Monday, October 3, 2011

Yale's Argentinian Pears

Part 1. 

At the end of freshman year of college I developed a craving for Argentinian pears. These had lumpy frames and were rock-hard, but I would ripen them in my common room, and they turned incredibly sweet and fleshy after two days. The pears were a delight to look at: red splotches in the shape of rorschach ink blots bloomed across the skin, melding with the green undertones. They reminded me of parrots.

For two weeks in April, I ate at least two a day. During lunch and dinner, I’d stuff them from fruit basket to my backpack, feeling like a kid reaching into a cookie jar. Principles of social welfare and common good rarely applied; there were days when I had at least 10 pears in my backpack. When I arrived back home, I wouldn’t know where to put them.

There were other fruit that inspired a similar fanaticism. Blood oranges, a new introduction sophomore year, were slightly less juicy than Valencias, but made up for it with sexy, dark-maroon flesh, zipper skin and a deeper flavor. Regular mandarins were reliable – cute, sprightly and portable. And of course, peaches  – much more bountiful pre-2008-recession – were my favorite to tote out of the dining hall; during the first two months of freshman year, I brought so many home (and left so many pits around the common room) that I earned the nickname “Peaches,” which stuck, surprisingly successfully, throughout college.

The pears, though, were special not for their flavor but also for their scarcity. After those two weeks, they promptly disappeared from the dining halls forever. The memory of them is hazy and serendipitous. They might have appeared again, but I could easily have dreamed it.

Similar fruits have been lofted into my personal pantheon by virtue of their scarcity. In Ecuador, I have fond memories of three: Uva de Oriente, a sticky-sweet grape that grows on 40-foot-tall trees in the rainforest; chontillo, a cousin of the rambutan, though stickier and more juicy; and salak, a garlic-shaped fruit with a reptile-like skin that protects the apple-pineapple flavored flesh. Junior year, when I created an Excel spreadsheet that attempted to rank-order my favorite fruit according to sweetness, depth of flavor, vitamin content, eating pleasure, crispness, satiation, and exoticism (a mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive framework if I’ve ever seen one), the top three were Uva de Oriente, chontillo, and salak. I’ve never tasted them outside of Ecuador (although I  tried to sneak 10 salak seeds into the U.S., to no avail), and because I can’t foresee myself returning anytime soon, the memory of their taste has gelled, sweetened, over time.

After returning from Ecudaor, I became disheartened, to say the least, by the fruit the dining hall provided. Because of Yale Dining's emphasis on sourcing locally, I was subjected to bruised Granny Smith apples, mealy red apples whose names have already escaped me, regular Cavendish bananas, Bosc pears, hard, neutered green pears, and uninspiring oranges. The blood oranges, or the mandarins, or the peaches – I was lucky if I saw any once a month. The only semi-frequent highlights were sticky, dark plums, frozen blueberries, and firm green or red grapes. I grew comfortable with the new threshold for excellence, but it was mere human adaptation; I never failed to realize that somewhere out there, pears from Argentina were growing on bright green trees, waiting for me to eat them.

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