Monday, December 8, 2008

~ melonette

How would you feel if you woke up one morning and everyone was calling the orange a florida? Amid streamers and bunting, posters in the supermarket aisle announce the arrival of a brand new taste sensation – the florida. The same sweet spherical orange citrus fruit as before, but now it is a florida.

Somewhere, in the high boardrooms of Big-Fructo a decision had been made and acted upon. Celebrity chefs have been enlisted as ambassadors, deals arranged with fruiterers, juice-merchants, vitamin and lolly-manufacturers, Microsoft spell-check has been suborned ... and before you know it the coup d’etat is a fait accomplit.

But consider their perspective: the orange isn’t going anywhere. It’s hard to excite someone with such an ancient and fundamental flavour and a fruit which – in a monumental slap in the face of human imagination – is blandly named after its colour. Sales are growing at the pace of the population and to an economist this means stagnation. Something needs to be done. The orange needs to surge. The orange needs a makeover.

So, let’s rebrand it. Let’s rename it after something everyone associates with sunny weather, leisurely retirement and water-sports ... consumers in benighted Belarus and Liberia can suddenly purchase a sweet slice of paradise ...

An impossible scenario? Perhaps, but I experienced something very similar at the age of about seven. It was my first personal experience of the crushing impotence of an individual in our society. The venue: Chadstone.

And a very different Chadstone to the one we know today. A proto-Chadstone if you like. The germ-plasm of the monstrous entity that exists currently - which still shows no signs of slowing its inexorable growth - like a reptile shedding its old skin every few years to re-emerge larger and shinier than before.

At the time, I was learning about fruit. I was fascinated by the variety of brightly-coloured, strangely shaped botanical products – and this was nearly twenty years before I tasted my first avocado, (thank you, Anne Harding,) Mango and Macadamia. I was learning their names from my mother and then memorising them. (In a prelude to the machinegun–like frequency of my obsessions in later life.)

Of the fruits available at that time, the Chinese Gooseberry was one of the more exotic. By way of education, my mother bought me one and I loved it. I loved being able to say the name. Perhaps I could even spell it. I looked forward with great enthusiasm to my next Chinese Gooseberry.

But then a pall descended on my child’s excitement.

On out next visit to the fruiterer at Chadstone, I saw the streamers and bunting; the posters in bright colours espousing a brand new taste sensation. And a new word. A strange unfamiliar word ...


A thing has a name. Adam walked through the garden of Eden and he gave everything a name, and one of those names was Chinese Gooseberry. When my mother explained to me that this kiwifruit was not something new but a new name for my Chinese Gooseberry I was bewildered and disappointed.

And before long, outraged..

I questioned my mother, who must have acquitted herself admirably. She helped me understand that businessmen and advertisers had decided that 'Chinese Gooseberry' was not a good enough name, and that more money could be made if it was called a 'kiwifruit'.

How could you rename something as fundamental as a fruit? My young brain swirled. And why a kiwi fruit?

She explained the connection between New Zealand and the Apteryx or Kiwi bird - though I am uncertain how widespread that link was in the public imagination at the time.

But it’s a Chinese Gooseberry, I complained. Well, now it’s a kiwifruit, she answered. I began to understand that a bunch of NZ fruit-farmers had stolen the fruit’s identity for the sake of profit. And they had named it after themselves, or at least their country. The gall. Had they even asked the Chinese for permission?

Jaded as I am, an act like that would barely ruffle my feathers these days. But at the time, the lesson sank deep. It still riles me to call the Chinese Gooseberry a kiwifruit, though I am aware that it is not strictly a gooseberry. But it is very Chinese. It was first exploited there about 800 years ago. Indeed, the yang tao is the official Chinese national fruit.

What I am attempting, belatedly, after learning of the fruit’s history, is to revive the name melonette. This was a transitional term. It appears that US importers were dissatisfied with 'Chinese Gooseberry' and, being Americans, they called for something snappier. The first shipments arrived under the new name 'melonette', which caused the product to attract high duties ascribed to the melon and berry category.

'Kiwifruit' was their second try and the Americans were satisfied, though these days they simply call it 'kiwi'. Wikipedia says that we add the ‘fruit’ to avoid confusion with the bird and the people. Hmmn. Others say that the name is connected to the fuzziness and flightlessness of the bird.

To quote the Purdue University site in the US: the name has been widely accepted and publicised despite the fact that it is strictly artificial and non-traditional.

Melonette ... Melonette ... charming, perhaps inaccurate ... but inoffensive and sweet. Unlike another of the fruit’s names: the sheep peach.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, why not give the finger to those greedy Antipodean gardeners and their American clients? Just say melonette. Or Chinese gooseberry, if you’re traditional. If you want to give due to the fruit’s Chinese heritage, then say Yang Tao. Or Strawberry Peach. Or Hairy Wood Fruit. Anything but kiwifruit.

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Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


lily was here said...

I never realised aussies once knew them as 'Chinese gooseberries'. In NZ thats what WE called them. Maybe it was too hard for you aussies to pronounce? :) Let's start a move back to calling them CG's lol