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Exotic Fruits And Vegetables: Can We Trust Them?
by Marjorie Dorfman

An irreverent look at the surge of tropical fruits and vegetables that have found their way to our local supermarkets.

When Shakespeare wrote, "there are more things in heaven and earth, dear Horatio, than your philosophy will allow," he wasn’t kidding. He wasn’t referring to fruit either, and yet whenever I visit my local supermarket, I am amazed at the myriad of strange edibles that have found their way there. I see melons with horns and other odd ingestables with dangling and foreboding appendages. They seem to have roving eyes that watch me carefully as I pass the produce counters, but perhaps I am imagining this. Still, I question whether our Creator in The Grand Design hasn’t made some terrible mistake. Or is it the fault of the produce manager? Some of these tropical anomalies look like characters from a sci-fi movie whose director drank. Maybe the produce manager does too, but who am I to say?

Lately I have tried to make friends with (or at least become familiar with) the names of some of these strange things. I have even tasted one or two. I don’t know how close I should get and I do wonder why I feel so daring. It’s not time to smell the roses or the coffee or anything like that. Perhaps I have reached nirvana and become more curious, like all of my seven cats. We all know what curiosity did to the poor little cat, but I am a slow learner. Some things never change.

The first item whose acquaintance I made was called "celeraic." It must have a past it’s trying to escape from because it also has an alias, "celery root." (It may have a police record as well, but I can’t be sure of that.) I was drawn to this bizarre looking creation because I am also a writer of horror stories and this looks like something I might have put in one of them. My sick mind conjures an image of mummified brain matter. The only question I can ask must be: Whose life was it anyway? I have since learned that it has no dangerous intentions and is tasty fare when eaten raw or cooked with soups and stews.

"Star fruit" is another one with a past and a secret nom de plume. Also known as "Carambola," it was introduced by the Portuguese who brought it via India to Africa and South America. Carambola is a Portuguese word meaning "appetizer." Its greenish yellow skin is attractive, but its body resembles a pod, or something the Mother Pod shed on it way to the non-tropical world (namely, my supermarket). Some are so fragrant they make the whole house smell wonderful and some smell so bad they cannot be transported on busses or planes. For an edible with only forty calories and one gram of fat, it should be a good choice for a snack, but…can… we…trust it? I’m sure it tastes divine, but how does one eat something that looks like it came from outer space? Don’t tell me to close my eyes. I’m from Brooklyn. I can’t do that.

According to Will Rogers, he "never met a man he didn’t like." Well, I have never encountered a "pepino" that I didn’t enjoy. It is the only tropical fruit in this irreverent study that I have actually dared to taste. At $3.99 per melon, this soft, sweet fruit from the Andes tastes like a cross between a cucumber and a honeydew melon and varies in size from a smallish ball to a cantaloupe. Pepinos can be eaten raw in breakfast dishes. At that price, however, these tasty melons should be sold with the plate and perhaps a table setting as well!

I may eat a pepino here and there, but have you ever in your whole life heard of a "pluot"? No, it is not a new computer virus or another animated dog from the world of Disney. It is a hybrid cross between a plum and an apricot. The first one I saw had a reddish, marbled exterior, but there are many varieties, with skin color ranging from deep purple to pale green. Some have wonderful names, like Dapple Dandy, Flavor Grenade, Flavor Gem and Flavor Heart. The one that caught my eye reminded me of a pair of sandals I once had that were covered with white paint specks. (Don’t ask me how that happened!) I picked up this smooth little number and held it to my nose. I have to say my sandals never could have passed such a test. Still, the coloration was so strange that it reminded me of a rounded piece of marble. And now here’s the important question: How does one digest marble?

Let’s not forget to mention those orange melons with little horns all over them that are known to the pros as "kiwanos". These African horned melons as they are sometimes called (see the alias pattern here?) have been known to civilization for more than 3,000 years! They are usually eaten raw, have a rich color and are very attractive. But why…do they need those horns? Whose side are they really on? Can we ever be friends? Will they ever sit one day in a grand insalada on my kitchen table alongside the likes of Mister Mango, Senor Kiwi and Master Papaya?

Tune in again next week, same time, same station for the answers. And in between hold that kumquat, mince that mango and juice that guava. Perhaps Mr. Dacus-dorsalis-Herd, better known as the Oriental Fruitfly, will join us for lunch. Now there’s a creature that really needs an alias! Perhaps it is only he or she whom we should fear.

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Copyright 2004