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The Perfect Fruit
(article, Chip Brantley)
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h3. From Chapter 1
Most days during the workweek, I ate lunch alone at a French-Vietnamese diner on National Boulevard. I sat on a stool at the bar and read for a while from a book or worked the crossword puzzle in a Times left on the counter. On Tuesdays during the summer, though, I usually walked over to the Culver City Farmers' Market in the afternoon.
These stone-fruit recipes are from the Culinate Kitchen collection. Both will work well with pluots.
They held it on one sidewalk of a small park downtown. The selection was limited, but there was enough to cobble together a lunch, and the market always made for good people-watching: small kids kicking around the grass; their parents and nannies flirting; old people sitting in the chairs in front of the small stage where light jazz and funk bands played; and professionals lingering, on lunch break from the growing number of tech companies and furniture galleries and ad agencies in the area.
A kettle-corn cart anchored one end of the market, and it was neighbored on one side by a coffee trailer and on the other by a bakery that marketed its loaves by giving away thick, buttered slices. In the middle of the market, among vegetable stands, a beekeeper sold honey and a woman displayed home-composting kits. At the other end of the park, closest to the community center, fish was sold out of a truck. Between the burrito stand and the Italian-ice man were some tables where you could buy fruit.
I should interrupt this scene and mention here my general distaste for conversion stories. It's not that I don't believe in being swept away or consumed by something or seeing the light or any of those other phrases we use to describe that vital lurch from ignorance to enlightenment. It's more that, in those stories of life's revelatory turning points, the action leading up to the critical moment too often feels contrived, the timing rigged, the light seen retroactively shone.
Let it be known, then, that I am aware that when I tell people about my discovery of the pluot — how it was a warm summer day in southern California, just weeks after I had begun dating the woman I would later marry, but still how I felt empty, distracted, baffled, dispersed, a searcher whose future seemed so unfigured and unaddressed, and how these incompatible feelings were rattling anxiously around inside me and then how, like a winter swim, one piece of fruit cleared all the mess away — it does sound a little like an arc manufactured after the fact to give some transformative drama to an otherwise plain moment.
h1. About the book and author
Combining memoir, reporting, science, and history, The Perfect Fruit is the fruit of one man's obsession with the pluot, a modern fruit developed in California from plums and apricots.
A food writer and former cheesemaker, Chip Brantley is the co-founder of the food website Cookthink.
Copyright © 2009 by Chip Brantley. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury USA.
Because the truth is that the moment was plain enough. I was warm and hungry, and it looked like a plum. It was a soft, dark yellow piece of fruit. When I bit into it, it felt almost liquid, like plum jelly. I ate it outside the fruit tent, bent forward, dripping juice onto the pavement, and I used my two front teeth to scrape off the flesh that clung to the pit. I can't remember what it tasted like, really, except that it was so sweet. A moment later, I was right back in front of the woman who had sold me the fruit.
"What is this?" I asked her, and then didn't wait for her answer. "What do you call it?"
I am large and excitable, and I had, at that moment, the fruity rush of sugar in me. She was small and she spoke English only so-so. She shook her head and looked worried. She may have even recoiled. She didn't know what it was called. Part plum, though. Maybe it was coming from Bakersfield? Maybe I ask next week? Maybe other know then better?
Next week, I thought. Next week. Okay. I can wait a week.
She had other plum-like fruits there, though. She pointed at them. One was purplish and oblong. Another was pink, mottled with green, like something out of Willy Wonka. How had I not seen these just minutes before? I thought.
I took five pounds of the fruit back to the office in two plastic grocery bags. Ecstatic about the discovery but slightly panicked about having missed them until then, I called Elizabeth and told her about my find, then spent the rest of the afternoon gunning around the Internet for information on these fruits. But no luck: How do you look for something you can't name?
Later that week, though, at another farmers' market, I found their name. I'd been to this market many times before, but had never noticed the sign hanging above four crates of fruit, on which someone had spelled out P-L-U-O-T-S.
[%image feature-image float=right width=400 caption="A selection of pluots, including (clockwise from top left) Dapple Dandy (aka Dinosaur Egg), Flavor Grenade, two red Flavor Kings, Dapple Fire, and a dark Flavor Rich."]
I tried to keep it casual, as if the word were not new to me, and, feeling somewhat justified for having majored in French, I asked the man at the stand what the story was with the "plew-ohs."
He looked over at me and said, "PLEW-ott. PLUH-um and ay-prick-OT. Plu-ots."
"Pluots," I said, turning it over in my mouth.
They were, he said, three-quarters plum and one-quarter apricot. Most of them were grown a couple of hours north in the San Joaquin Valley, the vast inland basin of California I had experienced mostly on the fly along its western edge, the long, dry route of I-5 I had driven many times, back and forth between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
When I thought about those few times I'd visited the interior of the Valley — a movie set in Bakersfield, a Saturday-night bullfight in Madera, a brewpub in Fresno on the way to the Sierras — I could kind of picture citrus groves, but I was fairly sure that I had seen neither plums nor apricots on the trees. As a child of the suburbs from a part of the country thriving in neither fruit, I'm not even sure I knew that plums and apricots grew on trees. That a hybrid of the two fruits could exist was astounding.
There were many varieties of pluot, the guy at the market was saying, each with a microseason. They had names like Flavor King, Flavor Queen, and Flavor Supreme.
"What's the best one?" I asked.
"Flavor King," he said, matter-of-factly. "Hands down."