The Independent Newsweekly
|Today's Take: NCR's daily Web column|
|Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news. It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.|
|September 19, 2003||
Vol. 1, No. 114
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer
Quite some time ago, I read about a band of über-vegetarians. They lived in Vermont or Washington state -- I forget.
What I do remember is their central guiding principle: They had to eat their food within an hour of its being plucked from the vine or pulled from the earth. A cucumber or a grape off the vine more than an hour was no longer fresh enough for consumption. It was consigned to the compost heap.
Weird, I thought. Then I moved back to the United States.
I had lived 11 years in Thailand where shopping trips to the fresh market were part of our daily ritual. Our fruits and vegetables would not have met the standards of the über-vegans, but we did know the fields where our meals originated.
My family and I left Thailand in late February, which is the beginning of the mango season. We all loved mangoes. Asian mangoes are quite different from the mangoes you get here imported from Central America. Mangoes here look like little melons compared to the long, teardrop-shaped Asian mango.
Oh and the varieties! First to ripen are the green mamuang kiew sa-wuey, which are crunchy and tart. To eat, you dip them in a mixture of salt and crushed chili. The most prized is the mamuang thong dum. Peeling away the thin, lemon-yellow skin reveals a flesh the color of butternut squash but so sweet, it defines succulent.
The mamuang naam dok mai is ubiquitous; in season, you can get them for literally a dime a dozen. These have to be peeled and eaten either outside or over the kitchen sink, because their juices run down your chin and arms as you smack and suck.
That's what we left. We arrived in Kansas City in February, greeted by family and friends, a Great Plains blizzard and fruit in cans.
We found an Asian market where we can buy some familiar looking vegetables (apparently grown in Texas) and that was OK. But we really missed the fruit.
We like the apples here, and summer brought excellent watermelons; but the oranges are too acidy, the plums too unfamiliar and the bananas look and taste like wax compared to our delicate wei of kluay kai, a stubby, round banana with firm sweet white meat tinged with red.
A couple weeks ago, my parents called from Nebraska inviting us home. Mom said the pear trees were so full branches were breaking, could we come help pick them. We obliged. Once there we found that Mom had not exaggerated. Dad had laced the branches of their two pear trees with clothesline rope to hold everything together until we could get the fruit off.
We picked pears one whole morning filling 12 baskets. Mom wrapped individual pears in newsprint and filled a grocery sack for us to take back. Set them in a cool dry place for about a week before you open them, she instructed.
At the end of that week, we found ourselves gloriously rewarded. One night after supper, I asked the kids if they wanted to try Grandma's and Grandpa's pears. I started to peel and slice at the dinning room table, but the sticky sweet juices ran down my arms, so I moved to the kitchen sink. Wife and boys stood around me, eating a quarter of a pear at a time, just as fast as I could peel and core them.
Between the five of us, we ate 12 pears that night. In six days, the bag was empty. Luckily my brother came to visit the following week and Mom sent another bag of pears with him. Those are all gone now too, but the memory lingers. We are already planning for next year's pear harvest.
I was thinking of all of this yesterday at lunch as I gnashed on a waxy, old banana. That is when I remembered the tale of the über-vegans. I understand better, now, their lust for freshness. Maybe they weren't so weird after all.
Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer and coordinates NCR's Web site. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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