Another mysterious grower whose farm sits high on a hillside, in this case overlooking the San Gabriel Valley, is Jerry Dimitman, who turns 90 this month. A retired professor of plant pathology from Cal Poly Pomona, he has planted a famous collection of lychee, longan, wampi and pummelo trees, many of them huge, mature specimens of rare varieties. He sells the fruits, with the aid of his children, at the Alhambra farmers market, where the mostly Asian American customers form long lines, appreciative of the freshness of his offerings.
Last week he started bringing lychees, with bright red shells and juicy, sweet-tart flesh. Lychees are one of the most emblematic fruits of southern China, where they are grown in vast quantities and exported to the United States from May to July; these often are sold cheaply, undercutting producers in Florida and Mexico, who have objected that most of the Chinese fruits are treated with sulfur dioxide gas, which maintains the rosy color and soft texture of lychee skins during shipping. As is so often the case with long-stored fruits, however, the pristine appearance of treated lychees long outlasts optimal flavor.