07 July 2008

On my rickety shelves: The Fruit Hunters

Thanks to the good people at Doubleday Canada I found myself on a juicy and luscious, sweet and addictive, and disturbing and thought-provoking adventure.

The Fruit Hunters: A story of nature, adventure, commerce and obsession
by Adam Leith Gollner
Doubleday Canada
280 pages

Adam Leith Gollner is a fruit hunter, travelling the hemispheres in search of the sweet, the sour, the juicy and the sublime. His collection of adventures, people and revelations are bound in his first book The Fruit Hunters: A story of nature, adventure, commerce and obsession.

A “fruit hunter” you ask?

Yes. This is a man fascinated by fruit...a foodie with a fruit fixation.

Gollner is the Canadian correspondent for Gourmet Magazine, and has written for The New York Times, Bon Appetit, and Good Magazine. It’s through his work where he met some (if not many) of characters and delicacies he commits to page.

The book’s Brazilian prologue marks a low point in Gollner’s life: a grandfather’s death, divorcing parents, friends with mental illnesses and a long-term girlfriend who has run off to Europe to spend New Year’s with her lover. Then he spies it: a tree that seems to grow petrified bran muffins that are packed with orange segment-like seeds (the paradise nut). He searches for some in a local shop and leaves with a sac filled with native fruits—sweet, Styrofoam-textured jambos, wine gummy-cum-crème caramel abius, and the lavender-fruit-punch-flavoured maracuja.

The flavour revelations mark the start of an adventure that will take him to jungles and orchards, to marketing offices and plantations—all the while tasting delicacies that some of us have never heard of, meeting some decidedly scary people and discovering far more about geopolitical realities intertwined with pods, bushes and trees.

The Fruit Hunters is about sex, drugs and rock and roll: coco-de-mers, which look like a woman’s midriff, hips, reproductive area and thighs, African cherries for prostate illness, and the yohimbe tree for its…ummmm…invigorating…effects.

In many other hands, fruit could be treated with a blinkered botanical eye. Not Gollner. His fruit finding tales comes to life through of the people he meets along the way—a nonagenarian fruit hunter, fruitarians (people whose diets are totally fruit-based), botanists, smugglers, cross breeders and marketers.

This book is also about what’s happening to the fruit trade. There’s the obvious: mass production’s impact on what’s in my bigscarymegamart’s produce section—January’s sour, crunchy Californian strawberries, apple-hard, sometimes mealy and utterly flavourless peaches. Then there’s the unsettling: the untested effects of colorants on humans. And of course, there’s what sounds scarily unappetising: coating apples in what is a human-safe solution (but still technically a pesticide) to morph the flavour of an apple to be more grapelike.

Gollner is a strong writer whose vivid and entertaining prose made me feel as if I was his travelling companion, sometimes tasting his finds. It's an adventure story, a mystery, a thriller and comedy in the guise of a food/food history book. For me, one of the biggest compliments I can give a writer is reading passages aloud to the poor soul who just happens to be within earshot…thank goodness my friends know I do this as some of them heard a lot from this book.

I’ve been food shopping a few times since I got the book and have perused the fruit aisle “hunting” for my latest find. I’m more enthralled with our local in-season offerings. But truth be told, I haven’t picked any of the exotics—the dragonfruit, the passionfruit, the things without signage but look hairy, gnarled, spiky or just plain cool—because I know from prior attempts, they weren’t picked for their flavour, just their transportability.

Will the sour or flavourless and unripened exotics offerings top me from trying these fruits? Nope. It just means that I’ll have to stalk my prey a little longer or go slightly farther afield to bag my game...that should keep me going until Gollner writes his next book.


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MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Geeze Jasmine that sounds like a fun and informative read! Wonderful write up, thanks much.

glamah16 said...

What an interesting book. Unfortunaelt the more exotic fruits we fund here dont revel well and taste blah. But sometimes we get lucky.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Fascinating. I'm adding this to my "must read" list.

Chibog in Chief said...

oh i just love this photo jasmine!!!

btw, sorry i wasnt able to reply to your email immediately, i took some few days ..have a great day!!

Jenny said...

This sounds like something I would enjoy reading. I'm more and more starting to read books like this, not just cookbooks. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the write-up, Jasmine. I am alwasy intrigued by where our food comes from and how it is treated.