Many of the Tower Project books are handbooks and manuals of some kind, but until I came across a small pamphlet entitled “The forbidden fruit” (1905.7.3395) I had never seen a manual for any kind of food before. Cookbooks, yes, plenty of those. Manuals, no, not really.
This particular manual is for the grapefruit or Citrus paradisi, related, though not identical to, the shaddock and pomelo. The English name alludes to the clusters of fruit upon the tree, while the botanical name indicates the Biblical forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Book of Genesis.
Today, grapefruits can be found in any supermarket, and love of the fruit has even spawned particular instruments for their prepartion and consumption. Grapefruit knives, anyone? Serrated on both sides, tip curved upwards, always blocks the cutlery drawer…
In 1905, however, the grapefruit was a new and exotic fruit to most ordinary British families and people did not know what to do with them. In those days, most grapefruit exported to Britain were of the white, extremely sour variety. So imagine you buy one, you expect it to taste like an orange – and it just doesn’t. In fact, it puckers your mouth and puts your teeth on edge. Even your greengrocer cannot tell you how to eat it. What do you do with it?
According to Mrs. John Lane, the author of “The forbidden fruit”, the right way to prepare a grapefruit is to cut it in half, remove the pips and the core, loosen each triangle of pulp with a knife, then pour a lot of sugar over the fruit and leave to stand for a few hours. If you wished, you could add liqueur to the fruit to make it more interesting. So, take a very healthy fruit and make it very unhealthy indeed… Alternatively, as a starter you could eat the grapefruit with oysters and cayenne pepper, or on lettuce with a French dressing.
Since 1905, many more varieties have been cultivated, so that it is no longer nessary to drown the fruit in sugar (or alcohol) to make them edible. So there is no need to ask your greengrocer what to do with them. You can just enjoy them. If you can open the cutlery drawer to extract the knife, that is…