There is a story about James Taylor, a boy and his pig. The boy raises a pig named Kosher until she is too large to live in his house and he finds her a new home with James Taylor’s pig, Mona. The story cheerfully touches on the boy’s mishaps with Kosher and the ultimate ending of any pig, but with an unexpected twist. I will not ruin the story for anyone because it is a wonderful two-page account that I cannot do justice. However, Kosher’s owner, the young boy, just happens to be Michael Pollan, author of books such as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Botany of Desire” and a great influencer of today’s food culture. If you ever find yourself thinking about how much corn there is in everything we eat, namely high fructose corn syrup, you may owe some of this awareness to Michael Pollan. Anyway, in response to his 2013 article, a mentor asked me to write a story about one of my own experiences with something related to food so I chose peaches.
If you are now wondering how I could choose such a simple fruit, let me explain. My father has an orchard behind our house, one filled with various fruit trees, as well as a patch of blueberries. Of course, we usually have more fruit than we know what to do with, so we enjoy sharing the bounty, but peaches have never been neutral with my family. They are like chocolate: as badly as we want everyone to taste and relish them, we cannot bear to part with these fleeting fruits. As soon as their golden flesh fills to the point of bursting, they bruise and rot, sneering at our inability to preserve, share or eat them soon enough. Because of this, we really do want to share them, but only so much.
I remember one year, as the peach season approached, my father encouraged a tenant farmer to pick as many peaches as he pleased. He did not give this offer another thought, but that year we savored fewer of the delicate fruits than we had hoped. As the heat of August pushed the fruit off the trees, the farmer mentioned to my father, “Oh yeah, I tried to make two barrels of peach brandy, but both failed.”
Frustratingly, failed peach brandy is not the only mishap to befall our peach harvest. A few years ago, we watched as the peaches slowly filled out and blushed into a golden pink before disappearing right as they peaked. We could not understand — there had been no blight or insects and the fruit was not dropping early. But then we saw these casually placed peach pits sitting atop our eight-foot deer fence encircling the orchard. They just sat there and taunted us as we realized someone else was snagging our fruit. Then by chance, my brother glanced out the window and there sat a squirrel atop the fence post, relishing the flushed fruit until only the pit remained.
Farming is truly a race to the finish line — who will get to those crops first and how can you best guard against your competitors? There is no glorious rush of blood as the hunter captures his prey, but rather the resignation of a farmer protecting his crop, his pride and joy of a successful harvest. So, my brothers, being farm boys, began to stake out the peaches, watching for the thieves after finishing the day’s work. Soon enough, the squirrels clambered up through the fence, plucked barely ripened peaches and lounged upon the fence posts, nibbling upon the precious fruit.
I am not surprised that my brothers’ actions did not completely soothe their frustration as they observed the squirrels, but there must certainly be a few missing tufts of fur and squirrels that feel wary of loud noises. That year, we enjoyed and preserved perfectly ripened peaches, still missing a few here and there but willing to share a little bit.
As my brothers have continued this routine, our peach harvests have remained steady and plentiful, almost overwhelming us at times. However, this summer, as I finished my favorite run ending next to the orchard, I noticed that one of our best peach trees did not sag under the weight of ripe fruit. I sprinted into the house and quickly exclaimed to my mother, “Ma, are the squirrels back?” to which she replied, “Oh no, no, no. We got to them first. We have them all.”
The Michael Pollan article is entitled “My Tragic Encounter With James Taylor’s Pig” and it was published in the Sept. 15, 2013, edition of the New York Times Magazine.