Welcome to the Robinson Fruit Review, as presented by Amos Robinson. This brief survey of fruits is intended as an attempt to inspire love and joy in all people, by exploring the many wonderful fruits that the world has to offer. I, Amos Robinson, believe that it is only through education of the appreciation of fruits that man can ever be truly free.
I now welcome you to read the Fruit Review, archived here for posterity, and listed in chronological order. Each review builds upon the previous one, and so you would be well advised to read them in the order shown.
Cherry: two stars for what is usually a five star fruit.
When my eldest nephew had his first day at big school, I gave him some sage advice:
“Sometimes, in life, you will be tempted by pre-packaged, out of season fruit from your local greengrocer. The fruit will look beautiful and red and ripe, and it will shine wonderfully in the light. But you must not succumb. Do not gaze at fruit when it is red, when it sparkles in the plastic, when the price goes down sharply!”
No, my friends, in these circumstances you must wait for the season to be right. There is no short cut on the road to ripe and succulent fruit.
Granny Smith apple Rosaceae
Granny Smith apple: three and a half stars for what is usually a three star fruit. I consider apples to be highly variable. In this case, one of the seeds had started to sprout.
Ah, milk and apples: a staple breakfast. For the young and infirm, the apples can be stewed and mashed in the milk, to serve as a highly nutritious convalescence food. My own nephew (the eldest one) subsisted on stewed milk apples for many years of his infant life. At age ten was the first time he felt the crisp, fresh crack of a solid green apple. Tears streamed down his face. He demanded to know why he had been withheld this simple yet sublime pleasure for so long. I couldn’t bear to tell him.
Guava: two stars for what is usually a two and a half star fruit. This specimen has been marked down primarily for aesthetic reasons due to its lack of colour. The seeds in guava are teeth-shatteringly hard and numerous enough to be dangerous to the idle muncher. This fruit is a juicer and a drinker, not a chomper. For an interesting eucalyptus taste, try eating the skin.
One cannot underestimate the restorative and health-inducing properties of guava juice, however. During one of my more severe bouts of phonemia, which I suffer from to varying degrees at more or less all times of the year, ranging from mild inconvenience to major inconvenience, I was bedridden for several months. In this particularly gruelling winter, I was forced to rely upon my eldest nephew to fetch and administer my daily guava juice, as well as to act as my amanuensis whenever I found it necessary to jot off some letter. I still recall the time when the mischievous tot gave me milk of magnesia instead of guava juice. I had the runs all week, and he soon regretted his scheme.
Kiwi fruit Actinidiaceae
Kiwi fruit: two stars for what is usually a two star fruit. I find kiwi fruit to have an almost metallic taste like blood or rust. The taste hangs around in my mouth for a bit longer than necessary. It is not bad, and it is quite convenient, but it is certainly not my first choice in fruits. I rarely stoop to denaturing my fruit with other foodstuffs, but this specimen sits proudly atop a pikelet.
At the age of thirteen, my eldest nephew had almost completed his preliminary apprenticeship as a draper’s assistant. He had finished his studies, and all that was required was a further year working under the supervision of an experienced draper. The draper under whom my eldest nephew worked was, of course, my friend Balphox. Balphox could count the number of warp threads in a fabric from a distance of nine metres, and was a kind and understanding teacher. My eldest nephew’s first month as a draper’s assistant were uneventful. As he became more experienced, his responsibilities grew, and within very little time, my nephew was entrusted to running the shop on his own every Monday, while Balphox travelled to the nearby metropolitan hub to retrieve bolts of the latest trendy fabrics. On one such Monday, my eldest nephew was climbing up the ladder to put away a bolt, he lost his footing and fell down. Roll upon roll of dusty fabric piled down upon him, and he was unable to climb out until Balphox returned in the late evening. Fortunately, my eldest nephew emerged relatively unscathed, but the hours of dust inhalation must have caused some new allergic reactions to develop. To this day, he cannot eat kiwi fruits without his entire face glowing bright green.
Navel orange Rutaceae
Navel orange: four and a half stars for what is usually a four star fruit. Oranges are in many ways an ideal fruit: they are a delicious and refreshing treat. Additionally, their long shelf life and consistent level of quality means that, wherever you are, you are never far away from an immensely edible snack. The orange’s only fault is its inconvenience. The inevitable wet, sticky hands relegate the orange to an outdoors fruit.
After my eldest nephew’s incident in the store room, my nephew suddenly found himself unable to eat most earthly foods. As we ate our usual evening meal, we discovered that none of the food items that entered his mouth stayed put as they ought. This was quite a shock to us all at Salamander Manor. The kibbled potatoes entered his mouth, and immediately returned. The ground beans did the same. As did the pulverised parsnips, the macerated elkyam, the milled wheat, and the cracked onions. Our initial shock was beginning to turn to panic. Finally, parched from all the returning, my eldest nephew took a sip of orange juice. Wonder upon wonder: the orange juice stayed. We all breathed easily once more, and my nephew resigned himself to a life-long diet consisting solely of orange juice. So that my nephew may always have sufficient nutriment, I ordered my batman to tear down the ancient Alsatian burial ground, and had him plant an orange grove in its stead. This is how the Salamander Manor Orange Grove Orange Juice Company came into being.
Nectarine: four stars for what is usually a five star fruit. Eating a nectarine is often a messy affair. The juice – not nectar, as its name might suggest – dribbles down your chin and collects in a strategically placed bucket. The collection is then diluted with water and sold to thirsty passers-by. The proceeds of the sale can then be used to purchase more nectarines. An excellent fruit and an excellent investment. This particular specimen was slightly underripe, and produced less juice than was desired.
Some weeks passed, and my eldest nephew could still consume only orange juice. His allergic reactions grew more severe, and soon even the slightest dribble of nectarine juice would set him off. We quarantined his room first, setting up nectarine traps to insulate him from all danger. Then, as his sensitivities heightened, we found it necessary to quarantine the west wing of Salamander Manor, followed by the entire manor itself. I devoted myself to finding some way to denature the nectarines, to somehow isolate and destroy the harmful component. I cleared out the stable closest to the orange grove and set up my own laboratory. Here, I was far enough from the manor to experiment without bringing any danger to my nephew. I amassed a collection of laboratory equipment: bunsen burners for heating mixtures, glassware stills for separation and purification, chromatographs for compound analysis, Klein boots for ensuring proper lab hygiene, fluted tubes for storing volatile compounds, and a well-stocked inventory of consumable reagents. I first set about identifying the variables. I separated the ferromanganese by electrolysis. I synthesised the manganese dioxide. I precipitated the magnesium chloride. Over several months, I did nothing but repeat the same process with different variables. Each time, I preempted the result. Nothing. I was now sleeping rarely, and felt dizzy when I stood up. I walked slowly and unsteadily, semi-crouched to lower my centre of gravity. I only dimly remember knocking over the bunsen burner, and seeing the manganese catch fire.
Banana: three and a half stars for what is usually a three and a half star fruit. If you are hungry, you can eat a banana. If you are going on a train ride, you can pack a banana for your journey. Eaten unaccompanied, as in the case of this perfectly-ripened specimen, it is a convenient snack. If you want excitement from your fruit, however, you will need to eschew convenience and instead prepare one of the many delicious banana dishes: for example banana butterscotch, banana sundaes, banana omelettes, banana bread, banana mead, banana cream pies, or banana smoothies. Have a banana.
Outside, the wind is howling. The sky started to get brighter a few hours ago, and now it is already dark again. It must be December, which means it is almost time to prepare for the banana hunt. The banana hunt is an annual tradition at Salamander Manor. Preparation for the hunt begins by ordering a large palette of green, unripe bananas. For the purpose of prolonging the hunt, younger bananas are preferred. When the shipment arrives, the whole family gathers in the old milking stables. Syzygy, my batman, sets a fire and melts the wax. My eldest nephew separates each hand of bananas into its constituent bananas. I carefully dip each banana in the soft wax. This wax coating will slow the ripening process and preserve the banana’s freshness. The wax sets quickly, and the bananas are ready to be hidden. My friend Balphox generally hides the bananas. He knows the house well enough to find good hiding spots, and can be trusted as an impartial party to favour neither one of us above another. Throughout the remainder of the year, we are each assigned a banana basket. Every banana that we find, we place in our own basket – that is, whenever I find a banana I place it in my basket; while whenever my eldest nephew finds a banana, he places it in his basket. We continue until the new year’s eve. Then, we show each other our baskets. Whoever has the heaviest banana basket is deemed the winner, and earns the right to wear the banana hat for the entirety of the next year. Long live the banana baron(ess).
Pineapple: five stars for what is usually a five star fruit. There is a rich literature describing various methods to cook or prepare pineapple for consumption. I have tried all of these methods, and every single one of them is wrong. The only way to experience a pineapple is to cut it up and eat it, raw and unadulterated. This particular specimen cost two dollars. It had a small blemish which was easily removed. I may buy another tomorrow.
If I twist my shoulders and crane my neck, I can get a good view of the greenhouse out through the window. I don’t usually do it in the day, in case someone sees me. Once it gets dark though, I am safe to look out without any risk. I enjoy these long nights. Mostly I look at the greenhouse to watch the pineapple people making their preparations. Other times I look further out at the fields, especially when the farmers have a bonfire. I grow anxious when I spend too long neglecting the greenhouse, though, as the pineapple people act suddenly, and it is easy to miss their movements. Syzygy, my batman, lacks the patience to observe them.
Passionfruit: five stars for what is usually a five star fruit. New readers are recommended to review my previous review on the pineapple. In many ways, pineapple and passionfruit are companion fruits: they are both synonymous with summer, they both provide a deliciously sweet tang, and they would both be awarded five stars on any reasonable fruit review scale. Here, the similarities end. While pineapples can only legally be eaten raw and unadulterated, the passionfruit is rarely eaten on its own. It is delicious with yoghurt, ice cream, or used to ice a cake. This specimen must have been the sweetest, most wonderful passionfruit that I have ever eaten. I scooped it into a glass and drank it with soda water and lemon. Stay hydrated, friends.
One summer, we went down to our estate at Gingrich Grove. The house had been abandoned for some time since the outbreak of war, and this was our first opportunity to go down and assess the decay. We made it a hundred metres off the road and onto the access path, and we could go no further. Syzygy and I walked ahead with machetes, doing our best to cut through the dense foliage. The air was thick and wet. I found it necessary to remove my shirt and trousers, ignoring Syzygy’s advice.
Some hours later we arrived at the main house, which was surrounded by a large clearing. Here, the only vegetation consisted of short saplings and ground covering plants. The house itself was covered with vines on every surface. The large flowers, with their spider-like tendrils, moved around in the slight breeze. I was hypnotised by the prospect of whatever strange fruit such flowers could produce. I resolved at once: we would perform all necessary maintenance on the house, but under no circumstances would we remove the vines until after we had tasted their fruit.
Pamplemousse: three stars for what is usually a three and a half star fruit. When we attempt to communicate flavours through words such as ‘salty’, ‘sweet’, or ‘sour’, we are assuming a shared understanding of tastes. People generally agree on the flavours of saltiness, sweetness, sourness and umami. Bitterness is less well understood, partially due to a lack of childhood flavour education: in English-speaking countries, children are rarely given bitter foods. Pamplemousse is a bitter fruit, but you can avoid most of the bitterness by removing the pith and eating only the flesh. I prefer to extract the juice and drink it, heavily diluted with soda water. Pamplemousse may also serve as a meat replacement: one peels away the pith. The pith is then dipped in eggs, coated in breadcrumbs, and fried. This meal is known as bistec de toronja.
Syzygy, my batman, came to visit me. After the fire broke out in the laboratory, I was bedridden for several days. I recall very little of the first few days, but on the fourth day I became lucid. My pillowcase was covered in splotches of black soot; I think it came from inside me. I asked Syzygy about the fire. The orange grove was razed, as was the laboratory, but the fire did not reach the main house. Seeing the soot on the pillow made me feel weak. I lay back down.
I awoke again at twilight. My clothes felt clean, but I needed to brush my teeth. I could not tell whether it was a new day’s dawn or an old day’s dusk, and furthermore I did not know when Syzygy will next visit, so I decided to perform my own ablutions. Getting up, I noticed an unfamiliar stiffness in my left leg. I inspected my leg: it was quite lame. After reappropriating a curtain rod to steady myself, I managed to make it to my washbasin. By the end of the hour I had made myself respectable, and I went downstairs.
In the dining room, I found my eldest nephew. He was drinking his evening orange juice. When he saw me, he got up and helped me to my chair. I asked him whether anybody was harmed in the fire. He explained the situation: nobody was harmed. All of the oranges were destroyed, except for a few barrels that had been stored in the scullery. There was perhaps a month’s worth of juice left, and the next closest orange grove was at least three months away by sea. If my nephew were to continue drinking orange juice alone, he would surely starve before any shipment could arrive. We attacked the problem of his allergy with renewed vigour, and worked methodically through the kitchen. We started in the bakery supplies: bicarbonate soda, buckwheat flour, sesame seeds. Everything returned as before. We worked through to the fruit and vegetables: canned spinach, fresh spinach, tomatoes, radishes, all with similar fate. Our motivation and hope faded as we continued through the rest of the kitchen.
Dejected, I opened the liquor cabinet and poured myself a drink. I decided to have a pamplemousse pony: tequila, pamplemousse liqueur, and soda water. I drank one. The sweet citrus flavour was perfectly balanced by the tart twang, with just enough bitterness to need another sip. Pamplemousse, the orange’s bitter cousin! I yelled incomprehensibly and forced the drink into my eldest nephew’s mouth. My face flushed hot and I could hear my heart beating, but the drink stayed in. It was a success. There was a pamplemousse plantation just a five weeks’ journey away. If we left tomorrow, there was a chance that we would make it in time.
Strawberries: four and a half stars for what is usually a three star fruit. With the recent introduction of technologies such as hydroponics, refrigeration, greenhouse construction, irrigation, agriculture and commerce, you can buy strawberries at about any time of the year. You should not, however, buy strawberries at any time of the year other than Spring and early Summer. The pathetic, insipid strawberries available at other times will not satisfy you, and you will feel hollow. These particular specimens were quite expensive: $4.50 for a punnet. All of the strawberries in this punnet were particularly good. Feel free to draw your own inferences.
Our hope had been renewed by the discovery of the pamplemousse liqueur, which was produced at a nearby plantation on the mainland. I instructed my nephew to pack a travelling bindle with as many pairs of underthings as he could fit, then I set about packing my own bindle. Of course, I would need my own underthings. I would also need other utilities: a machete, a flint, some fishing tackle, and a bladder of water, for starters.
I limped back to the kitchen and found a small aluminium kettle. I dried the kettle thoroughly with a kitchen towel, and then filled it with gruts, which I scooped from a large barrel in the larder. I wrapped all my items in a large piece of oilcloth. For my own sustenance, I packed a few jars of preserved strawberries. Fruits, even preserved ones, would provide essential nutrients and vitamins that were absent from the gruts. Strawberries are also an effective bait for fishing bait: one simply leaves a strawberry out overnight. By the morning, the strawberry will have attracted a bumper crop of slugs. The slugs can then be attached to a hook, thrown in the water, and used to attract larger, more palatable prey.
My own needs met, I now considered my eldest nephew’s nutrition. We would need to carry the month’s supply of orange juice to sustain my nephew. I did not know how we would manage such a load.
Lemon: four stars for what is usually a four star fruit. I’d like you to imagine your ten favourite foods. Write down their names on a readily available scrap of paper– or, if you are a more visual type, feel free to pull out your most brightly coloured pencils and sketch each food. The award for the best sketch will be chosen by a panel of three mendicant nuns. Now, I’m willing to bet that every single item in your list of favourite foods contains lemon in some form or other. Such is the culinary power of the lemon, and such is its paradox: it is both an ornamentation, an added bonus, as well as an essential ingredient in any larder. I squeezed this particular specimen into a small coffee cup and sipped the juice. I let the juice linger in my mouth without swallowing, and observed the progression of the flavour. Try it for yourself one summer’s day.
I went down to the store room to take stock of the orange juice. There were two barrels, with each barrel containing seventy litres. This was enough for my eldest nephew to consume the daily required intake of five litres per day, for four whole weeks. This amount of orange juice would provide sufficient protein and energy to sustain my nephew. To make the five week journey, however, he would need to either reduce his daily intake to four litres, or cut the orange juice with pamplemousse liqueur. It would be difficult, but it was possible.
How would we move them? I laid one of the barrels down on its side and tried pushing it along with my curtain rod, which I was using as a replacement for my lame left leg. The barrel rolled forward a bit, sloshed noisily, and then rolled back. I tried to pick up the barrel with my free hand, but it was too heavy and the curved slats slipped out of my grip. I attempted to kick the barrel with my good leg. The blow gave a satisfying knock, and the barrel moved forward a metre or so before crashing into a wooden crate full of lemons. Lemons. I called my eldest nephew down to try one. I poked a hole in the peel and had him suck out the juice. His eyes grew wide. The acidic juice returned, and dripped down onto the barrel. At least we had the orange juice.
Fig: two stars for what is usually a three star fruit. Some fruit-lovers believe that the bland grittiness of the fig is its best characteristic. My own appreciation of the fig, however, is restricted solely to aesthetics. The fig itself starts as a collection of hundreds of flowers, and each flower becomes its own minuscule fruit. This particular specimen was not as sweet as previous figs I have had, and tasted more of plant than of fruit. Despite my misgivings, I would gladly recommend that all my friends and family eat at least one fig at some point in their life.
My eldest nephew and I prepared to leave Salamander Manor early the next day. Syzygy, my batman, would stay and tend to what little remained of the orange grove. Before we left, Syzygy went down to the stables, where he found a small produce-cart. He loaded the two barrels of orange juice onto the cart, and found a young mule named Blotch to pull it. Neither the cart nor the mule would be much chop when it came to crossing the channel to the mainland, but they would be indispensable for the terrestrial portion of our journey.
Syzygy met us at the gate to see us off, and I instructed my eldest nephew on how to get Blotch moving with his whip. We called this command a “proot”, and since my eldest nephew’s whip was fashioned from an old bull’s pizzle, he was able to amuse himself quite well by enumerating all the possible combinations of the words and related phrases. By this metric, the start of our journey was not at all unusual.
Every so often, Blotch would stop to eat a cornflower growing on the side of the road, and my eldest nephew would threaten to crack the old bull’s pizzle again. His threats turned out to be empty, and we waited for Blotch to finish his meal. On the side of the road up ahead was a travelling fruit seller, whom I hailed. It would be prudent to ask this fellow if he had any oranges or pamplesmousse. He said that, yes, he had no oranges, but he did have a long island potato. As he was filling a sack with potatoes, I looked behind to see Blotch gobbling up his entire supply of figs. I quickly paid and grabbed the potatoes, before cracking the pizzle to get away before he noticed.
Tomato: five stars for what is usually a four and a half star fruit. I will briefly describe two scenarios, before posing a question regarding the two scenarios. In the first scenario you are at your manor, where you have been tending carefully to a small tomato plant for the last four months. You selected only the seeds from the finest fruits of last year’s harvest. Rather than scattering the seeds haphazardly, you individually placed each seed in a small hole that you poked in the exposed loam. You watered them every day, and as they grew you scoured the leaves, removing any insects and arachnids. With such care and attention given to these plants, surely the tomatoes they produce would be the finest in the land.
Now, let us consider a second scenario. You are on an adventure with your eldest nephew, in search of pamplemousse juice. You are accompanied by Blotch, your fractious mule. Blotch recently scarfed down some figs that belonged to a fruit seller, and you left quietly without drawing attention to the half-eaten figs. The fruit seller was not amused – and nor would I be, were I in his situation. You had only walked fifty metres down the road, when the fruit seller mounted his safety bicycle and pedalled forth, demanding payment for the consumed figs. You continued, oblivious to the shouts of the fruit seller, as you concentrated on using a curtain rod to curb your lameness. As he approached, you inadvertently sent your rod through the front spoke. This unexpected intersection of rod and spoke sent the fruit seller and his bicycle flying in opposite directions. The fruit seller saw his crumpled bicycle and began to yell more intensely.
Continuing the second scenario, reparations were made to the fruit seller for his figs and bicycle. You gave him what little remained of your money, your preserved strawberries, and the sack of potatoes you had previously purchased. This transaction mollified him somewhat, but left you with very little food: a day’s worth of gruts for you, and the two barrels of orange juice reserved for your eldest nephew. You continued along the road, already hungry for something beyond gruts.
When it grew dark, you settled in to spend the night in an abandoned train shed. The floor was covered in coal, and the wind howled through the openings at both ends of the shed. You boiled the last of your gruts in the kettle. In the morning, you diluted the remnant dregs with water and drank the insipid mixture. You followed the access road next to the train tracks towards the south coast. When you stopped to eat some chickweed off the edge of the road, your eldest nephew thrust some orange juice upon you. You steadfastly refused. After the ensuing scuffle had finished, Blotch had wandered off into a patch of tall grass. You limped over to find him chomping on a red berry, in a whole field of red berries.
You grabbed one of the red berries and ate it. It was a tomato: a five star tomato. It had a mellow sweetness with a wild burst of flavour. You had brushed the leaf when plucking it, and now a unique aroma spread around the area. With such providence, surely these tomatoes were the finest in the land.
We have now seen two different scenarios, which both claim to produce the finest tomatoes in the land. The question put to the reader is therefore: which of these two tomato scenarios do you believe produces the finest tomatoes in the land?
Lychee: four and a half stars for what is usually a four and a half star fruit. As the stewards of science, we often wish that we could create a superfruit – a sort of fruit salad fruit that exhibited the most desirable qualities of a wide range of fruits. The design of such a fruit would be subject to long debates and arguments on the nature of the ideal fruit. One contender for the ideal texture, flavour, odour and juiciness would be the lychee. On the other hand, if we were to create an anti-fruit which exhibited only the negative aspects of each original fruit, the somewhat orchic aesthetics of the lychee would certainly deserve consideration. For those who would like to experience the pleasure of lychee in a more appealing container, I would suggest eating a rambutan instead.
We had decided to walk through the forest, rather than around it. Twilight soon came upon us, and was gone sooner than we expected. It began to rain. We decided to make camp. I unwrapped my items from the large oilcloth, and tied the oilcloth between three nearby trees. There was little wind, and we were relatively well sheltered from the rain. I tried to sleep.
I recalled our last summer in Gingrich Grove. For some time, Gingrich Grove had been a major producer of lychees, back when our family was a major import/export dynasty. That was before the great uncertainty, and before the war. The war had now settled down somewhat, and it was our first opportunity to safely assess any damage to the estate. The three of us – my eldest nephew, my batman, and I – sailed to the mainland, while my brother stayed to give surety on the exit visa.
When we arrived at Gingrich Grove, we found the house covered in passionfruit vines. The vines had forced their way into the house, finding preexisting cracks and slowly widening them over the course of a few years. The caretaker of the estate had long since fled, but – whether out of negligence or foresight – had allowed a single goat to remain and continue to tend to the lawn. The goat had done a surprisingly good job collecting and redistributing the lychee seeds all over the estate. We returned to a bumper crop, which we used to pay for the repairs to the manor.
Umeboshi: two stars for what is usually a two star fruit. Umeboshi is a Japanese plum that has been pickled in salt. When I tried the umeboshi on its own, I was overwhelmed. Mixing it through a bowl of rice dulled the sourness and the saltiness, and allowed the flavour of the plum to permeate through the rice. After finishing the rice, the majority of the umeboshi remained. I put the rest in the bin. Next time, I will use more rice. I suspect that my opinion of umeboshi will become more favourable over time.
I awoke to a knocking sound coming from downstairs, followed by a wheezing, heavy breathing. We had found a barn in the middle of a salt marsh, and had decided to spend the night there. Inside, the floor of the barn was composed solely of anoxic muck, but the loft was quite well-kept. We found some barrels of pickled fruit, and straw aplenty. We threw down some straw for Blotch, before retiring in our own beds of straw. Either this barn had only been claimed by the sea very recently, or the barn was still in regular use. I had hoped it was the former. The wheezing persisted.
I groped for my curtain rod and crawled to the railing near the top of the ladder. Soon the wheezer would make his or her way to climb the ladder, and as he or she climbed I would be ready to pounce. The wheezing stopped, but I stayed completely still. I waited.
I woke my nephew as soon as dawn came, and we went downstairs together. There, we found that the lesser of the two orange juice barrels had been knocked over. Some of the juice had spilled onto the ground, while it appeared that the majority had spilled into Blotch’s mouth. I grabbed the bull’s pizzle and raised my hand to give Blotch a nasty proot, when I thought back to my own steed, Rubato. Rubato had been my friend for many years, and we had travelled the country together, clopping carefree at a pace dictated by our own whimsy. A few years into the great uncertainty, when food rations had been imposed, I would always sneak out to give him an extra carrot or other root vegetable. Then the crops failed. It did not take long for Rubato to become gaunt and frail. I recognised the same frailty in Blotch, and lowered the pizzle. I patted Blotch, and gave him a handful of pickled plums from the loft. He was well fed for now at least, and we would just have to find some more oranges for my eldest nephew.
We packed the remaining pickle barrels onto the produce cart, as well as whatever else we could fit: a hammer, some nails, a bucket of tar, and a pitchfork. We left the barn, trekking back across the marsh to dry land, before continuing south.
Honeydew melon Cucurbitaceae
Honeydew melon: four stars for what is usually a three and a half star fruit. Picture a three-dimensional cube. Each axis of this cube represents a different, orthogonal, aspect of the pleasure derived from the consuming fruit. The first axis is called “the juice dimension”, and represents the refreshing qualities and juiciness of the fruit. The second axis is called “the taste dimension”, and represents the perceived sweetness and deliciousness of the fruit. The third axis is called “the convenience dimension”, and represents the convenience and amount of preparation required to consume the fruit. For advanced students of the fruits, there are higher dimensions available, but for pedagogical purposes we restrict ourselves to these three dimensions here. Now, if we were to take our favourite fruits and plot them on the Fruit Cube, we would notice the emergence of some interesting patterns. Citrus fruits, for example, tend to have high juice and taste factors, but their convenience factors vary significantly. Different apple cultivars, on the other hand, are highly convenient but range anywhere from bland and dry to delicious and wet. Now consider the melons depicted inside the Fruit Cube: they are a small sphere located roughly in the juicy, flavoursome and inconvenient octant. Even cucumbers, otherwise known as “salad melons”, are located on the outskirts of the melon zone of the Fruit Cube. Do not make the mistake of assuming that all melons are interchangeable, however. Every melon has its own purpose. This specimen was a real treat, and I particularly enjoyed its crisp texture.
We continued south, along the edge of the salt marsh. When the salt marsh was replaced by the sea, we followed the coast until we came upon the mouth of a great river. The scene was familiar, except the river seemed much larger than in my memory. We walked along the river a while, until we came across a set of four large, flat-edged stones. The megaliths were roughly cube-shaped, and on this side two were spaced roughly ten metres apart. The other two megaliths stood at corresponding points on the other side of the river. There was an inscription carved into the closest megalith: this structure was all that remained of Sutton Bridge. I threw a pickled plum at the megalith on the other side of the riverbank. The plum came short, falling into the river before being carried away by the current. Blotch licked his or her lips.
We could not cross the river here. My eldest nephew may have been able to swim across, but I doubted my own ability, let alone Blotch and the produce cart’s ability to make the crossing. My eldest nephew suggested that I could use the empty orange juice barrel as an aid to buoyancy.
We continued along the river bank, away from the coast and away from Sutton Bridge. On the other side of the river, what remained of the levee was covered in dense vines. Here there was a confluence, where a canal joined the river. I did not remember such a canal being so close to Sutton Bridge. We were now following the canal and walking west. We wanted to be walking south-east. We sat down and ate our dinner: orange juice for my eldest nephew, while Blotch and I ate boiled tomatoes and pickled plums.
We could not continue walking in the wrong direction much longer: we needed to find some other way to cross the canal or the river or both. True, the empty orange juice barrel might help Blotch and I cross, as my nephew suggested, but what about the full orange juice barrel? I could afford to leave my pickled plums and tomatoes – I would find more food – but my nephew would starve without his orange juice. It occurred to me that if we emptied the barrel of pickled plums, we could tie the juice barrel to the two empty barrels, and we could all float over in comfort. We just needed some rope.
That evening when the tide receded, I instructed my eldest nephew to swim over to the other side of the river bank and gather as many vines as he could carry. He used the empty barrel to swim over, and started filling the barrel with vines. As he picked the vines, he found a melon hidden underneath the leaves. He bowled it over towards me, and it landed in the river, then floated over to the bank near me. I instructed him to search for more, and soon enough he had sent sixty-four melons, and I had received fifty. The remaining fourteen had either floated too quickly, or had not floated at all. He then returned with the barrel, full of vines.
With my machete, I sliced the top off each melon. We now had fifty open melons, along with fifty melon tops. I now instructed my nephew to scoop out the seeds from each open melon and give them to Blotch, and also scoop out the flesh into the empty orange juice barrel. Meanwhile, I started a fire, which I used to heat up the bucket of pitch. Next we hammered a nail into each melon top, and then bent the nail back on itself. We then dipped each nailed melon top in the bucket of pitch, and placed it on its corresponding open melon. We now had fifty closed, empty melons with bent nails sticking out. We arranged these closed melons, with the nails on top, into a rectangular matrix of five melons by ten melons. My nephew and I tied each row of melons together with the vines, using the bent nails as an anchor point. We then tied each row to its neighbouring row, and each column together. We poured the rest of the pitch on each nail, and left it to dry. We now had a melon raft with a floor space of fifty square melons, but its maiden voyage would have to wait until the morning.
Grape: four and a half stars for what is usually a four and a half star fruit. It is safe to say that grapes have been present at every significant juncture of human history: the Great Flood, the burial of Gilgamesh, the seduction of Lot, the invention of leather shoes, the discovery of transubstantiation, the bath of Archimedes, the manufacture of gunpowder, the Boston Tea Party, women’s suffrage, and the civil rights movement. All of these events, to name but a few highlights, are connected to grapes in some way. The consumption of these specimens was no less momentous. I recommend pairing your grapes with some gouda.
We had made our fire on the lee of the levee, and that is where we slept. Several times throughout the night, I heard Blotch get up to chew on the discarded melon seeds and pulp. My eldest nephew tapped me awake at dawn, and asked if it was time to leave. I told him that the pitch on the raft needed more time to dry, and that we should sleep for another few hours. He sighed.
While my eldest nephew was performing his ablutions, I ate my breakfast, and then wrapped our most water sensitive possessions in the oilcloth. Our possessions were few, and the oilcloth was large. It wrapped around to form many layers of protection. We carefully dragged the melon-raft down to the water, and slowly pulled it off the shore into the water. As each melon entered the water, our excitement grew more intense. Once all the melons were partially submerged, my nephew stepped on to the raft. Each melon in the raft moved up and down, with each melon’s elevation following ripples that propagated from my nephew’s two feet. Despite the movement, the melon-raft remained afloat.
We then tied each barrel – orange juice, pickles, melon flesh – to the raft, and slid them into the water to trail behind, half-floating. My eldest nephew waved a pickled plum to entice Blotch onto the raft, and I pushed us off with my curtain rod.
My curtain rod was of the telescopic genre, where one end could be twisted sunwise if looking top-down, or widdershins if looking bottom-up, in order to extend and lengthen the rod. Conversely, if the rod is twisted widdershins from top-down, or sunwise from bottom-up, the rod becomes shorter, and quite a bit more portable. In this instance, it was necessary for me to extend the rod to its full potential, so that I was able to reach the riverbed and propel us upstream.
After some initial unsteadiness with the rod, I was able to propel our little melon-raft against the flowing current. We were making progress, but we would need to either increase our propulsion or decrease the current, if we were to reach the coast before we ran out of orange juice.
I took the next exit onto a canal, where the water was calmer. Further ahead, we saw a gentleman fishing from a punt. I hailed him and as we approached I asked whether the fish were safe. His face and hands were covered in sores.
We passed an overgrown park, and the remains of a walled garden. Two of the walls had fallen, and I could see the remains of a boiler. The boiler had previously been used to heat the walls, which gave a more temperate climate. It had not been used in some time. I could make out the sharp teeth of what looked like grape leaves crawling all over the fallen walls, and I surmised that this had been a vineyard previously. The owners had gone, but the grapes had survived. I never would have thought that I would see grapes growing unaided, in this part of the country, in this part of the year.
Aloe vera drink Asphodelaceae
Aloe vera drink: four stars for what is usually a two star plant with a zero star fruit. Aloe vera is a versatile plant, which has been used to cure almost every known ailment involving almost every known body part. Unfortunately, the fruit of the Aloe vera plant is not well studied, and very little information is available on the fruit’s suitability for consumption. This uncertainty about the toxicity of the fruit, coupled with its unavailability, has forced me to reevaluate my entire review process. As of today, I will no longer be artificially limiting my reviews to fruits, and will henceforth consider reviews of any member of the plant kingdom.
This particular specimen was an Aloe vera based drink. The drink is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup and artificially flavoured with some sort of grape ester. There are small pieces of Aloe vera floating in the drink, which taste and feel like grape jelly. It is delicious. The drink is sweet and flavourful enough that it can be diluted in the ratio of one part drink to four parts water. This high concentration is a boon to miserly consumers looking for a cost-effective drink, but a drink that requires dilution is less suitable for transient consumers where convenience is required.
I took a break, while my eldest nephew propelled the raft with the extended curtain rod. I took off my shoes and socks and let my feet dangle into the water. The sun was warm. I closed my eyes and listened to the water lapping against the melon raft.
When I woke up, my forearms and the top of my feet were burnt bright red. I saw that my eldest nephew was similarly afflicted. Our raft badly needed a shade cloth if we were to continue travelling at this time of day.
In the evening, we moored the raft by the bank of the river and set camp. I gave my nephew the machete and instructed him to go find some herb which could be used to produce a healing unguent or salve to treat our burns. I cooked tomato soup. Some hours later, my nephew returned with several fronds of Aloe vera, which he had discreetly harvested from a nearby garden. We sliced the fronds open and rubbed the sticky gel on our arms and our feet.
Lemongrass: four stars for what is usually a four star plant. Lemongrass is a delicious lemon-scented grass. I tend to associate lemongrass mainly with savoury dishes, but it can also be used in sweet contexts. These particular specimens came from our own garden. I finely sliced the inner core to use it in a fried tofu dish, and used the remaining leaves to make a herbal tea.
As our little raft transported us further inland, there came to be many smaller canals, drains and ditches that zig-zagged across the country-side. We decided to take a south-easterly canal rather than continue south-west along Wettington River. The canal water was slow-moving, and we were able to make good speed across the stagnant waters.
Unfortunately, the stagnant waters also brought with them a great smell of anoxic decomposition. My eldest nephew made a loud gargling exclamation of disgust, and submerged his head in the barrel of orange juice. After a minute had passed, he re-emerged out of the barrel, took a deep breath, and then quickly submerged himself once again. I took out a handful of salt plums and put them in my mouth to suck on. When my nephew emerged once again, I took two of the plum pips and popped one in each of my nephew’s nostrils. He seemed to find it quite difficult to breathe, but at least he stopped submerging himself in the orange juice.
The other problem was the mosquitoes. Even now, in the middle of the day, the mosquitoes crowded around us in a big black swarm. Somehow, even here, they could smell us. If only we had some lemongrass, or a citronella candle. I swung the bull pizzle at the area where the mosquitoes were most concentrated. At least three of them fell to the water. I swung the pizzle again, but got nothing. The next time I swung, I gave it more welly. The bull pizzle came crashing down upon Blotch, the enrafted mule. Interpreting this blow as a rather forceful “proot”, poor Blotch made a dash for it and ran straight into the water.
Legumes: five stars for what is usually a five star fruit. Like most people, I have a small shrine to Kyamites, the hero of beans, sitting atop a bookshelf in the room adjacent to the kitchen. Every morning, I rub the marble stomach of Kyamites, and then rub my own stomach. This small ritual keeps me in his esteem, and brings good gustatory fortune. These particular specimens were offered as a sacrifice to Kyamites. I left them soaking on his shrine overnight. The next day, I saw that he had declined the offer, and I instead baked some savoury bean and spinach rolls for myself. They were delicious.
Blotch, the previously enrafted mule, had left the raft. By the time that Blotch reached the water, she had already established a commendable canter. A great splash sent droplets of acrid, anoxic water in all the expected directions. I pursed my lips, while Blotch continued her descent into the water. When her feet touched the ground, which lay somewhere between eighteen to twenty-two centimetres below the water, her gait had been upgraded to an eight on the Muybridge-Stanford equine speed scale.
The Muybridge horse speed scale, invented by Eadweard Muggeridge in the mid nineteenth century, was based on the static analysis of photographs depicting horse locomotion. To perform this analysis, twelve stationary cameras were set up at regular intervals, so that for a horse travelling at a predetermined speed, the time from one camera to the next was roughly one “squeeze”, about half a second in today’s units. Muggridge performed this experiment at various speeds, and analysed each set of photographs to determine the exertion required, thus inventing the Murbridge horse speed scale. During Mulbrygge’s unfortunate exile to Central America, his friend and business partner Leland Stanford continued the experiments, extending the scale to include all manner of equine beasts including donkeys, mules, zebras and hinnies.
Blotch was building up speed now, and was tearing through the ankle-deep water at a nine. My eldest nephew had dropped the propelling rod née curtain rod in the excitement, and now bent down to pick it up. While so doing, he found the unattached end of Blotch’s rein, and started to attach it to the raft. As soon as my nephew had secured the rein to the raft, the line became taut. The raft began to move forward.
We continued at a nine for some time, and eventually we reached the end of the canal. Here, the canal met with the river T———, which served as the cloaca maxima of the city just ahead. The smell of the stale water was replaced by a more urban smell, and we directed Blotch out of the water to avoid him becoming irredeemably soiled. We unloaded the raft, and fished out the quarter-filled barrel of orange juice and the barrel of pickled plums. I prayed to Kyamites that there would be something to eat other than pickled plums in the city, while my eldest nephew prayed for oranges.
Longan: three and a half stars for what is usually a four star family of fruit. If you were as botanically inept as I am, and you happened to find yourself dissecting a longan, you might excitedly think to yourself that you had found a delicious new fruit that was somehow related to the lychee. You would be half right: you have, in fact, found a new fruit that is somehow related to the delicious lychee. However, it is somewhat less sweet, less juicy, and generally less delicious than the lychee. When I open them, there is a strange smell like smoky, bitter latex. The fruit tastes pleasant enough, but the smell lingers in the back of my throat. I did discover a neat parlour trick for opening longans: rest the fruit on your curved forefinger and middle finger, then use your thumb to push down upon the fruit. Squeeze the fruit until it pops open, then eat the exposed flesh. I look forward to trying this satisfying technique with lychees.
We walked along the river, towards the city, past the old shipwright and the algae-covered wrecks, past the copse of petrified yews, and past the former hospital which had been claimed by the transients, the grounds of which were covered in sticky dew. We reached the hobo bazaar, where sellers sat in rows, their wares laid carefully on a tarp upon the ground. One of the sellers had several sets of cutlery on her tarp, and was trading items of cutlery for almonds, wooden pegs, elastic gaskets, feathers of exotic birds, remnant lengths of copper wire, longans, a soap carving of Don Quixote, pieces of scrimshandy, an icon of Saint Augustine, gewgaws, and all manner of folderol. I did not see her once refuse an offer of trade.
An old man hobbled through the aisle of sellers, calling out and striking a steel implement against a can of potted salmon or tuna. I asked the man what he wanted for the can. The man looked at me, then looked at my eldest nephew, and then looked at Blotch.
“I would very much like to ride on your donkey.”
My eldest nephew protested – Blotch was a mule, not a donkey, and mules were not to be sat upon by frail old men with aspic in their beards. I asserted that my eldest nephew had reason in this matter, but I nonetheless asked the old man whither he wished to ride.
“I must catch a ship from the –––– of –––– on the river ––––, but I am quite old and frail, and whenever I leave this place, the rats smell the aspic in my beard and attack me.”
I told the old man that we also wished to find a ship to take us to the mainland, and that if he were careful not to disturb the pickled plums, he could sit in the barrel that was on the produce cart. This arrangement would allow him to indirectly ride Blotch. The old man seemed rather pleased with this prospect, and promptly disrobed and entered the barrel.
Jackfruit: three and a half stars for what is usually a two and a half star fruit in its unripe, savoury form. Culinary fads of the vegan community seem to lag a few years behind those of the omnivore community. I fondly remember the pulled pork days of my youth, which coincided with my living in a sort of trendy shared house in a trendy inner-city suburb. Strict rules were in place to ensure that only pre-masticated porkulated food items were permitted in the house. We have since relaxed the rules to allow almost any foodstuff, but sometimes one wonders what one loses. Such is the tyranny of choice. We should be thankful, then, that the vegan community has taken it upon itself to allow us to re-live our pulled pork-flavoured salad days.
This particular specimen is a pulled pork burger from Soul Burger. It uses unripe jackfruit in place of pork. I am generally a fan of ersatz meat replacements, which in many cases are strictly superior to the original products – prime examples being hot dogs, sausages, chicken nuggets, hamburgers, meat pies, and sandwich meat. In the case of jackfruit pulled pork, however, I worry that the visual appeal of the jackfruit has been prioritised over the texture and the flavour of the meal. The burger itself was quite good, but I suspect that’s despite the jackfruit rather than because of the jackfruit.
Our new friend slipped into the plum barrel, and introduced himself. He was Henry Erstwhile, the former toothbrush tycoon. As a former tycoon myself, I felt an immediate connexion to this humble, shivering naked man who was currently soiling my pickled plums. I implored him to continue his story.
Some years earlier, the Erstwhile toothbrush company had specialised in the manufacture of masculinity-enhancing toothbrushes. The trick, he said, was to make the toothbrushes strong enough to withstand a week or two of vigorous, manly brushing. Over that period of time, the enzymes in the saliva would slowly break down a starch binder, placed somewhere along the shaft. Each starch binder was placed randomly, making each Erstwhile Man-brush completely unique. During the next exciting bout of brushing after the starch had broken down, the toothbrush would shatter irreparably, leaving the brusher in awe of his own raw power. Henry opened a can of jackfruit aspic, which he passed around to my eldest nephew and I.
Rather than being deterred by this strategic fragility, it was a universal hit. The Erstwhile Man-brush was adored by hoi polloi and oligoi alike. Henry himself wrote the advertising jingle and company anthem, called “Oral Hygiene Maketh the Man”. At this point in Henry’s telling of the story, my eldest nephew interjected and asked for a rendition of the song.
“It’s not much of a song, really,” explained Henry, “because most of the good parts are encoded directly as alpha waves in the subliminal frequencies. But I’ll see what I can do.”
Henry upended his can of jackfruit and started banging out a moderate tempo reggaeton rhythm.
“Do you see that pretty lady
in a gingham dress?
Well – brush your teeth!
Do you worry what that lady
will smell on your breath?
Well – brush your teeth!
Do you think that people gag
when you board the bus?
Well – brush your teeth!”
Any of Henry’s deficiencies in meter and form, however, were directly counterbalanced by a level of mouth trumpet acumen seldom seen in our day. We continued along the river.
Sapodilla, or Manilkara zapota: unknown stars. Looks like a potato, tastes quite malty, smells like a sneeze.
Achacha: five stars for what is usually a five star fruit. The achacha is a delicious fruit, and is originally from Bolivia. Its flesh is soft and creamy. The flavour reminds me of pineapple with a hint of either eucalyptus or pine needles, although it is not closely related to either. In comparison to the bold and confronting eucalyptus flavour of the feijoa, the achacha is subtle and welcoming. I can find no fault with the achacha.
When it started getting darker, Henry Erstwhile directed us away from the river promenade and up through the city streets. We came across a large brick egg-carton of a building, its irregular edges cutting a jagged silhouette against the dusk sky. The building consisted of several towers connected to one another by long corridors. The corridors were several storeys high, while the towers were at least twice as tall. There were at least five such towers that seemed to be arranged randomly, and each tower had sharp brick protrusions and intrusions smattered about the external walls. In some places the brick had started to crumble, and it had been crudely patched together with various materials. Each aspect of the building had been designed with a calculated discord. It had been designed to induce a certain oppression of the inhabitants; an oppression that was subtle enough to feign ignorance of the building’s true purpose, but an oppression that persisted day upon day, year upon year.
Henry ushered us down a ramp into a subterranean tarmacadam cavern. It was a sort of underground stables that consisted of many rows of small plots. We walked along the rows, looking for an empty plot to stay in. We saw the sleeping vagrants and the transient roustabouts who were in-between jobs and the ne’erdowells and the nut pedlars selling hot-browns and the tinkers repairing pots and pans and the buskers dancing a Latin rhythm and the cobblers who embroidered arcane wards onto old shoes – little tick marks to protect the wearer from indecision and pestilence – and the fishmongers who sold fish and the pallid fishmangers who ate it.
Finally, we found an empty plot that was just big enough for a mule, a produce cart, and a few bedrolls. I helped Henry out of his barrel and unharnessed Blotch from the produce cart, before performing our ablutions. Henry had given my eldest nephew and me a new toothbrush, and we were excited to try them out with our vigorous masculine brushing. I went first. It hurt a bit, but I found the metallic taste rather refreshing. My eldest nephew went next. Alas, his youthful vigour was so powerful that he lost a tooth, the poor fellow.
We slept well in our underground abode, sheltered from the weather. One could do worse than to live underground.
Star fruit Oxalidaceae
Star fruit: three stars for what is usually a three star fruit. Pictured also is Commelina cyanea, or scurvy weed. If you live in the same city a few years, it is inevitable that you will grow accustomed to the scenery. The things that used to make you laugh are no longer amusing. Look down the street. It is bin day, and the street is lined with bins of every spectrum. You remember years earlier, when the sight of these multilingual sulo bins – si! – was sufficient to bring you immense joy. Now, you only glimpse such joy. Perhaps you see a cat whose eyebrows look like a former politician, or you find a honker on the ground and give it a good, satisfying squeeze. Such events brighten your day. But – si! – some glimpses last longer than others. One day when you get off the bus, you see an A-frame advertising something or other. The advertisement depicts a woman wearing nothing but two pieces of star fruit, one on each eye. Such a glimpse of beauty and joy is reason enough for the existence of the star fruit.
The star fruit, also known as carambola, tastes like passiona. Passiona is a passionfruit inspired beverage. Neither passiona nor star fruit taste like passionfruit. The fruit itself is a bit insipid, but not so much to be a chore. It is edible. The seeds are covered in a strange sort of jelly that I found unappetising.
No progress today. My eldest nephew complained of a sickness in the lungs. He was weak. I advised him to stay in bed while Henry Erstwhile and I searched out medicaments.
Before we left, I checked our supplies. I gave the barrel of pickled plums a bit of a shake: not too many plums left. My eldest nephew’s barrel of orange juice sloshed satisfyingly: it was about half-full. Blotch had finished his barrel of melon pulp – leftovers from the melon raft. I made a mental note.
Henry and I left our little subterranean plot and went up to the surface. He directed me across the street. In just a few metres, the architecture changed considerably. In contrast to the immobile egg-carton whence we had come, this side of the street consisted mostly of the remains of Victorian townhouses, with several storefronts scattered here and there. Few of the glass fronts were in tact. The storefronts with foreign names – luxury brands from another age – had suffered the most vandalism. Peeking in to the atelier of Ecce Pecunia, I saw a poster depicting a pretty girl. The girl was naked, and her eyes had been covered with something. I blushed.
Further along, Henry stopped at a small side-alley to reach behind a wooden gate, which he unlatched. The alley was a tight passage that squeezed between two brick buildings, and the ground was covered in cardboard boxes and wooden pallets. We went down the alley, climbing over the pallets, until we came to a large black door labelled “apothecary”.
Lillipilli, or Syzygium australe: four stars for what is usually a four star fruit. There is, sir, no greater satisfaction in the world than the providence of found fruits. Who among us hasn’t known the joy of plucking a midnight lemon from a neighbour’s tree, before retiring to their metal box to suck the dribblesome juices?
The joy of stolen fruit is a large part of the satisfaction of the lillipilli. Lillipilli grows on streets, along verges, as hedges, or as trees, and they fruit in summer. Wherever you walk in Sydney, you will find lillipilli trees. The small, tart and crisp fruit is delicious, and there is a slight hint of cloves (Syzygium aromaticum). There is a lot of variation across the different species and cultivars, so every tree is an adventure.
The scientist and explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, in his seminal work Journal of an Overland Expedition in Australia, from Moreton Bay to Port Essington: A Distance of Upwards of 3000 Miles, During the Years 1844-1845, said of the lillipilli: “I appeased my craving hunger, which had been well tried for twenty-four hours, on the small fruit of a species of Acmena which grew near the rocks that bounded the sandy flats, until my companions brought my share of stewed green hide.”
I took the phial from my satchel, and showed it to my eldest nephew.
“This,” I said, “is what we are going to put in you.”
I opened the phial, and the smell of bitter mountain herbs filled the air, along with burdock, apple spice, and thujone. My eldest nephew raised his head to look at the phial, and then went back to sleep.
I asked Henry Erstwhile to open my nephew’s mouth, and poured the contents of the phial down into his open throat. With such bitter medicine, my nephew would be better in hardly any time. I gave Henry a positive hand signal, and he closed my nephew’s throat. When I looked down at the phial again, I noticed that it was still full. I asked Henry to re-open the throat, and poured more carefully, this time ensuring that the liquid left the phial and entered my nephew’s throat. When I looked back down after having finished pouring, I saw that the contents had returned once more.
Midyim berry Myrtaceae
Midyim berry, or Austromyrtus dulcis (sweet southern myrtle): four stars for what is usually a four star fruit. These treats taste a lot like eucalyptus drops, with a hint of ginger. The tiny, hard seeds have a pleasant crunchiness. The fruits themselves look like spider egg sacs.
The fruit is native to Australia, but you are unlikely to come across it in your day-to-day life. It is not commercially grown, and I have never seen it available at a greengrocer. I have never seen it growing in the wild either, but it is apparently more abundant on the coast north of Coffs Harbour and up to Bundaberg. Your best bet then, if you wish to sample this fruit, may be to find a friend with a midyim berry bush and ask very nicely next summer.
Whatever was in my stomach wanted to get out. I opened my eyes and looked up at the ceiling. It sat or perhaps hung above me, suspended and motionless, completely unaffected by the rocking and jerking that I felt all through my body, from my spleen to my interstices to my bare skin chafing against the buckles and straps. At least one of my senses was lying to me. In the cornice was a spider web, full of old egg sacs and remnants from previous years. The contents of the web bobbed a little with the motion. Outside, the wind howled.
I unbuckled the straps, and let myself fall out of the bunk and onto the floor. I found my greatcoat and my scarf, which I wrapped around my head before climbing up to the deck.
We were still docked on the river T––––, poor weather having delayed our departure since commissioning the small vessel three weeks ago. I made my way over the gangway and onto the river promenade, crouching under the railing to escape the worst of the effects of the wind.
Some distance downwind, a crowd of five or six people was gathered at the edge of the river. They stood in a circle, surrounding something that sat on the ground. A child of around ten sobbed into their muck-soiled overalls. I approached, and saw that the focus of their attention was some kind of animal, lying limp in the centre of the circle. Perhaps it was a dog; I have never been much for recognising dogs. I knelt down and brushed the head of the animal with the back of my hand. My hand became damp, and I wiped the excess moisture onto my trouser leg. One of the men of the circle, none of whom I had given much attention, lifted me from my kneeling position and asked me to leave.
Further along, I found shelter underneath a walkway that ran between two sets of townhouses. Here, the force of the wind was somewhat reduced. The ground was covered in a sticky dew, but behind the townhouses was a garbage alley, where I found a relatively clean cardboard box in which I could sit and pass the rest of the night.
Wax jambu Myrtaceae
Wax jambu, or Syzygium samarangense: three and a half stars for what is usually a three and a half star fruit. Today, we continue our survey of fruits of the Myrtaceae family with this Southeast Asian fruit. Like the lillipilli (Syzygium australe), the fruit of the wax jambu is tart and crisp, though the jambu is larger and less sweet. The jambu is pear-shaped, and a little smaller than an average pear. The skin has a eucalyptus taste, while the flesh is refreshingly bland.
We bought this specimen from a greengrocer in Cabramatta in south-west Sydney. At the time we did not know what it was, and the ship’s botanist thought it might have been a cashew apple (sans cashew). After dissecting the specimen, we were able to discern its true nature.
We had left the old capital in our chartered boat, the Liquamen, and had followed the river east to the sea. The weather had been fair for the past week, and I had now grown accustomed to the boat’s movement.
Henry Erstwhile, the toothbrush tycoon turned ship’s astrologist, was fishing from the deck.
“Tally how are the stars, Henry,” I asked, slipping back effortlessly into the nautical vernacular learnt from the hours spent on my CB radio as a wee.
“Tally how your foot – Mercury is rising in Pisces.” He kicked the bucket next to him and its contents spilled out onto the deck, allowing a few herring and cod to flap about in relative freedom.
I picked up one of the herring and walked over to the fish chute. The hand with which I was handling the fish was covered in a sticky, transparent scum. I deposited the herring into the chute and down it tumbled, into the depths of the fish processor’s fermentation tanks. There the fish would spend several days decomposing, aided by the heat from the sun and a strange biotic soup. Then the result would be pressed, dried, and burnt to produce electric power and propulsion, as well as producing a black, acrid smoke with more than trace amounts of formaldehyde, arsenic, lead, cadmium, chlorine, and whatever other contaminants that had bubbled their way up the ecosystem to bioaccumulate in this creature.
Persian lime, or Citrus × latifolia: three and a half stars for what is usually a three star fruit. The Persian lime is your garden variety of lime: if you were to picture an ordinary lime, and it’s not a kaffir lime or a finger lime or a desert lime or a Key lime, then you would probably picture a Persian lime.
Limes are not a particularly versatile fruit, and there are really only a handful of situations in which limes can be correctly used. In these few situations, however, the lime makes a terrific case for its existence. For example, you can mix fresh lime juice with simple syrup and gin for a gimlet. A gimlet is an excellent way to use a lime, especially on a hot summer’s day. Or you could make a margarita with fresh lime juice, triple sec and tequila. A fantastic choice for a sunny afternoon, regardless of the season. You can even use limes as a garnish in your gin and tonic. Gin and tonic with lime is magnificent for any occasion, and is particularly well suited to the warmer climates where one must stay hydrated. These three uses alone justify the lime, and one can only assume that as the days inexplicably grow warmer, the lime will soon reach five stars.
I did not know how long it had been since we had left Salamander Manor. I remember that the day we left was exceptionally warm and dry, so perhaps it was that time of year. I must apologise for my imprecision here; I have never been particularly interested in the passage of time, and the names of the months, with their corresponding ordinals, elude me now. Not all facts elude me, however: I am not entirely simple. I am aware, for example, of the fact that my eldest nephew and I had left Salamander Manor on that exceptionally warm day in search of a palliative for my eldest nephew’s digestive condition. My eldest nephew’s condition, the result of a drapery mishap, was such that he could eat only a limited selection of citrus fruits including oranges and grapefruits. Everything else that entered his mouth simply returned back to its original container. For the sake of my nephew’s nutrition, we had set off in search of the grapefruit plantation that was on the mainland. Along the way, we had met a gentleman named Henry Erstwhile. Henry had made his fortune in masculinity-confirming toothbrushes, and lost his fortune on jingo stocks during the uncertainty. My nephew had then fallen gravely ill, having depleted the orange juice that was his sole source of nutrition. Unable to treat his illness with pharmaceutical medicine, we had chartered a boat and were now crossing the channel to the mainland in search of grapefruit.
Henry and I spent most of our time sitting on the deck fishing for herring, a sickly sort of fish that was only really good for burning. When we reached the mainland, we turned west and started to skirt the coast. In a few days we would have to choose whether to follow the coast the whole way to the grapefruit plantation, or whether we would attempt to cross the gulf. Crossing the gulf would get us to the plantation in half the time, but I did not know whether my eldest nephew, unconscious and strapped to his bunk, would withstand the rigours of the open sea. His arms and legs were still badly bruised where he had tumbled against his bunk in earlier bouts of bad weather. I still had time to decide, anyway.
In the distance, several poles jutted out of the sea at regular intervals. As we got closer I saw that they were attached to a mostly-submerged structure of concrete girders. It appeared to be the remains of some sort of wharf or jetty. I guessed that at some point the tides had changed, and then the newly-submerged wooden planks had rotted away to leave only a concrete outline.
The old jetty was only fifty metres or so from the land, where there were a couple of rusty shipping containers. Henry, with cunning business acumen, suggested that we go check the containers for food. Behind the container, we came across an old woman lying on a deck chair. On the ground next to the woman was a pile of spent limes. I grew hopeful at the sight of the citrus. I introduced myself, and explained that we were looking for grapefruit.
“All I have for sale today”, the woman slurred, “are these here limes.”
I asked if she had any whole, unsucked limes left, rather than selling us the pre-sucked limes. She got up, steadying herself on the chair, and closed and bolted the container behind her.
“No”, she said, and flopped back down.
The woman was clearly a miser, as well as a tosspot. But spent fruit was still fruit, and it might do my nephew some good to suck on some lime remnants. I let Henry negotiate the deal, and eventually we agreed to give the tosspot a decilitre of herring oil to run her lamps in exchange for the pile of juiced limes.
Back on the boat, Henry and I spent the rest of the day squeezing out the remaining pith and juices as best we could. Rather than risk having the liquid return from my nephew’s mouth, I poured the liquid straight into his saline drip. I hope he wakes up soon.
The mulberry, or Morus nigra: three stars for what is usually a three and a half star fruit. I have spoken previously of the joy of street fruits: those ripe fruits of the branches that hang over the fence and protrude slightly onto the street. Even more so is the joy of those fruits when, rather than the branch overhanging, it is our arm that overhangs onto the private property of the fruit owner, when we nervously check the street for witnesses and our heart rates increase as we stuff our mouth with berry upon berry from stained red hands. Such is the joy of the mulberry.
We had been stuck in the doldrums for some time now. The fog had come and blackened the sky, and it had become cold and dark. For the first while — days or weeks, I cannot say — we had used our reserves of herring oil to propel our boat onwards, hoping in vain to bump up against the coast. Then we ran out of oil and the engines died. Without the sun we could not produce any more oil. Henry fashioned a sail out of some canvas upholstery, but the wind was as scarce as the sun and it got us nowhere. We drifted on, completely ignorant of where the tides were taking us.
I looked out over the prow of the boat into the grey fog. Some part of my conscious mind knew that if I reached down far enough, only a metre, I would be able to touch the brine. Yet, all was grey. I forced my breakfast of raw herring down my throat, trying my best to not let it return out to whence it came. The rough scales smarted against my mouth ulcers, and the metallic taste lingered on my tongue after all else had gone. I spat out into the ocean. Man was not made for such food as this.
I went to tend to my plants. We had constructed a makeshift greenhouse using the scraps from an old clear shower curtain which Henry had sewn together into sheets. It was small and served little practical use, but we had managed to germinate a few lime seeds, which had now grown into saplings of ten centimetres’ height. I hope that one day they will bear fruit to feed my eldest nephew. Every morning I wheeled the greenhouse out onto the deck of the boat, where it would absorb what little sunlight shone down. Then at night I brought it back inside, where it was protected from the worst of the environment. After I wheeled the saplings out I would stare at them a while, and sometimes even stroke them. Plants like that. I remember reading once that back in the days of industrial agriculture, the larger farms would often employ professional plant-strokers. It was particularly effective on the tomatoes, they claimed. What do you suppose happened to all the professional plant-strokers? Ubi sunt qui ante nos plantas mulserunt?
I was lifted from my reminiscence on the strokers, as one often is, by events in the outside world. There was a slight clicking sound coming from the other side of the boat, and I walked closer to investigate. There, through the fog, I saw that a great white beast of a bird had come to rest on the railing. It was looking out and flapping its wings, baring all to the ocean. I approached slowly, wary of disturbing it and scaring it away. As I got closer, I saw that it had left a dark red streak of guano on the deck. I recognised that colour from the stained hands of my youth: it was mulberry guano. If this bird had been eating mulberries recently, then we were surely nearer land than we had realised. I pitter-pattered below deck to tell Henry the good news.
Down below, Henry and I formulated a plan. I carefully and quietly dismantled the rigging from Henry’s abortive sail, and cut a good length of rope about five metres long. We were going to ensnare the beast, and this rope would function as a leash of sorts. The beast, naturally, would struggle and try to escape, before ultimately submitting to its fate. Then, we would feed the poor beast a few sickly herrings, and coax it into pulling us, boat and all, towards land.
Cruel as our plan may seem, I assure you that we were not motivated by any malice or spite. To you, dear reader, the circumstances in which you would need to coerce an innocent avian into pulling a boat may seem completely unfathomable. You, in your comfortable houses, with your ready supply of energy and petrol, will hopefully never experience firsthand the extents to which man must sink. And yet, I did it, all for the health of my eldest nephew.
Pomelo, or Citrus maxima: five stars for what is usually a three star fruit. The pomelo is the wild ancestor of the grapefruit. It is larger than the domesticated grapefruit, and the inner skin that encloses each segment is quite tough. The pomelo is also the last fruit that I will ever review.
Imagine yourself as a pre-agricultural man foraging for food in the rainforest. Naked and unashamed, you step out into a clearing. Before you stands a majestic tree, heavy with fruits that shine in the sunlight. You reach out towards the goldest of the fruit and at the slightest touch it falls down into your open palm. It is large and heavy, but you carry it easily for you are young and muscular and full of vigour. You tear at it with your teeth, exposing the thick white pith. The bitterness of the pith surprises you, and you consider spitting it out. But dribbling down from the tip of your canine into your lower mouth is a droplet of juice. The sweet, sour taste awakens some prescient spirit inside you.
“Behold,” the spirit calls to you, “the bounty of nature is a truly beautiful thing.”
“But,” the spirit asks, though in the æons to come you will recognise that the question was merely rhetorical, “will not the bounty of nature be even more beautiful once we teach it and guide it?”
I looked out from the prow of the boat into the constant monochrome fog. The irregular jerking of the boat and the wind beating against my brow were the only indications of our forward motion, but it was plenty enough indication for me. I could not see the great white beast that pulled us but I knew it was out there somewhere, tethered to the rope leash that extended out beyond the fog.
I heard a sudden cracking and tearing from below and I found myself being thrown forward, towards and over the prow. Later, I realised that it was not so much that I was thrown forward; more so, the boat had stopped quickly while I had continued moving forward. For the purpose of our current discussion, however, we can safely assume that I was indeed thrown forward. This is not a complete falsehood, as one may argue that, relative to the position of the boat, my own motion was equivalent to that of being thrown forward. Therefore, let us quibble no more on mere matters of relative motion.
Just as I was growing accustomed to my newfound forward motion, there came a new experience of downward motion. Fortunately, downward motion tends to be less ambiguous in terms of relative motion than forward motion, so in this case my own experience of downward motion more or less matched the ground truth of the matter. Abruptly, the downward motion ceased. When I opened my eyes, I saw that I was lying on the wooden planks of an old wharf, its ancient splinters sticking into my cheek. This wharf was the closest to solid ground that I had touched in a long time. We had finally made it to the continent.
I stood up to find the great white beast of a bird lying exhausted on the wharf. This beautiful meat machine had pulled us, boat and all, to the coast. It had liberated us from the wet expanse. It deserved its own liberty. I gently unleashed the rope harness from around its torso and tied the rope to a nearby wharfpost. I promised that I would give it our herring reserves before we left.
I wondered where we were, and how we could reach the grapefruit plantation from here. My eldest nephew was far too weak to walk, but I could not risk any further travel on that unpowered boat through that unknowable fog. No, I would have to carry him somehow.
In the kitchen I found a small trolley which Henry helped me carry off the boat. After we had packed our things, I did my best to ensure that my eldest nephew was as comfortable as possible as I placed his unconscious body onto the trolley. We followed an overgrown trail that led away from the wharf, leaving the boat behind. Henry and I took turns pushing the cart. We had no real direction to guide us; I only knew that I wanted to get as far from the ocean as possible.
The fog dissipated quickly as we left the coast, and Henry was able to take an astrological reading once night fell. The stars, finally, were in our favour. For the first day we followed the road north. We saw nobody and camped undisturbed in an open field. I replaced my eldest nephew’s saline drip and placed the zest of a lime in his mouth. I believe that I saw, in the dark, a flicker of movement in his face.
We continued heading north until we came upon a complex network of irrigation canals that supplied water to unkempt and unsown fields. Across the canals, past the fields, was a large river. I was certain that this must be the river L—-, the same river on which the grapefruit plantation rested. We just needed to stay on the river now. We stopped by the canal a while to rest, and I spent some time digging for the tubers from which grew the sprawling vines with bright purple flowers that covered the countryside.
For the next two days, we followed the river east. We passed through the remains of a vacated city and slept in the sheltered alcove of what must have once been a school. We had run out of saline for my eldest nephew’s drip. I took the juice of a tuber and tried to feed it to him, but it all returned from his mouth.
Around noon of our fourth day, we were free of the city and were walking the overgrown road that went alongside the river once more. In the distance of the road ahead I saw what I hoped was the plantation: a grove of trees, all the same shape and spaced too regularly to be a natural formation. Henry went ahead to look while I continued pushing the cart.
As Henry ran back, I saw that he was carrying something yellow in his hands: a grapefruit. It was the largest, most beautiful grapefruit I had ever seen; he needed to use both hands to carry it. I cut the monster grapefruit in half and squeezed the juice directly into my eldest nephew’s mouth, and he swallowed. We had made it at last.