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The Fruit Hunters

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“People who are passionate about fruits — hunters, cultivators, smugglers — are often as eccentric as their quarry,” writes Mary Roach in a New York Times review of “The Fruit Hunters,” by Adam Leith Gollner (6/1/08). Those eccentrics might include Queen Victoria, who “is said to have offered knighthood to anyone who brought her fresh mangosteens from Asia.” They would certainly include Adam himself, who travels to Borneo and Thailand in search of rare and exotic fruit. These would include an “orange that tastes like chicken noodle soup and the exploding variety of pomegranate” and of course the ever-popular “miracle fruit … which makes everything eaten afterward taste sweet.”

Adam’s book is not about “adventure-travel-with-fruit,” however, because as he discovered, the best fruit “are not those untouched by man, they are those that have been fussed over for hundreds or thousands of years, selectively bred to be sweeter, bigger, fleshier.” Wild peaches, notes Adam are “an acrid pea-sized pellet” while “feral bananas are filled with tooth-shattering seeds.” The irony is that no sooner do we breed these fruit to perfection than we start breeding them “back into unpalatability. Supermarket-bound fruit has long been engineered for looks, durability and a long life span.”

The result, writes Adam, “is Stepford Fruits: gorgeous replicants that look perfect, feel like silicon implants and taste like tennis balls, mothballs, or mealy, juice-less cotton wads.” And this is how he describes the cold-storage facilities designed to store apples: “With an atmosphere similar to Neptune’s, these warehouses are the sort of gelid death chambers befitting Walt Disney’s head.” Fortunately, such travesties have not totally eclipsed innovation, for example the possibilities of grafting. Adam writes, for instance, about a farmer in Chile who “recently made headlines with a tree that bears plums, peaches, cherries, apricots, almonds and nectarines.” ~ Tim Manners, editor