Amazing Stories of Summer Fruits
Americans' favorite summer fruits have juicy histories.
American's favorite summer fruits have juicy histories. Many of these treats traveled a long way through history to end up on our picnic blankets.
In ancient Egypt, watermelons quenched the thirsts of both god-kings and their servants. King Tutankhamen took watermelon seeds with him to the afterlife, according to Domestication of Plants in the Old World. Watermelons weren't just for the pharaohs though. Israelites ate melons, likely watermelons, while in bondage in Egypt, according to the Bible. (Numbers 11:5)
Grapes shared Tut's table with watermelon. Shriveled fruit along with containers of wine accompanied the boy pharaoh in his tomb. Grapes and their fermented juice were already ancient additions to the menu by Tut's time. Archeologists found the first evidence of grape cultivation and wine making in what is now the nation of Georgia from 8,000 years ago.
On the other side of the Atlantic, another variety of grape grew in North America. In more recent history, those American grapes saved the vines of the Old World. In the 1860s, an insect pest, known as the Phylloxera aphid, attacked the wine grapes of Europe. The flow of fine wine from France, Germany and Italy dried up, until scientists discovered that grafting the European vines onto American roots protected them from the pest.
Now, wine faces another threat as climate change pushes the frontier of grape cultivation further north, yet renders more southerly regions unsuitable.
Grapes came from Georgia, the eastern European nation, but the U.S. state named Georgia prizes peaches. Franciscan monks introduced the fruit to Georgia on the St. Simons and Cumberland islands along Georgia's coast in 1571. Southerners savored peaches for centuries, but it wasn't until the boll weevil insect decimated the cotton industry that peaches took off as a major agricultural commodity in the southern U.S.
Peaches journey to Georgia started in northwest China where the fruit was first cultivated. Traders brought peaches over the Silk Road and the trees took root in the warm climate around the Mediterranean. The Spanish first planted the peach in Florida.
Tomatoes followed the opposite route of peaches. They originated in Mexico, but were brought to Europe by the Spanish. For decades, the fruit was considered poisonous. Now, the tomato is an integral part of European cuisine and culture. During La Tomatina in Bunol, Spain, thousands of tomatoes make for a massive annual food fight.
A relative newcomer to the United States, kiwi fruits share the name of a tiny flightless bird from New Zealand, but the fruit actually originated in China.
It was first planted in New Zealand in 1906, where American service men first encountered the fruit during World War 2. The G.I.s developed a taste for the fruit and importation to the United States began in the 1950's.
Like peaches, the western hemisphere history of the apricot originated with the Spanish. The Spanish colonies of California began cultivating apricots and the region remains North America's primary producer.
History shrouds the true origin of the apricot, though many believe it was first cultivated in the area that is now Armenia. The Roman general Lucius Lucullus (118 – 57/56 BC), conqueror of parts of Middle East and Anatolia, receives the credit for bringing the first apricot trees to Rome.
General Lucullus conquests in cultivation lasted longer than his military successes. Along with the apricots that now grow in many Mediterranean nations, the general also brought a variety of sweet cherry to the Roman world from Anatolia, or what is now Turkey. However, Lucullus may not have been the first cherry-chomper in Rome. The seeds of cherries have been found in bronze age archeological sites in Italy dating to 2077 B.C.
The English brought cherries with them when the crossed the Atlantic. Now, the United States produces more cherries than any other nation, besides Turkey, the cherries ancestral homeland.
Would a cantaloupe seem more exiting if it were called a singing-wolf melon? Muskmelons, such as the cantaloupe, may have originated in Iran. However, the English name comes from the Italian town, Cantalupo, where the cantaloupe variety was reportedly developed. The name Cantalupo may derive from the Italian for "singing wolf," perhaps because wolves were once common in the region.
Cantaloupe may deserve a predatory moniker. The melons have killed more Americans than the wolves they are named after. In 2011, cantaloupe infected with listeria bacteria killed at least 29 Americans and sickened 139, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The first evidence of banana cultivation dates back at least 7,000 years ago in Papua New Guinea. The slippery-skinned fruit may have been independently domesticated in several locations in Southeast Asia.
Islamic traders spread the fruit to the Mediterranean and the Spanish brought it to the western hemisphere along with peaches, apricots and many other fruits.
Bananas didn't become staples of Unites States fruit baskets until the 20th century when advances in shipping allowed transportation of the fruit from tropical plantations. This banana plantation industry gave rise to multinational corporations that manipulated economics and politics in tropical countries, creating "banana republics," especially in Central America.
Along with bananas, mangoes to originated in southern Asia. However, unlike bananas, mangoes are still relatively exotic for most Americans. In the tropical regions of the world, mangoes are a staple food and hold religious significance. In Hinduism, the god Ganesh holds a mango as a symbol of attainment of pure perfection.
American supermarkets usually only have a single variety of medium-sized, thick-skinned sweet mango. In the tropics, mangoes range from apricot-sized fruits with tangy, edible skins to melon-sized mangoes with hard flesh that it often pickled or eaten with salt and hot sauce.