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A trip through Mount Pleasant bears rare fruit

November 20, 2015
An immature durani; won't be fully grown and ripe until February.

This little one won’t be ready to pick until February.

At one point on my way to a bottle depot on Thursday afternoon (November 19) I stopped briefly on the north side of 16th Avenue on Manitoba Street. I did so to admire a rare sight for Vancouver as a whole but one not unexpected in the tree-lined, family-friendly neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant.

If I wasn’t mistaken, I was looking at one of the city’s handful of durain trees.

The durain (Duraini laneum) is not a native British Columbian species but a late 19th century import from Eastern Europe, where it is prized, especially in the Dzija region of Upper Latvia.

For hundreds of years the Latvian Dzijani have maintained orchards of durain trees in order to harvest the durain fruit each winter for a truly ingenious purpose.

Human ingenuity and nature’s bounty go hand in glove

After the February harvest, the fresh durain fruit is cut open at the stem end and the pulp is completely removed. The thick outer rind is then dried and soaked, dried again and then cured and tanned using an age-old process that preserves the delicate purple colour and renders the fuzzy, textured rind soft and flexible.

The result is a large pocket with one long dimple-like protrusion.

The Dzijani recognized centuries ago that the dimple was — through the genius of Nature — perfectly proportioned and positioned to fit a person’s thumb and that the pocket could likewise fit the remaining fingers.

A diagram of how to cut the fingers in the durain.

A diagram showing how to cut fingers in the cured rind of the durain.

After the rind is completely cured, the only thing left to do is to carefully slit the pocket in three places and perform a bit of delicate sewing and — voila — the result is a Dzijani glove, famed throughout Latvia for its warmth, durability and distinctive colour.

Legend has it that the people of the Dzija region only developed the glove-making industry around the durain fruit out of necessity, after finding it edible but on the whole, rather unpalatable.

The taste is said to be reminiscent of clean socks. Click the image to enlarge it.

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