No this is not a confession. You already know that I am less than perfect and I hope that you like me anyway. Yesterday my mother-in-law visited bearing a big bag of the most delicious apricots and white plums that you could imagine. Plump, deep orange, bursting with juice and flavour apricots and cool, green smooth plums dripping with juice. Neither the apricots nor the plums would be considered for sale in a shop. They were too ripe, too ugly, too mottled in texture. And yet the flavour…I barely restrained myself from gulping the lot. I had to put the fruit away before Blithe Boy over-indulged. The girls were more circumspect. Already they know that fruit should look good. They checked if it was okay to eat and had to be reassured as to the harmlessness of the blemishes. Dark brown flecks discoloured the surface, the result of inopportune rain.
Life is tough for farmers. Some of course are whingers, most are not. They struggle in the drought and in the rain. Hail is an ever-present threat. Rain can be too little or too much, too early or too late. The timing of frosts is a matter of success or failure. They balance on a knife-edge between surviving and going under. The fruit that I was lucky enough to eat came from a grower, a family friend, who couldn’t sell the fruit. There’s a limit to what they can bottle or turn into jam. Value-adding is less a mantra than the way that they can get something, anything, for produce rejected at the markets. Their livestock feast on vegetables and fruit fit for royalty by taste if not appearance.
They’ve had contracts with the huge supermarkets, those ones selling hard green apricots for $12 a kilo, impossible multiples of what the orchardist is paid. Now instead of shipping produce to the Brisbane markets they give fruit to friends, drive to Toowoomba and sell produce, preserves and baked goods at the market. It’s enough to live on and they own the land. The children are handed the task of producing perfection for the mass market. The parents are thinking of ripping out the trees that are left as they can’t bear to see their years of hard work going to waste.
It all seems a horrible indictment of modernity. We think that looking good is more important than being good, that appearance trumps flavour, that people can’t learn that something wonderful lies under the surface. And yet, look at the stories. The ugly duckling has to turn into a swan before it is accepted, the servant becomes a princess, the toad a prince. Where are the stories where the ugly duckling becomes an ugly duck and survives because no-one is hunting him for his plumage? Or the servant stays a servant and the prince marries his cousin just like mum wants or the toad meets a lovely warty lady-toad and lives happily ever after? Or becomes a lonely curmudgeon toad living in the pond scum?
We dream of perfection rather than accepting the less than perfect. Maybe I should make that a resolution for 2009 – to enjoy less than perfection and hope that it is as satisfying as those apricots and plums.