We're at a lovely party; dishes of delicacies are being passed around. "Oh look Star Fruit!" I exclaim at a sparkling plate. My husband shoots me a fervent look: he’s knitting and purling his eyebrows in silent communication to me—don’t-say-it—he transmits in Morse code. I look at the Star Fruit. I look at him. I’m holding steady. Then a party companion says, "What is Star Fruit?” Uh oh! Looks like I have to come to the rescue. You see, I have fruit-fact-i-tis. As a regular contributor to The FruitGuys Almanac, I am always learning about fruit and I can't help myself from imparting fruit facts to the innocent. "Well,” I begin, “did you know that Star Fruit is a tropical fruit loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants? But like grapefruit it contains compounds that can interact with some drugs, especially statins prescribed for heart disease..." My husband shakes his head with a there-she-goes-again smile.
Journalist Adam Gollners has given me a decade's worth of pips to chew on with his book The Fruit Hunters (Scribner, New York, 2008). He starts out innocently enough as an escapee from Montreal to warm and exotic Brazil where he ventures into a botanical garden; like so many stories of self-discovery his begins in a garden. From there he takes us along on his romp around the globe through an extensive survey of human history's inextricable bond with fruit. Quite profoundly (for those of us in the fruit world) he elucidates the botanical connection between fruit and humankind. It's been a two-way relationship: fruit allowing us to evolve from insectivores via the food supply and humans helping fruit to evolve by dispersing its seeds.
His book is both encyclopedic and provocative. In the tempo of a man obsessed, with a Willie Wonka-like mania, he runs through fruits we'll never see in our FruitCases: "Magic beans, sundrops, cannonballs, delicious monsters, zombi apples, gingerbread plums, swan egg pears, Oaxacan trees of little skulls, Congo goobers, slow-match fruits, candle fruits, bastard cherries, bignays, belimbings, bilimbis and biribas." They just don't grow in the U.S., but we get to sample them through his illustrious descriptions. Gollner is a talented food writer when conveying the tastes of exotic fruits with descriptions such as: “snowy, sweet, cotton-candy like,” or “coconut flesh, only sexier.” Gollner's excursion into the exotic fruit world is as corporeal as it is cerebral.
This book has inspired Fruit Hunter clubs in various cities and will soon be a film by director Yung Chang with filmmaker Wim Wenders acting as creative consultant. It is certain to become the holy writ for the fruit geek, or simply a fantastic armchair getaway for anyone interested in the sociology and history of food. If you enjoy this book as I have, you certainly won't escape without a few fruit fact nuggets to throw out at the next party.
- Review by Heidi Lewis
The Fruit Hunter. Adam Gollner. 279 pp. Scribner. Available in Hardcover, paperback, or eBook.