Today I had a new experience. I was standing in my front yard talking with my landlady and her husband through an interpreter – a guy from work named Misha – when suddenly the husband reached up and grabbed a tree branch, pulling it down so Misha could pluck a fruit from it. “Pluck” is a word that seems strange to me since I don’t normally engage in any activities that involve plucking, whether it be picking fruit, cleaning a chicken, or playing a string instrument.
Misha hands me the fruit and explains to me that I am expected to eat it. He asks if we have any in the US. This fruit is a little yellow thing, with a perfect, picturesque little stem, covered in a thin coating of kicked-up ground dust.
No, I explain, I don’t recognize this thing. Could it be some kind of peach? But the skin is smooth, like an apple’s. The color is yellow like a lemon. Can you eat it?
Yes, you can eat it, Misha says. To demonstrate he yanks one off the branch and bites into it, as though this were the most normal thing in the world.
I’m a city kid. I grew up in a town of eight million – that’s almost twice Georgia’s entire population – and we didn’t eat fruit off trees, or have chickens in our yard, or cows walking down the street. I got my fruits from the supermarket. I’ve never eaten something I found growing outside my house. But I came to Georgia to have just this kind of experience.
To be honest*, my grandfather had an orange tree outside his house in Florida. We definitely ate oranges from that tree – he used to mail us some – but I never actually watched him pull one off the tree. Apparently when they were ready, they just fell on the ground or something, and he gathered them up and gave them away (that is, the ones he didn’t eat himself).
But the point remains. I am so used to buying already-processed food – food that has been cleaned, sprayed, checked, shipped, possibly frozen and then thawed, and perfectly sanitized – food that has, in effect, passed through an institution – that I actually hesitated to eat this stuff because the idea of eating something that hadn’t been through the Food Institution was just so unfamiliar.
And that’s a thing about American culture. We in America are brought up to have a certain amount of faith in Institutions. The government, the church, the school system, the various industries that bring us our finished products – these are the things that we put our faith in, and for most Americans, “nature” is not one of the institutions that we pay any heed to. When we are kids, food just sort of comes out of nowhere – we start off alienated from the source of our nourishment – and then most of us progress directly to having a job and buying food, with money. Few Americans have the experience of working on a farm, and although more Americans have gardens or trees of some sort, it’s still not excessively common especially in the uber-urbanized megalopolis that is New York City.
I’d like to say that all this passed through my mind as I stood there contemplating this strange new fruit, but instead, I just felt a vague sense of unease that was overcome by my desire not to insult my Georgian hosts or seem like the fastidious, neurotic New Yorker that I am. And Misha said that he loved the fruit.
So I ate this fruit. I wiped it off on my shirt to get rid of the dust. Then it was glossy and delicious-looking. I took a bite out of it. I can’t say that it was pleasant – it had a vaguely peanut-esque flavor, the skin was a little on the bitter side, and the flesh wasn’t anything to write home about. I figured out that the skin was the part that wasn’t doing it for me, though, and tried to surruptitiously peel some off, but like an apple’s skin, it was pretty solidly joined to the flesh.
Then Misha tells me that in a week this fruit will start to become ripe. Doesn’t one typically wait until fruit ripens before eating it? Misha explains that the fruit will become softer and sweeter. Great. So now he tells me. However, I was getting used to the weird skin taste, and getting at more of the flesh, and I’m actually starting to enjoy it. Plus, I did something I’d never done before and survived, which always gives me a vague sense of accomplishment. Did I mention that the flesh was sort of dark pink, like an angry grapefruit?
Anyway, I decided to take a few pictures, so people would believe me and also so someone could identify this fruit for me. And after I finished it, I started contemplating what sorts of recipes I could make out of it. I think that it would make a really good sorbet, which means that now I have to learn how to make sorbet. Well, there are worse things in life. 🙂
Maybe I could also turn some into some kind of jam or preserve, and bring it home to the States for people to try. My work never ends.
*Interesting linguistic note: as I reread this post, this phrase – “to be honest” – jumped out at me as something that I picked up from the Georgians that I’ve been spending time around. I do tend to absorb words and phrases from other people very quickly, and this is not the first time I’ve noticed myself picking something up from Georgians. I just have to be careful not to pick up too many non-American idioms in my English, otherwise I won’t be teaching Georgians American English anymore and my utility as a teacher will decrease.