Monday, July 14, 2008

Bad fruit grows on trees

I’m really disappointed with the state of fruit in America. Here it is, summertime, and I can’t get a good plum. I miss that perfect mix of tangy and sweet, a tough smooth skin on the outside and a pucker of juice pouring though the skin when pierced.

My friend Mike gave me a pile of plums from his backyard. That was very nice of him. He has two or three varieties of plums, all of which look like oversized cherries. You see them hanging from trees across California.

He brought over a mix of red and purple plums and about a dozen greenies. I opened the oversized Target bag in which they arrived and salivated with glee. He’d told me about how good they were, so I picked up a little purple plum and gnawed into it. A beautiful red flush of juice accompanied my bite, but it tasted like a Winn Dixie plum: bad. Mushy, wet, slightly sweet, with almost no tart flavor. I tossed the rest of the plum into the open trash can and picked up another, this time with a reddish hue, and a little firmer skin. I took a bite and cringed. Sour and squishy.

I figured I was just having back luck, so I pulled out one of the green plums, almost the color of a bright sprig of grass. I examined its slightly chalky coloration – that unexplained film that plums seem to possess – and wiped it on my shirt. I took a bite. I took another bite. It was firm. It was slightly dry. It was very tangy. It was horrible.

Out with the recipes. My mom was in town when the Target plastic bag full of plums arrived from Mike. I voiced my displeasure with the three tastes I’d had and she immediately found a solution in the webpages of and Food Network. We were going to make a plum tart or plum jam, or maybe a plum cobbler or crisp. So she chopped up the plums – all three shades – and tossed the pits into the compost bin. Worried that the plum crisp recipe would be too sweet, she used only about one-half of the sugar that was to be added to the batter, took some walnuts I handed her to sprinkle on top, and put the concoction into the oven.

While the thing baked, I thought about the pleasure and displeasure of fruit. I like it dried. I like it freeze dried. I like it shaped into little fruit bars and added to salads. And I like it fresh when it’s really, really good. Give me cherries, peaches or apricots, but don’t give me bad ones. Years of bad bananas finally made me turn away from that chalky fruit. A wonderful cantaloupe thrilled me for two days last week, but the next one I bought tasted like a supermarket cantaloupe – bland and musky. A super-sweet watermelon I downed in New Hampshire a few weeks ago happily substituted for any cake I would otherwise have craved, but the watermelon I purchased in San Francisco tasted like water and melon. Give me cake.

The plum crisp that my mom baked tasted like a mix of cough syrup, lemon, and red food coloring, mixed with clumps of powder and stale nuts (I don’t blame her for that, and I don’t blame Mike either). I couldn’t eat more than a few bites. And when I turned away from the languishing cobbler, I took another look at that big Target bag of fruit. Another hundred plums to deal with.

Over the last few days about a dozen of those plums rotted, skipping the delightful brandied prune stage and going right to oozing wet rot. I pulled one little purple plum out of the batch. It remained blemish-free and firm enough to swell as I wrapped my mouth around it for a bite. It wasn’t too bad. Not great, but not too bad. I would eat more like that.

And dear Mike, whose inexhaustible tree continues to burgeon with fruit, has offered more plums. I may take him up on the offer. I might try one of the other recipes my mom dug up.

In the meantime, I’m addicted to Black Velvet apricots, which seem to be fuzzy little purple plums that are so packed with sugar, a whole pitcher of iced tea could be sweetened by one falling to the bottom. My friend Jesse just turned me on to Trader Joe’s frozen mango chunks, that were delightful enough to finish off in a couple of days. I will continue to buy fresh cherries until there are no more, hoping that one out of ten is sweet. I will pick the most perfect blackberries that grow in the back yard, pulling out a handful from the thorns each afternoon until summer is over, soothing my scratches with moisturizing cream.

Summer will end. We’ll be stuck with the apples that fall brings. Abundant and hard and dull, apples are a compromise we’re forced to accept until the stone fruit trees blossom again next spring and we can begin our seach anew for the perfect bite of fruit.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Bobbie's in town

Time for the annual 4th of July bowl over your face photo (this is what we do when we're incredibly bored in San Francisco on cold summer days).....

Can you figure out which is the mother and which is the son?
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