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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of January 14 - 20, 2004

Opinion Column

An ode to grapefruit:
‘Sass in a Glass’ is pathetic

Commentary by Betty Bell

I imagine that Spot just bounded through his dog-door carrying this paper that the paperboy, chauffeured by his father in their Hummer, placed in his slavering mouth, and that you’ve already folded it back to this column, for which I thank you. I have disheartening news to share.

A newspaper piece, "Can Grapefruit Be Hip? Growers Plan Makeover" informs us that the grapefruit industry is in dire straits, but the problem is being compounded by a tragically misguided response. The growers marketing goal, for which they’ve pooled $3 million, is "to transform grapefruit juice from the dutiful tonic of old people into the must-have drink for chic, health-conscious young women." Not even a mention of the heart of the grapefruit, only its juice. What a misguided plan—entering the Super Bowl against OJ as a 103 point underdog. The bookies will rake in CEO-size booty when we long-shot lovers bet the bank on ruby red.

A slogan that has smitten the growers is "Sass in a Glass". Pathetic. And they’ve hired a "celebrity bartender" who came up with the showstopper—a combination of ruby-red grapefruit juice and Bombay Sapphire gin, and the plan is to huckster it "at hipster gatherings like the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado and Fashion Week in New York City … We are trying to reach the kind of people who create trends, not necessarily people that follow them," said their spokeswoman. Note that a woman spoke—ladies always get the hard-sell jobs.

The best hope for grapefruit revival is for the growers’ marketing program to incorporate true-life stories similar to mine—I’ve delighted in the edible softball for years, though I didn’t inherit specific genes for that. I had my grapefruit revelation during Ice Age One when first I was with child. Pregnancy is the acknowledged time for drastic changes in food preferences and probably explains why men, generally speaking, are such life-long non-evolutionary eaters.

I vividly remember the first time I stood in front of a bin of grapefruit when it became suddenly and startling clear that grapefruit was the one food I needed, the one food I craved. At that moment all grapefruit looked alike to me, but gradually I earned a near Ph.D. in grapefruit selection, preparation and civilized enjoyment. I now stand before a hodge-podge bin of grapefruit as a connoisseur. Sometimes, instead of a bin, there’s a painstakingly constructed pyramid, and that gives me a pang—I must either destroy a work of art or settle for a lesser grapefruit, and that I’d never do.

At the bin, I’m quickly drawn to either the top or the bottom half, and then I’m drawn to either one side or the other of the top or the bottom half. Once I focus on a quarter of the bin I see the grapefruit plain, and I begin my search for a smooth-skinned specimen. A halved smooth-skinned grapefruit reveals an aesthetically thin perimeter of white pulp—rough skinned grapefruit reveal pulp up to an eighth of an inch thick. Ugh.

The next test is for heft. A juicy grapefruit is weighty. Do beware of a feather in the hand.

When the time comes to prepare your grapefruit, take as much care as you did in its selection. Never, never, never desecrate it by severing the spokes from the wall in one destructive circle with your knife. Good restaurants make it a hard and fast rule not to commit this sin, but the rest wholly ignore nature’s sections and slash away any which way, and you don’t have to accept such a desecration.

At the table, first eat your eggs or granola or whatever—anticipate the best to come. The grapefruit is eaten last not only to prolong the pleasure, but an emptied early-morning stomach doesn’t take kindly to citrus intrusion. My stomach lurches to even think about such abuse.

I hardly need to tell you to never put sugar on your grapefruit. If eating it plain causes a tendency to pucker, add a sprinkling of salt. However you eat it, it should be an unhurried process interspersed with sips of excellent coffee. And when you’ve finished, what lies before you should be an intact and beautiful wheel of spokes usually numbering nine or 11 with the occasional 10 or 12. In grapefruit today there were 14 sections all crowded together like a litter of labs and the runty ones called for extra skill and patience with my knife.

After I eat my grapefruit I take care to place each seed to rest among the spokes, my one idiosyncrasy, and one you needn’t adopt. The important thing is to savor your grapefruit, the whole grapefruit. I’m convinced that if the industry is to regain a meaningful market share, it must gain fidelity one graceful table at a time. At your table, may every splendid grapefruit be savored—and, for mercy sake, don’t put anything but an olive in your Bombay Sapphire gin.



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