I have a fruit problem. This happens every time.
Georgia is where I first understood what it means to eat seasonally: that old-world necessity and new-world virtue. This was before the days of western-style grocery stores popping up everywhere (for which, I’ll fess up, I’m profoundly grateful). All the fruit and veg was brought in from the countryside or by traders with Turkey and sold from corner stalls and beat-up garages. You got what was growing. Period.
For fruit, that meant winter was mandarini, little clementine-style sweet citrus – not quite our sour mandarins. I still remember one long, cold week when Jason came to visit me. We had no power and we’d sit and huddle on the couch and eat kilos of mandarini and watch episodes of Felicity on my laptop until it ran out of juice. An intrepid soul, he’d venture across the street when we ran out of supplies, comfortable by then with the order: erti kilo mandarini.
But summer. Summer was my downfall. I am a slave to strawberries in the best of times and I had never – I tell you never – had strawberries like these. Small and brilliant red and the flavor! Had I ever actually had a strawberry before then? They were so ripe that those at the bottom of the bag would be smooshed into dusty juice and they wouldn’t keep at all. And so I’d sit for those few weeks – that strawberry window of summer before they’d disappear again for another year – and eat myself sick on them. My friends, when the season comes, still send me photos of their arrival.
But now it’s fall and fall means grapes. The rtveli, the grape harvest, is underway in Kakheti to the east and all of the street market stalls are laden with the purple and pale green orbs. There is a certain type of grape – and I am determined to learn what it’s called, that tastes like no other grape I’ve ever had. It tastes like the sweetest, tartest most irresistible candy. And I eat them in great piles, spitting out bowls full of the little seeds, waiting to turn purple like Veruca Salt. I always buy them from the same village lady. Like a totem she is there every day without fail with her delicious grapes and her moustache and dressed in the same faded black dress. No matter how many of her grapes I pile up on the ancient scale, it always costs one lari (about 60 cents). “Lari!” she will croak to me, holding up one cracked and thick finger. It seems a hideously unfair trade. Armfuls of decadent grapes for me. A measley little lari for her.
The thing is, her delicious little grapes are a little spider webby. It kind of grosses me out a little. I wash them, very thoroughly, but there’s still some sticky webby stuff that clings from time to time. So today in a rather ill-advised move, I tried a different vendor. Unlike my moustachio’d grape lady, he was a clean-shaven man and his grapes were enormous, perfectly spherical – iconic grapes. I eagerly pounced on several bunches, and threw in a pomegranate and some pears and the last of the summer peaches too. Unable to wait, I snuck an unwashed grape into my mouth on the walk home. What a let down. It tasted like … a grape. A normal, nice-enough grape. Not like a revelation, it might take me days and days to work through this ho-hum harvest.
I had to pass by the moustache lady on the way back. It was a perilous moment. I held the fruit down behind the side of my far leg. She had her back turned. I was clear. And I’ll be back.