale at the farm.    Due to the lean operations and the workload, we do not have daily or weekly visiting hours.  Weekdays are filled with our farm operation activities and weekends are busy with preparing for market and going to market as I am particular regarding the freshness of our produce.  Moving forward in 2016, we hope to be able to increase our yields, work more efficiently and get the infinite satisfaction from producing quality, healthy great tasting produce.