There’s a time of year that I, for one, have traditionally come to dread. It’s marked out for all to see in the fruit and veg in the local greengrocers.
I’m talking about the arrival of truckloads of persimmons. Persimmons have no reason to resist extinction. No more reason do they have to exist, than do chokoes. Yes, they are cheerfully orange at a grey time of year and yes, they have a squishy texture. But they have a dreadful mouth feel – not unlike something hacked up from a lower lobe of a diseased lung. And they have a more-or-less total lack of flavour.
Sorry, I meant to say that they have a very delicate perfume, quite reminiscent of Clag glue – that favourite staple of my early school years.
Not far behind the persimmons we notice the mandarins. I personally have no axe to grind with mandarins. Except the ones that have a seed content approaching 87 per cent. I quite like the mandarine zest that accumulates under the fingernails, the sticky fingers and the bucketload of skin one needs to dispose as part of the after-lunchtime ritual. Or not.
There are of course pomegranates to widen the choice of inedible fruit during the colder months. Pomegranates remind us that we are a culturally diverse nation, doffing our hats to Persia, North Africa and the Middle East. And like the inhabitants of those climes, they bring colour and texture to our otherwise bland Anglo fare. But they bring seeds. Man oh man, they are a seed-rich experience.
And quinces – that intriguing cross between apples and rocks. Thirty cents, and the greengrocer will fill up the boot of your car with quinces – because they are a such a sought-after delicacy. As an alternative, you might consider drying them and using them as a carbon-neutral source of bio-fuel. Or road base.
Strangely, quince paste is sometimes flogged as an antidote to blue cheese. The idea being that one smears some on a cracker, followed by blue cheese and then (incredibly) it’s supposed to be OK to eat. In my experience, quince paste makes an excellent emergency alternative to axle grease and should be part of every caravanner’s kit. Particularly if the tub is inexplicably lost interstate.
So what do these phoney pretenders to green-grocer shelf-space have in common? Answer: they need to have the absolute bejesus stewed out of them with the addition of two thirds of the Bundaberg sugar crop to be made into the kind of preserves that jostle for space up the back of the fridge behind the coleslaw. And compete, unsuccessfully with that rock of the school fete – Lemon Butter.
In recent years we’ve seen the arrival of new exotic fruit. I’m mindful of the dragon fruit – with lovely red, triffid-like skin and fruit with the flavour and texture of jellied sand with black sesame seeds thrown in by way of contrast.
What to do? It’s depressing to wander the aisles of the green grocer in the months lacking an “r”. Best to stay away for a while. I prefer to go for mainstream preserves during the discontent of our winter. I eek out a meagre existence on Poire William, maybe Slivovicz, Kirsch – at a pinch, Vodka citron. Sometimes I even resort to eating Californian pesticides harvested and imported as heavily disguised navel oranges or ruby red grapefruit.
In a desperate attempt to make it through to the first mango of the season, I sometimes revert to purchasing chestnuts – a relative newcomer to the Australian green grocery. These can sit in the pantry for months until the first mango of the new season arrives, pristine, in it’s orangy-red hugeness direct from the mango fields of the Northern Territory.
Like the first swallow returning to Capistrano, this mango is not for eating. The five dollar price tag covers just the transport cost. Flavour and texture are not included in the price. Colour, yes, but flavour and texture, no way.
But the chestnuts are divine. Not for eating, for reminding one of the romance of roast chestnuts in the snow on the Champs Elysees. I recommend that you do remember them this way – even if you have never been to Paris, I can faithfully report that winter fruit does not get better than this.
Purchase enough chestnuts to pan roast for two people. That would be two chestnuts. Then leave them in the pantry until the first stone fruit of the new season appears – and – throw the chestnuts out – saving you the trouble of third degree lacerations from trying to peel them, or third degree burns in the unlikely event that you CAN peel them and inadvertently put one in your mouth.
Oh, and if you’ve made it this far with the chestnuts, they will have a texture and a taste not unlike pencil erasers – completing (with the persimmon-Clag combination) the daily double of infants’ school taste reminiscences.
Not a good memory, but a memory, none-the-less. Glad to have one.
Mike Jones is a freelance writer.