Sunday, June 21, 2009

Soft Fruit

This will seem silly, I know, but I can not help but celebrate Spring, here while I have the chance, by singing something in praise of soft fruit. Annually, my friends, family and coworkers are subjected to this unbridled enthusiasm of mine for pitted fruit. Come June, my daily conversation tends to degenerate into comparisons of peaches, disquisitions on the true ripeness of a given cherry, raptures over apricots, and longish speculations in happy anticipation of plums and pluots, plucots and apriums yet to come. Nothing in the calendar quite compares. I am happiest, I think, with the juice of a ripe peach running down my arm, with another five or six still to be studied in the bowl, only to be taken up at the moment when the flesh is perfectly sweet, or whenever I've finished the first. I am not one for the out-of-doors,I have no interest in wandering orchards. I am content with supermarkets, except when it comes to wandering Sunday Farmer's Markets, in search of perfect, sweet, soft, yielding fruit. For good peaches, I will walk a mile, no little undertaking for a man making his lunch every day for a week, as I've just done, exclusively of fruit. And I smoke, so imagine the shape I'm in.

One fantasy common to bookstore employees is inventing books that no one has actually felt the need of, to date. My idea of a winning anthology would be a collection of the best fruit writing. Poems other than that dreary refrigerator note of William Carlos Williams on the plum he ate, must be out there, just waiting to be lovingly gathered into a book and preserved like jugged raspberries, to be opened in the bleak winters of dull apples and unchanging oranges. I would not, of course, exclude the good Granny Smith from my book, or refuse an ode to the banana, but really, I would favor my favorites wherever I might. And there are possibilities among the poets, though most, foolishly by my lights, use fruit only as a metaphor for less immediately rewarding, human love. Old James Whitcomb Riley comes here to mind, with his insistence that

"The ripest peach is highest on the tree,
And so mine eyes gaze upward eagerly."

This showing the failure of the poet to appreciate that while not all peaches are equal, any peach is better than no peach and that, in my experience, waiting for just the right peach to fall in one's lap is a mug's game when there are so many perfectly good peaches, at least come June, just littering the grass, as it were, at one's feet.

I am, come April, so impatient of my peaches I will eat the hard and juiceless things they put out and call peaches, just on the off chance that these might at least suggest something of the pleasures to come in June. But I know I ought not, that I will be sorely disappointed, just as I always am in those gorgeous and useless big Strawberries they bring in from Chile or some such place. These are paste and shellack, of course, compared to the actual, local, bloody red and bumpy little knots of perfect sweetness that are the strawberries of June. I should not let my anticipation lead me from the truth of June.

Eugene Field, the now unsalable favorite of many an American householder when grandma was still fresh on the ground, wrote a wonderful little cautionary poem of fruit taken in anticipation, "The Little Peach," in which two greedy brats end beneath the daisies for knocking "a little peach of emerald hue" too soon from the tree, and then eating it anyway. Served them right, too.

Now Andrew Marvell, in "The Garden," speaks for me:

“The nectarine, and curious peach,
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.”

That is just about the very essence, isn't it? I can think of no better description of my happiness in summer's pitted perfection. I'm dizzy with it. As I do every year, I refuse absolutely the possibility that this bounty will end, and soon enough. And so back upstairs to have another nectarine and press my thumb gently into the fat pink and yellow peach I've been watching all day as it soaked in the sun and turned it to thick, wet, yellow sugar, so that I might have that too before bed, to dream of strawberries by the case and plums and pluots and...


  1. Andrew Marvell wrote of nectarines? I always thought they were created sometim in the 50s or 60s which was the first I remember them.

  2. Evidently either nectarines or you are a lot older than we thought. I'm going with the nectarines.