City

Timun suri', fruit of Ramadan

Harvest time: Farmer Lili, 35, picks a yellow cucumber from his plot of land in Kembangan, West Jakarta, on Monday. JP/Novia Tirtarahayu Tijaja

As the fasting month of Ramadan approaches, the city and groups of farmers have anticipated some traditional cuisines including various drinks made of lemon cucumber, or locally known as timun suri.

Lemon cucumber is a member of the gourd family widely available in Jakarta during the Ramadan fasting month.

The fruit is usually served with ice and syrup to make a sweet thirst quencher for breaking the fast.

One of the most famous timun suri producers in the city is Kembangan area, West Jakarta, where fruit vendors can be seen almost everywhere during the fasting month, which will start next week.

However, farmers are complaining about the current climate change, which has affected their harvest, saying the fruits will not be optimum quality.

"Some crop failure this year is due to the unpredictable rain that has caused the fruit buds to rot," Lili, a 35-year-old farmer, said, adding this could increase the fruit's price this season.

There are at least 10 people who grow timun suri in about 400-square-meters of land located across the West Jakarta mayor office building. The farmers are mostly Betawi people, who have passed the farming methods from generation to generation.

"My grandfather has been growing timun suri in this area from the 1970s and it's now my turn to carry on the tradition," Lili, who has planted timun suri for 20 years, said.

The farmers usually plant the fruit two months before the fasting month, so they could harvest them at the beginning of Ramadan.

"The reason we plant them is because we don't have to take care of the plant as much as others when we are fasting," Lili, the father of two who lives in North Kembangan district, said.

Timun suri only needs watering the first 15 days after it is planted, while other plants require watering two times each day until harvest time.

Farmers usually get the seeds from the chosen timun suri harvested from the previous season.

Lili usually could harvest up to 500 fruits in a season, while during the fasting month they could be harvested around 10 times.

"But this season, we will only be able to have 300 fruits from each harvest," he said.

Lili sells the fruit from between Rp 5,000 (60 US cents) and Rp 15,000 per piece, depending on its size.

He said he sold the fruits to a wholesaler who distributed them across Jakarta, from Tanah Abang in Central Jakarta to Kalibata in South Jakarta. While not planting timun suri, Lili grows other crops such as spinach and mustard greens.

Another Betawi farmer in the area, Haj Rohib, 50, grows timun suri as a side job.

"I plant them for additional money. My main income is from renting rooms," Rohib said, adding that farming was recreational activity for him. The father of five said that the land where they cultivated did not belong to them, but to PT Permata Buana, which had allowed them to use its idle land.

"The owner could evict us at anytime," he said.

Rohib said he did not want to plant timun suri if it was not for Ramadan because the selling price could drop to half during regular months. (not)

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