A Fruit for the Hazmat Set
by Hal Jay Greene
Awareness of exotic foodstuffs creeps up on you like that of a new foreign film (not movie). One sees posters, reads reviews, or glimpses a trailer, and gradually becomes aware that a new drama (not comedy) entitled Too Many Consonants by the renowned filmmaker (not director) “Unpronounceable” has opened (in limited engagement) at the local gastropub cum coffeehouse cum cinema (not theater).
With this awareness comes a vague feeling of guilt. In our hearts, we feel we should care deeply about films that depict lives unlike our own. If travel is broadening then vicariously doing so is the next best thing. So yes, we know we should brave damp seats and musty smells to sit through three hours of subtitles, but hey, Black Panther just opened and everyone says it’s great!
So it is with exotic foods. Repeated exposure, accompanied by the sense that our diets are not ideal, can wear us down to the point where even Vegemite looks tempting.
Last week, the missus and I were shopping at Whole Foods for our usual allotment of bananas and pears when we espied a riotous display of something called the kiwano melon. No strangers to les fruits exotique (we routinely eat rambutan) we decided to throw caution to the wind and buy one, just for kicks. At five dollars a pop, we did not intend to make this item a staple of our diet.
“Why the kiwano?” you ask. Why not dip your toes in the water with something closer to home, like the mandarin orange or the white cherry?
Well, to begin with, the kiwano is not a subtle fruit. Rather, it looks like a neon dinosaur egg — with spikes. It practically demands to be bought. Or else. We almost had to put on a hazmat suit to approach it, but once we did we found it had a pleasing heft, a sweet perfume, and it does have the word “melon” in its name. To us, that promised an aesthetic experience in the same vein as other melons of our acquaintance, like the water and the honeydew.
Giddy at our brashness, we hurried home to sample our expensive bounty.
Before we began, we decided to consult Wikipedia, just to make sure we were doing it right. We discovered that, when ripe, our cucumis metuliferus, or African horned cucumber, jelly melon, or hedged gourd, should have a “refreshingly fruity taste, and texture similar to a passionfruit or pomegranate.” That sounded promising.
Next, we determined that our fruit was, indeed, ripe (its appearance and yielding texture fit every description) and so, with mounting anticipation, we proceeded to cut it open.
Do you remember that scene in Alien wherein the chestburster pops out of John Hurt? To say that we were taken aback would be an understatement. Upon cleavage, a flood of what could only be described as “viscera” came oozing out, innards that would not be out of place in an episode of Walking Dead. Embedded in this slimy torrent were hundreds of tiny seeds that promised not gustatory delight but neurotoxic seizure.
“You try it,” I whispered to my fiancé as the juice burned through several layers of the hull.
“But I wanted strawberries!” she protested.
Not wanting to appear as though I couldn’t handle something as daunting as a novel fruit, I grabbed a spoon and dug in.
That was a mistake.
If you can imagine a slurry of stale Play Doh mixed with equal parts motor oil and dish soap, you’ll get an idea of the taste and texture of the kiwano. I spat it out so forcefully even the cat wouldn’t approach it.
“What the Hell?” I cried. The kiwano just sat there, grinning as if to say, “And you paid $30 a pound for me!”
Chastened, we scooped up the damned thing’s remains and buried them deep beneath the cornfield behind our house. With luck, they will not germinate. If they do, we have flamethrowers.