I tried to keep it casual, as if the word were not new to me, and, feeling somewhat justified for having majored in French, I asked the man at the stand what the story was with the “plew-ohs.” He looked over at me and said, “PLEW-ott. PLUH-um and ay-prick-OT. Plu-ots.” “Pluots,” I said, turning it over in my mouth. They were, he said, three-quarters plum and one-quarter apricot. Most of them were grown a couple of hours north in the San Joaquin Valley, the vast inland basin of California I had experienced mostly on the fly along its western edge, the long, dry route of I-5 I had driven many times, back and forth between San Francisco and Los Angeles. When I thought about those few times I’d visited the interior of the Valley—a movie set in Bakersfield, a Saturday night bullfight in Madera, a brewpub in Fresno on the way to the Sierras—I could kind of picture citrus groves, but I was fairly sure that I had seen neither plums nor apricots on the trees. As a child of the suburbs from a part of the country thriving in neither fruit, I’m not even sure I knew that plums and apricots grew on trees. That a hybrid of the two fruits could exist was astounding.
There were many varieties of pluot, the guy at the market was saying, each with a microseason. They had names like Flavor King, Flavor Queen, and Flavor Supreme.
“What’s the best one?” I asked. “Flavor King,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Hands down.” And that’s all it took, really. I don’t know if it was the simple thrill of discovery or the joy over what I had with Elizabeth spilling over into other parts of my life, but what my feelings for the pluot felt most like was love. Not, it is probably not necessary to say, romantic love, but surely tied up somehow in the same kind of agitated hunger for more of everything that it stirs in a person. And while with Elizabeth the hunger had evolved gradually but felt sudden and overwhelming, with the pluot it had been sudden and overwhelming but felt gradual. All of my earlier dabbling felt like preparation for this moment. Instead of feeling a sense of been there/done that, I felt compelled to know everything about pluots. They were what I’d been waiting for. They were my Thing.
But now that they were my Thing, what would I do with them? Was I going to grow them somewhere? Work in a produce department and sell them? Instead, maybe I would champion them, give them as gifts, walk around town with a big sack of them on my back. Or, maybe I would just eat as many as I could. I did love to eat them. So did Elizabeth. As July faded to August, we found a steady supply of pluots at the markets and the pleasure of them became part of our courtship. Having found them late in the season, though, we had one more month of pluots and then they were gone. Going solely on precedent, I should have forgotten about them within a few weeks. But I did not forget about them, and six months later I quit my job and moved to San Francisco to be with Elizabeth. And a few months after that, on a warm, drizzly Wednesday in late June, we were both standing in the middle of the middle of California, in an experimental orchard, looking at the creator of the pluot, a man named Floyd Zaiger, who, in his open palm, held a plum.
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