My most unforgettable fruit experience was one summer in Fujian Province, China. I had not planned to go there. Eighteen years old I was based in Shanghai learning Chinese for a year and my friend Beth had gone on a side trip and had gotten very sick. She was stuck in bed on an IV drip and I spent the mornings wandering the sweaty Fuzhou streets. The Chinese word for Loquat is Pipa. Synonymous with the word for the Chinese Lute I had eaten this teardrop shaped fruit many times before in a traditional cough syrup but the fresh fruit was an unparalleled experience. Big bunches of orange fig like clusters with thick crooked branches holding it all together. They were being sold spread on blankets on the street and their season was notoriously almost magically short. The flavor was something like a cross between a cherry and a peach with a soothing cooling effect on your throat. I still dream of digging in to that massive bunch of chin dripping goodness. I only ever had the privilege to eat fresh Loquat one time and not to belie my age here that was close to twenty years ago. I hear from my friend Tres that they grow like crazy in the Carolinas – I can’t wait to get my hands on this tremendous fruit again. Perhaps I would take a hint from the classic medicine and play on a pairing with mint or liquorice.
Hami Melons are named after a town in Northwestern China’s Xinjiang Province. I traveled to this area during that same year of study abroad. The streets of the town and most public gathering areas were lined with grape vine trellises and many hundreds of years ago the clever silk road merchants had built underground tunnels to preserve and transport water through this arid desert town. Like a sweet and susserant secret in the shade of a blistering day Hami melons are delicate, perfumed and somehow both yielding and crisp at the same time. The flesh is a pale pinkish orange and as pretty to look at as it is to eat.
Numbers three and four on my list are like yin and yang, lychee and longan. Lychee have pink patterned skin, gentle and generous sweetness they have a floral femininity and a slight tartness that adds a dimension of coyness to their perfection. Beauty that yields too easily would never be worth the pursuit. Longan (means dragons eye, and they do have a very eyeball like gelatinousness) has a distinct maleness compared to lychee’s femininity. The outer skin is a dull brown and leathery, the flesh is coarser and its perfume is reminiscent of leather chairs and tobacco. They are still sweet but their sweetness is muted in comparison to the lychee, self assured, they don’t feel the need to hit you over the head with their charms. I was thinking about fruit lying in bed this morning and as you can see these two took on a very distinct personification. Lychee and Longan are qipao (“chee-pow”) wearing fruit. Qipao were worn by both men and women in China all the way until the fifties and sixties. Maggie Cheung is the perfect example of the skill that is needed to affect this amazing costume, high collared and slim waisted with that tantilizing slit up the side. I remember watching her win runners up to Miss Hong Kong wearing this very same traditional chinese dress. Suzie Wong’s universe managed to ingrain itself on our collective consciousness. It was inevitable, how could we resist her feminine whiles. Meanwhile I feel as if the male version of this costume is often forgotten. Often deep brown and sometimes shiny black made of crisp black silk; always always with the white cotton undershirt. Donnie Yan wears the men’s qipao beautifully. Understated and suave as per his portrayal of Bruce Lee’s master in Ip Man. That kind of strength in character waits for its adversary to approach and keeps a centered kernel of calm no matter what kind of wild and charged fisticuffs might be flying nearby. The longan definitely has this same kind of refinement, as if it has within itself a little bit of a vacuum. It’s stillness and subtlety draw you closer. I love this idea of a qipao wearing fruit especially as I’ve often felt like peeling one open there is a redolent suggestion of unzipping or unbuttoning. Knowing that one might be imprisoned forever in Hades makes the fruit all the sweeter right Persephone?
Who am I trying to fool. I haven’t really ever met a fruit I didn’t like. I’ll chow down on some Durian and have a gay old time, although I would love to learn how to effectively get the darn things open without risking life and limb. Mangoes, grapes, watermelon… fruit is nature’s most current newscast. “Early Equatorial Spring and all is well”… “Mountain Valley Midsummer in full effect” etc. There really is little improvement to be found for fruit. Jam, Liqueur and Wine are our best attempts to preserve that oh so precious Now. That’s why I find the latest trend of fruit shaping more than a little redundant. Watermelon, triangle or square? Really? And the Buddha Pear? Could it taste any more divine having spent it’s ripening encased in hard plastic? I truly doubt it.