These are the colors of autumn, the shades of change as daylight slinks away into the evening of winter and trees halt production in the dwindling light. Leaves shed their green masks and reveal the fiery hues kept dormant through sum-mer. But as the golden and tangerine leaves on Mt. Halla fall, there are some trees that keep their tangerines well into the winter chill: the steadfast Jeju gamgyul, or tangerine tree.
At the Jeju Agriculture Ecology Park, the vibrancy of summer and fall converge in a brilliant display of trees bursting with ripe gamgyul and paths lined with marigolds. I was there to pick my own on a crisp and windy Sunday afternoon. The sun was warm and the sky so clear the moon was already visible.
I was given a tour and taught how to pick (or rather, cut) by a wonderful woman working at the center. “More! Pick more!” she exclaimed, laughing at my humbly under-stuffed bag. She let me taste the gamgyul from a 100-year-old tree that purportedly produces the best-tasting fruit in the whole park – maybe even Jeju, she added. And it was the perfect balance of pucker-inducing tartness and smile-inducing sweetness.
Growing up in the forested north of Michigan, picking fresh fruit has long been a part of my life and a measure of the passing seasons. I could practically identify edible and non-edible berries by the time I could write. But when the cool of autumn rushes in and the leaves fall to the ground, fresh fruit picking is a distant memory. Imagine my thrill when I learned that the famous gamgyul is in season in November and December!
Citrus fruit-picking may well be superior to other kinds of fruit picking. The trees are at a comfortable height, with nearly all the brilliant orange orbs well within reach. Unlike apple picking, where timing is crucial and a late-comer can expect to either scour the ground for un-rotten apples or climb to the weak, teetering branches for a decent specimen, gamgyul trees are bursting with eye-level temptations. All it takes is a snip of your shears and the gamgyul is yours.
I also emerged from the Jeju Agri-culture Ecology Park without any cuts, open gashes, or battle scars. Unlike picking wild raspberries, there is no risk of savage thorns when picking gamgyul. And unlike blueberries, which demand 20 minutes to yield a small handful, after just a few snips you’ve got a bag brim-ming with large, delectable tangerines.
With all the time saved not battling thorny bushes for microscopic berries there is time to explore the sprawling grounds of the park. There is a natural maze next to the green tea fields, Jeju traditional choga houses, Jeju natural dyeing, horticultural greenhouses, and a Jeju special products exhibit. But if you’re like me, you’ll simply want to sit down and revel in fall’s brilliant tangerine colors.
Location: Jeju Agriculture Ecology Park
Address: Jungsangandongno 7413, Namwon-eup, Seogwipo City
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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