Admitting that he has gone “off the deep end trying to get to the core,” Gourmet and Bon Appetit contributor Gollner offers an informative, enlightening account of fruits and their role in human life.
Fruits are produced by as many as 500,000 plant species, all intent on dispersing their seeds, notes the author. A staple of prehistoric diets, they were regarded as delicacies in 16th-century European courts, provided the only safe drink (fruit booze) in early America and were part of Einstein’s formula for joy: “A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin.” Drawing on interviews and travels from Hawaii to Brazil to Asia, Gollner explores a mind-boggling array of fruits—including Rudolph Hass’s avocadoes, Ah Bing’s cherries and the foreign-weirdo-turned-megafruit kiwi—and the way people use them. He brings us into the worlds of growers, wholesalers, marketers, agricultural officials, smugglers and branders (the “Delicious” apple), as well as fruit hunters who seek out rare fruits worldwide—one monomaniacal and semi-demented adventurer still makes trips down the Amazon in a wheelchair—and fruitarians who report transcendental experiences and regular bowel movements. “Every time we eat a fruit, we’re tasting forgotten histories,” he writes, recounting how fruits have fueled wars, inspired religious worship, led to group sex and caused such public sensations as the frenzy among aristocrats when pineapples first arrived in Britain and the outbreak of pear mania in 19th-century America. Gollner’s narrative tends to ramble, but it’s quite pleasant. He notes that fruits today are taken for granted, always available and mediocre. Supermarkets offer few varieties and sell low-grade fruits (waxed to a high sheen for longer shelf life) year round at little or no profit. But big-store produce sections will improve in the future, he believes, as innovative growers focus on flavor and shoppers pay more attention to seasonality.
A fresh, juicy and highly satisfying treat.