Sometimes you don’t realize it when it happens. You don’t know that the bite you just took was one of the best – that you just enjoyed a perfect bite.
Sometimes you are lucky enough to know that the bite you have just taken was a perfect bite, that all factors have collided to treat you to a flawless tasting experience. I knew it when I bit into the perfectly ripe nectarine I plucked from my father-in-law’s garden in Greece. I stopped immediately to take the above photo and capture the moment visually with the hope that future viewing will help me remember the other sensations.
Peaches and nectarines have long been my favorite fruit, when they are at their prime. Unfortunately, there is only a small window of time when they are just so and when you get a bad one, it is notably disappointing. When I first see the mounds of fuzzy peaches in the stores, I must use all my power to hold back and remind myself of the countless false starts in past years that have disappointed with tasteless, overly hard fruit. And, at the height of the season, when we are just turning over the top of the mountain towards decline, I must except that last, wonderful peach for what it is before I get greedy and end up with a pithy, mealy mess.
When we arrived in Corfu for vacation two weeks ago, the small tree in the front yard was spotted with large, red nectarines. It is a new tree that my in-laws planted last year and it was the first time I had ever seen a peach or nectarine tree bearing fruit. I was warned to wait as the fruit was not quite ready for consumption.
Each morning, I slipped on my flip flops and walked out in my sleepwear to feel the ripening beauties. About three days into our vacation, the hot, Greek sun had performed its magic and a few of the fruits were soft to the touch. Our first sampling revealed white flesh inside with swirls of hot pink. The flavor was as sweet as candy and the juice dripped down our chins. Within days, nearly all the nectarines began ripening at once and I began to panic that we couldn’t eat them fast enough!
In order to make the most of my first tree-plucked nectarines, I vowed to include them at every meal. We diced them over our thick Greek yogurt for breakfast, letting their juice drip off the knife into the bowl as we cut. I ate them after lunch and a few times just walked to the tree to grab a snack.
After about a week, a few fruits had fallen to the ground where worms and bugs invade making the prize inedible. My mother-in-law decided that the time had come to clean off the tree and make nectarine jam. I grabbed one last, soft nectarine from the tree and standing on the porch bathed in golden Greek afternoon light, I took the bite you see above.
All food experiences are touched by factors other than taste. The setting, the company, the occasion, the weather, the rarity of the food, the relationships with the people involved in the food… so many things set the scene. In the case of this perfect bite, I had relaxed into a much needed family vacation on an island so different from my normal habitat. I am always deeply satisfied by harvesting my own food but have never been so fortunate to be near a tree bearing my favorite fruit. The few days of anticipation while the nectarines ripened, the beautiful color of the flesh, the fact that each one was slightly warm from the sun when I ate it, the glorious sweet aroma, and due to the impending jam making, I knew that it was my last nectarine from the tree – all these things converged, heightening my senses and appreciation, creating a perfect bite.