Fruits and vegetables turn me on.
Although not in the way their sexiness is usually portrayed in popular story and film, like that scene in Animal House where the fraternity president flirts with the dean’s wife over a cucumber. I don’t lust after fruits and vegetables in the hopes of inserting them in any orifice but my mouth. But watch me at the farmer’s market or the local greengrocer where they sell the tastiest, in-season produce, and you’ll note my dilated pupils, the quickening breath, the flushed cheeks: all signs of raw physical arousal.
At the farmer’s market there is something to titillate every sense in every season, although summer is especially lush and sinful. Rounded melons, blushing berries, plump nectarines and strokably fuzzy-skinned peaches. Heady perfumes intoxicate, free samples seduce. I spread the flaps of my shoulder bag wide and stuff it greedily with treasure.
I suspect my ecstatic response to fresh fruits and veggies has deep roots in a past of sorry deprivation. Born at the tail end of the baby boom, I spent my childhood in our country’s bleakest culinary era—the age of convenience food. In historical terms, I can certainly understand the appeal of Hamburger Helper to a harried cook (most often a working mom) and the allure of the national brand, brightly packaged and frozen or canned under the watchful eye of the USDA.
Suddenly, in this age of man-made miracles, produce was no longer bound to the seasons. If a recipe called for strawberries, you didn’t have to wait until June. Apples and oranges were piled harvest high all year long. And remember that green bean casserole with canned soup and crushed French fried onion rings everyone claims as a special family recipe? I’ve seen recent adaptations with fresh beans and homemade white sauce, but the true pride of the Thanksgiving dinner table was the bounty of cans alone.
Bewitched by all of that convenience and abundance, we forgot that Delicious apples in March were not so delicious after all. I was well into my twenties before Alice Waters and her foodie revolution taught me that choosing produce with attention to its season and provenance meant the difference between feasting on a juicy piece of heaven or gnawing some damp cardboard.
My mother was mostly a woman of her time. However, though she did serve chocolate mousse made from a box and magic molded salads born of Cool Whip and syrupy fruit cocktail, she preserved enough savvy from her childhood tending an extensive Victory garden that she would always stop at farm stands for peaches in late July and apples in September. We’d pile into the car to the pick-your-own-strawberry fields (still warm from the sun, the sweetest berries I remember eating), which she’d crush into a chunky freezer jam that was as good on ice cream as on toast. Indeed, my mother could get pretty worked up over fruit in its season. In fact, a few months after her death, I wrote a (modestly) award-winning flash piece inspired by her fondness for good cantaloupe. It seemed, at the time, the most proper tribute I could give her.
In the strange way that life imitates art, after I wrote that story I began to take fruit choosing much more seriously. I spurned grocery stores and bought produce from my local greengrocer or one of the ever-growing number of local farmer’s markets. I’d eyeball the offerings with a serious frown, seeking out that blush of rose (a study showed that women, but not men, are drawn to pinkish shades in their fruit), sniffing the blossom ends for a promise of sweetness or the damning astringency of the under-ripe. I’d help myself to samples with gusto, but if there were none, I’d fearlessly pop a grape or cherry or even a green bean—which can be almost sugary when it’s farm fresh—in my mouth. No one ever complained. I began to feel like a Stone Age woman, hunting and gathering the tastiest treasures of the wild for her tribe, exultant in her finds. As a result, my family has become snobbish when it comes to fruit, which is embarrassing when they wrinkle their noses at someone else’s fruit salad. Secretly, however, I’m proud of their discerning palates.
Perhaps it is a family legacy, but I take special pride in choosing good melons. They strike me as the most mysterious of fruits, weighty, self-possessed, their soft secrets guarded by thick, seemingly impenetrable rinds. Over the years I’ve become better at choosing sweet ones, developing an arsenal of tricks to tease the best one from the crowd. First I check them for soft spots, signs of mold or hidden gashes. Then I lift them, weigh them in my hands. Next comes the most important part: the sniffing, which means getting truly intimate with the melon in a public place. In a supermarket, the cold storage renders most melons mute, but at a natural summer temperature, I’ve found it possible to “listen” to a melon’s essence. You can’t be shy about this, you simply have to hold the fruit to your nose (the experts say blossom end, but I often try the stem dimple as well) and take a series of sniffs. It’s best to try a few for comparison, because one will usually whisper something sweeter and more alluringly floral than her sisters. That’s the one I place carefully in my shopping cart to take back to my place with me.
When I get my girl home, the real fun begins. Caressing her round form, I wash her with dish soap and a melon brush (scared by those TV reports of evil microbes into precautions for a safe encounter). Then I slice her open into twin demi-globes and scoop out the seeds, admiring the small pool of wetness in the vulvular indentation. Juice means sweetness, an eagerness to be taken. My very favorite moment is scooping out that first spoonful of moist flesh, sucking it softly through my lips. At this time of year, I am rarely disappointed. A superior melon has the complexity of a fine wine, sunlight distilled into sweetness. Rich, yet light, it satisfies in a primal way no fancy, fussy pastry can rival.
It’s sexy as hell.
My favorite organic—I almost wrote “orgasmic”—farm is Full Belly and they seem to understand the erotic allure of melons. They post their only male worker, a Fabio-esque fellow with plenty of muscles, at the melon end of the counter. He tosses his locks and calls to passing shoppers rather sternly, like a brooding Top, “Buy a sweet melon, nature’s dessert!” I’ve found it’s always best to ask him, my voice low and husky, which are the sweetest. Each week the answer varies, which is just how it should be. Nowadays you can get all kinds of exotic globes of delirium I’d never known in my youth—yellow “doll” watermelons, orange-flesh honeydews, glamour girl Sharlyn’s and my latest discovery, honey-sweet oval Hami melons.
Yes, we’ve come a long way from the wilted chunks of pre-cut cantaloupe and insipid honeydews whose only flavor is “cold.”
This is perhaps as good a time as any to slip on into the “writing” part of my July ramblings. Jolie du Pre recently asked me in a blog interview if the writing process has gotten easier for me after eleven years, seventy stories and one novel. The question gave me an excuse to contemplate how far I’ve come since I began writing fiction. A blank file for a new story still makes me a bit queasy, but experience has made me more comfortable with the inevitable steps involved in crafting a story.
For example I think I’m better able to identify which images and questions form the seed for a good, juicy tale. And I know my first draft will be a mess of seeds and strings, but careful scooping and shaping will render it much more palatable. I’m more familiar with my peculiar strains of weakness in my work. My early, unseasonable drafts lack that necessary flavor of tension. My endings tend to be overly complex, piling on sugar and maraschino cherries when unadorned fruit will do. More recently I tend to rush my final sex scenes, anxious to find closure, when it’s precisely the moment to be drawn out and savored. Generally I end up with something tasty enough to please. Occasionally I manage a story that makes me smack my lips and marvel, or, sadly I’ll end up with something mushy, overripe, tinged with mold. Still I’m confident it’s worth it to try again, because more often than not, the rewards are so very sweet.
I got to thinking, too, that it’s probably no coincidence my best time for writing dirty stories comes right after my morning encounter with nature’s bounty and the urges it provokes in me. This is indeed a good thing. All that juice would be a terrible thing to waste.
This month I leave you with a non-recipe—simple, sweet and juicy.
Melon: Nature’s Dessert
Go to a farmer’s market or a trusted greengrocer.
Ask, with a humble, but winning smile, which melons are the sweetest today.
Look over the offerings carefully. Taste any samples that are available.
Pick up several of the most appealing melons and give them a good long sniff. If you “listen” hard you will pick up an essential fragrance—each will be slightly different.
Choose the one that calls to you. Interpersonal chemistry is key.
Take it home, undress it carefully, and savor it at room temperature, totally naked (I mean the melon, but you can take off your clothes, too!).
Sigh and smack your lips and whisper: Only in summer….
Donna George Storey
“Cooking up a Storey” © 2008 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.