Hunting the perfect fruit
Wednesday, July 2, 2008 | 08:50 AM ET
by Amber Hildebrandt, CBCNews.ca
As soon as I read Montrealer Adam Leith Gollner’s recently released book, The Fruit Hunters, I too wanted to become a fearless explorer of the fruit underworld.
His descriptions of adventures abroad in pursuit of a taste of thousands of fruits most of us have never seen or even heard of had me thinking of going on my own mini quest - albeit a more local one.
A spiky durian fruit is opened to reveal its creamy yellow flesh. The fruit tastes like garlic ice cream and produces an odour so pungent some buildings in Southeast Asia ban it from their premises. (Cynthia David/Canadian Press)
In his book, Gollner waxes on about fruits such as the so-called miracle fruit that temporarily makes sour food taste as sweet as candy, a pod-shaped fruit filled with a cotton-candy like substance that tastes like ice cream, and the oddly feminine shape of the coco de mer, just to name a few.
Gollner visits with fanatical fruitarians, whose diets consist only of the ripened seed-bearing part of the plants, as well as fruit lovers and also those in the seedier business of smuggling the food to those with a voracious appetite for the unusual or for a taste of home.
As Gollner points out, we eat but a miniscule amount of the abundance nature produces, with some of the most common fruits served being bananas, apples and grapes.
After reading the book I was hungry for my own adventure, without the costs of a trip abroad. Being stuck in the downtown core of Canada’s largest city, I decided to come up with some ways of locally tracking fruit used by Gollner in more tropical locations.
1. Fruit markets
As Gollner writes, markets are one of the best places to start looking for fruits, whether at home or abroad. "Anything worth growing or eating invariably ends up at these central congregations,” he writes in his book.
Toronto's Chinatown is no jungle-side market in Borneo, but I've seen my fair share of mangosteens, longans, durians and dragonfruits while walking home along Spadina. Even my corner fruit stand seems to be getting into more unusual fruits, with mini kiwis and golden raspberries showing up on its stands over the past few weeks.
2. Urban foraging
There is something about the primal hunt for wild food that drives us. In Gollner's book he quotes ethnobiologist Nancy J. Turner as saying it satisfies some "instinctive yearning left over from man's evolutionary past."
But in the middle of the city, your choices are limited to busy parks and sketchy alleys. Not that it stops Gollner, who says in one interview that he picked “the best” cherries from trees in an alley in the Montreal neighbourhood of Mile End.
One Toronto website details where and when to find fruit in the city. It also encourages people to talk to their neighbours if they spot an over-abundant fruit tree in their yard. In that spirit, I climbed up my landlord's cherry tree next door. He was more than happy to have me free him of the excess fruit.
3. Wild foraging
Then there's the great wild outdoors, land beyond the city limits that grows treats native to our own land ranging from Saskatoon berries to chokecherries. As Gollner points out, the now ubiquitous McIntosh apple is actually a local discovery from the Cornwall, Ont., area.
As I discovered over the weekend, the problem with wild edibles is the lack of abundance. Rummaging through ground spotted with wild strawberry plant leaves near Tobermory, I found one tiny berry. Very sweet, but not so satisfying.
For instant satisfaction, you can always mosey over to the well-organized U-pick fields dotting the outskirts of cities. When I went on Canada Day, I was just one of hundreds picking through field after field of glistening red strawberries. Perhaps not as adventurous, but there's some sense of delight in emerging from a farm with a bucket brimming with the fruits of your labour.
5. Virtual fruit hunting
If all else fails, you can live vicariously through Gollner's travels. He's posted a slideshow of photos documenting some of his travels. He also has links to some of the most startling fruits he has discovered.
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From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.
About the writers
Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.
Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.
Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.
Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).
Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.
Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.
Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.
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