While lazing around on the Fourth of July, dreaming of watermelon margaritas and tropical vacations, we picked up The Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith Gollner. We loved this book when we read it in manuscript months ago and selected it for our Chef's Library culinary book club, and it sunk its teeth into us just as quickly and deeply the second go-round. This is just a flat-out fun read, ideal for summer reading.
Gollner, a Montreal freelance writer, attributes his fruit fascination to biophilia, the love of life's natural processes. It's the idea that nature and all its wonderment provides a kind of evolutionary comfort against the nagging awareness of our own mortality. After a fateful stop at a market in Brazil, where the author leaves with a bagful of exotic and delicious fruits he's neither heard of nor tasted, Gollner's insatiable appetite takes root. His quest to learn more about fruit results in a bounty of fascinating fruit trivia, history, and literary references that he scatters Johnny Appleseed-style throughout the narrative.
Ultimately his hunger leads him on a physical journey to fruit-hunting hot-spots like Hawaii, where he encounters some of the most memorable fruits, such as the durian, the foulest smelling fruit (tasting like "undercooked peanut butter-mint omelets in body-odor sauce"), and the miracle fruit, one taste of which will turn sour tastes sweet on the tongue, so potent the FDA banned its commercial use based on fears of toppling the sugar industry.
It's on to Florida, where an underground society of fruit lovers meet in each other's backyards to share the ultraexotic fruits they've grown from contraband seeds. The more exotic the fruits he encounters, the more exotic the destinations he seeks. On an island in southern Thailand, Gollner hangs out with a group of fruitarians, who eat only fruit, a discipline that some followers say brings heightened awareness, uncommon physical abilities and instances of rapture and ecstasy. He tramps through the jungles and markets of Borneo, gorging on a fraction of the countless varieties of rare fruits that exist in this isolated Eden, and journeys to the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, skirting local laws to get a taste of the extremely rare coco-de-mer, one of the most desired fruits, notorious for its uncanny resemblance to the female reproductive region.
We could go on and on reveling in the general fun and fruitiness of this book. It's not hard to understand Gollner's obsession, and we got a touch of it ourselves after reading this and spouting our fruit knowledge at social occasions and even spending hours on the internet searching for sources to buy mangosteens, miracle fruit and dozens of other exotic and indescribable tasty fruits, most of which, we were sad to discover, are not sold in the U.S. for various and strange reasons.
This is a triumph of journalistic investigation, fine writing, good humor and a subject so enormous yet so overlooked in our day-to-day lives. Get more than a whiff of this one.