Josna Rege

341. Unexpected Fruit

In 1970s, 2010s, Books, Family, Food, Nature, reflections, Stories on August 23, 2015 at 12:14 pm

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It was late August, 1990, when we moved to this house, with the schools poised to reopen after Labor Day and the cicadas in full-throated chorus every night. Soon afterwards Andrew dug up the twin nectarine trees from his parents’ old cabin on White Pond in Concord and transplanted them in our kitchen garden. This year, twenty-five years later, I am tasting the sweetness of their fruit for the first time.

One day, years before Nikhil was born, we opened a nectarine and found its seed sprouting, sending up not one, but two shoots. Although I can’t recall the details, I think Andrew half-immersed the split seed in a jar of water as one does an avocado pit (here’s a video on how one man did it). In any case, he nurtured the conjoined twins until they were old enough to separate very gently and plant in the soil. When the White Pond house was sold and its contents emptied, Andrew couldn’t bear to leave them behind; the twin nectarines and the two saplings we had planted for his Grandma Olga and Grandpa Victor: they all came with us, followed shortly thereafter by some honeysuckle from my parents’ house in Newton when that too was sold.

But not all transplants take, do they? Salman Rushdie showed us that in The Satanic Verses, when Gibreel Farishta careened into madness. Grandpa and Grandma’s saplings grew sickly and died, while the honeysuckle ran riot through the garden, choking everything in its path. Although the nectarines dug in tenaciously and managed to hold their ground, something wasn’t right. Perhaps their growth was stunted by the massive Norway spruce looming overhead, perhaps the soil wasn’t nourishing enough; in any case, they didn’t flourish. Eventually they started flowering in the spring and we celebrated the delicate pink blossoms, but come late summer the fruit was disappointing; either it fell off while it was still very small, or it was nibbled and knocked off by squirrels, or it was pockmarked and scabby. Andrew tried picking the fruits early, but the hard, tiny nectarines were too small to ripen. He tried making nectarine pickle as one would with green mangoes, but nobody much cared for it and it was more trouble than it was worth. The trees were weak—perhaps because their separation in infancy had left them inherently lopsided—and needed tethering and propping up. After a summer storm, one of them tipped over and started branching up from the ground again. We ought to have taken drastic action, but somehow we didn’t have the heart: besides memories, these were all we had left of White Pond.

But inexplicably, this year, a year of travel and transitions when the garden has received the least attention it has ever had, not only have both trees, even the broken one, flowered and set fruit, but the fruit has grown and stayed on the branches. The little nectarines are larger and healthier than I have ever seen them before, and there are so many of them that they are bowing the branches down with their weight. After all those failed attempts in past years I had given up on the fruit altogether, but just last week I took a closer look and found them filled out and beginning to blush. Sure, they weren’t going to win any prizes at the county fair: some of them were split open, others were oozing a strange gelatinous substance, and most of them were freckled and pimpled like teenagers; but they were healthy and definitely seemed to be maturing. I decided to pick a batch before the birds got to them and see if they would continue to ripen indoors.

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An old man I met in the supermarket had once advised me to ripen peaches at home in a brown paper bag, so I followed his instructions and set them aside for a few days. Yesterday, to my delight, I found that several of them had ripened successfully. They weren’t flawless, but after some trimming they yielded a small mound: slivers and slices of delectable pinky-orange nectarine.

Only twenty-five years later. I wonder why the nectarines came to fruition this year? Was their profusion was a desperate bid for survival due to our neglect, or did they simply need more time? I will never know. But it just goes to show: things may bear unexpected fruit, sometimes long after one has given up on them.

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  1. Who knows what has been going on in the inner life of those trees. Some things we just don’t have control over. It humbling. Beautiful post Josna.

  2. Interesting the subject of the nectarine. In chilly England we are supposed to grow them – as a fan – against a south-facing wall. And hand pollinate them in February when pollinating insects are scarce. I am not sure if you would thin the fruit – as we do apples – in order to give the spaced remainder a better chance of ripening? And, yes, so many variables are operating and affecting the chance of success! I am captivated by fruit, much more so than vegetables. I don’t know why. E

  3. A tricky one…. what makes life flourish, neglect or attention? Oh, this brings up many emotions for me personally…… I will have to explore ( or face ?) that for my self one of these days. 😦

  4. That is such a lovely and meaningful post…. I can totally relate with it, especially the exhilaration when the the flower blooms and the fruit ripens… I feel the same when I see my bell peppers and tomatoes… 🙂 Cheers!

    • Thank you so much, Archana. Yes, there’s something so humbling about the bounty of nature–especially when, in my case, it is produced through no effort of my own. Happy harvest, and eating!

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