Sweet and sour childhood


This is a week that should be filled with romance and flowers and stories of love, so it must be “Food Week” on the JMD blog.

What?  Sure it is.  Look, if you’re going to romance someone, you’re going to have some food involved somewhere (if only a box of chocolates).  And what meal isn’t made more romantic by a pretty centerpiece of flowers?  As for love…well, who doesn’t love food?

So, if there are no further protests from the peanut gallery (food reference intended), let’s get started with a trip in the Wayback machine.  We haven’t journeyed together in this contraption for a while, so give me a moment to clean off the seats (dust is everywhere, but we’ll blog on that next week).

We’re going to go on a long trip this time, all the way to my single digits.  My Mom, sister and me are living in a classic old Florida residential area (long before “developments” came into being).  Just blocks of single-story family homes with real backyards and carports (open air garages, for you youngsters reading).

Plentiful at most homes in South Florida were a variety of fruit-bearing trees.  We had a nice collection featuring orange, grapefruit, banana, kumquat and coconut.  It is of the last two that today’s post revolves.

My block was typical of the neighborhood, with most families about the same age and demographics, meaning nearly every home had at least one school age kid.

As neighborhoods went in those days, most of us played outside, in the streets or yards (or both).  And there was lots of sharing between homes.  That sharing extended to the fruit trees as well.

Beyond just the parents sharing, us kids had fun pulling off a fruit here or there and munching away.  As with most things, there were eating contests galore.  Rising to the top of those contests was the legendary kumquat eating contest.

For those poor souls who neither know of nor have tasted the flesh of the kumquat, think you of a lemon, shrunk by 70% but packed with the same amount of sour, tart juice…basically a super concentrated blast of pucker.  Nothing like it!

Of course, the contest was simple:  eat as many kumquats as possible without doing permanent damage to yourself (come to think of it, the permanent damage warning was optional).  This included the possibility of permanently crossed eyes, sunken-in cheeks and massive crows feet from eyes squinted by repeated blasts of intense sourness.

I seem to recall my sister being champion of these contests, though I did no shame to the family name in the standings.  I remain a staunch supporter of all things sour, using lemon on many cooked dishes and making sure I always pick up Sweettarts during Halloween (and keeping the leftovers, of course).

Conversely, the other great contest note was the coconut gulp and gobble.  Coconut palms were all over our neighborhoods back then and provided a great source of contest material.

Cracking a coconut takes some effort and skill.  Not only must you take care so you don’t damage the “meat” inside, but careless cracking can lead to spilling the milk…definitely a “points off” scoring situation.

Seeing who could drink the most coconut milk and eat the most coconut was a game I did not do well at.  Though a big fan of sweets, I was unable to handle the concentrated sweetness of both the milk and coconut.  In fact, to this day, the only coconut I still eat is on an Almond Joy.  Just too overloaded on the taste buds (though I’ll tell you a taste bud story later in this week that will make your eyes water).

Today, South Florida has less of those wonderful fruit trees around the homes for a variety of reasons including diesease, overcrowding, overbuilding, yadda yadda.

I fear for today’s youth, never having the unique opportunities I had while growing up.  For them, life must be a little more bland; a little more vanilla; and certainly have a lot less flavor!



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