Buying a piece of fruit in the bush is always an iffy proposition. You might luck out and get one that ripens to sweet perfection within a few days. It’s more likely you’ll get one that will go moldy long before it turns sweet. Or it will soften up, look beautiful and taste like a piece of wet cardboard. Having grown up with Jersey peaches as my birthright, I find that the only way to survive these fruits of summer is to close my eyes while I eat them and use every ounce of my imagination to conjure up the sweetness of those peaches of my youth. If I’m successful, the cardboard sometimes actually acquires a peachlike taste.
One of the great things my sister and I get to do when we travel each year is to visit markets in third world countries. While the fruit and vegetables displayed are usually not as round and robust and perfect as the ones found at the Alaska State Fair, they are nonetheless sweet and delectable – and mostly unrecognizable. These items are usually displayed on canvas cloths or old wooden tables and are often surrounded by banged up tin bowls full of loose salt and sugar and other spices that create their own rainbow of colors. I’d be the first to admit that I wouldn’t particularly want to use most of those spices – if only because of the problem of picking the flies and bugs out of them before they can be used. But the pictures on my sister’s kitchen wall are a testament to just how beautifully fly covered sugar can look in the right light.
Back in the dark ages when I was a child, my father use to put his fresh produce out on the sidewalk in front of the store as soon as it was warm enough to be feasible. There is little that will draw you to a store as quickly as the sight and smell of this fresh produce glistening under the sun. Of course, since it was dad’s store, we didn’t get the stuff on top. We got the stuff leftover on the bottom at the end of the day. But with a little judicious paring away of the brown spots, we never knew the difference. And the baskets the produce came in doubled as stands for the Miss America pageant parade. We’d carry the empty baskets up to the Boardwalk and turn them upside down behind the stands of paid seats in the bleachers. It was somewhat precarious but we mostly managed not to tip over as we craned our necks to see over the top of the people seated in front of us. Mom and dad had us convinced this was the best way to see the parade. Not only was the price right but you could leave ahead of the crowd when the parade ended. Mom and dad had all kinds of theories like that to justify not spending money they didn’t have.
It has always amazed me that considering the technological advances made in so many areas over my 30 years in Bush Alaska, we still can’t get fresh stuff that tastes good or ripens correctly. What has been perfected is the art of bringing up fresh stuff that looks wonderful. Beautiful peaches and nectarines. Glistening eggplants. Firm, fleshy artichokes. For anyone who lived through the days when fresh stuff consisted of apples, oranges and iceberg lettuce, these fruits and vegetables seem too good to be believed. Unfortunately, they mostly are.
Why can’t science figure out how to get fresh stuff to the bush that actually retains some semblance of the fruit or vegetable it’s suppose to be on some kind of consistent basis? Why can we put a man on the moon but can’t consistently get a ripe, juicy peach to my table in Barrow? One time it’s wonderful and the next time there is mold growing out of it’s collapsed body within minutes of arriving in my house. Buying fresh stuff should simply not be a craps shoot.
So all you scientists out there – stop figuring out how to grow fruit on Mars and figure out how to get it to the Alaska Bush so that upon arrival it actually bears more than a surface resemblance to the fruit or vegetable it’s suppose to be. Do that and I promise to never ever complain again about the $2.86 price of gas here.