Note to Fruit Industry: Drupe Dead
Like poor J. Alfred Prufrock, I no longer dare to eat a peach. But while T.S. Eliot’s antihero came to his conclusion via existential angst, I’ve been driven to mine by an agro-industrial complex that seems determined to wring every last trace of flavor out of drupe fruits. Year-round, there they sit, stacked high in the produce section of my grocery store: perfectly gorgeous orbs that, once you bite into them, resemble cardboard more than anything else. Well, that’s not fair to cardboard. Let’s say mealy, mushy messes. And for this, I’m supposed to shell out $2.49 a pound?
Listen up, you idiots! Give me back my peaches! Whatever you’ve done to them—whatever salmon genes you’ve crossed them with, whatever irradiation you’ve subjected them to, whatever Frankensteinian methods of breeding and cultivation you’ve uncovered in your quest to develop fruit that can take six months to travel from Chile to Philly and look just as pretty when it gets here — cut it the hell out, and just grow the damned things on trees, pick them, put them in boxes, and send them to me. I don’t need them in January, dammit. I don’t need them to be magazine-cover lovely. I just want to be able to enjoy a peach once in a while.
Because, you know, I still remember what peaches are supposed to taste like — how the fuzz tickles your lips as you bite into a drench of juice that trickles down your chin, and how the flesh is smooth and creamy, with a fragrance that’s the very distillation of summer. I remember when a fresh plum made your taste buds crinkle up in startled pleasure with its sweet-sour bite. I remember when a nectarine was as good as ice cream — no, was better, because you could have ice cream any old time, but the season of ripe nectarines was so brief.
Now, I won’t even buy them. Wait, that’s not true. I do buy a few, every summer. I approach those stacks of perfection, pluck a sample fruit, sniff it hopefully — nope, no aroma at all — and put it back. Then I give in, seduced by my memories, and by the siren call of science —“If we can put a man on the moon, surely we can have good peaches in July.” I stick them in my fruit bowl. And I wait for them to ripen, to turn into the peaches of my dreams.
After a week of waiting, I try one—only to discover that, mysteriously, while the outside remains alluring and unblemished, the inside is only fit for the compost bin.
So. Another summer gone, peachless. Next year, I’m not even trying them. I mean it, mega-fruit-growers. You can’t fool me anymore. Pass that substandard stuff off on youngsters who’ve never had a real peach in their lives. God knows there are more and more of them.
Pretty soon, nobody else will be left. Oh, wait — you’re counting on that, aren’t you?
SANDY HINGSTON is a senior editor at Philadelphia magazine.