We learn to tie a maraschino stem with our tongues before we meet you, learn to peel away the wrapper of a Starburst square with our teeth (and suck), dry paper dampened by spit, before we peel open your skin. A fresh cherry has a seed; our teeth crush through its tautness and push past pit, tongues rolling it palatal and through the lips, out onto paper towels or straight into trashcans, before: you. We learn about jam jars that hold your name and that curly-haired Welch’s kid with the dimples from the movies (didn’t we want to be her?) before we found you: there, at the bottom of the bag, stemless, discordant, neither seedless nor table, but Concord Grape.
The first time we eat you we get sick. Not to pick on pectin, but don’t, Sugar, look: we’ve found what we love. A salve for the start of school, a salute to the start of fall, here is an activity and a food all in one, here is taking off the jacket you’re about to have to put on—it’s getting cold—but not too cold, yet, to stand on the deck in the sunset and pluck grape after grape from the hole-laced packaging (for drainage) and pop each into your mouth, one by one, like this:
- Feel through the bag, looking—not too firm, not too soft—you’ll know it when you—ah, yes
- Hold the grape up into sight, rolling between fingers and thumb, leathery exterior, smooth, and thick, looking for the place where the stem broke off
- Find it
- Place the navel on the tip of the tongue and roll the small ball back into a mid-mouth cradle, hold, hold, feel the temperature drop from cold to spit temp, twist the grape hole toward the back of the throat
- Break—lift tongue to pointy palate part at mouth’s zenith (feels like inverted stegosaurus/rhino nub), push—soft pressure, skin against skin, orb toward cheek, imagine purple stretching through indigo, to blue—more light passing through—until, yes
- Separate skin forward with the tongue and cradle grape in a pre-uvular hold, the tongue wears the skin like a broken hat that, finally out, the lips take off
- Trash the skin, but first, see that the inside is green—a clear kind of green, mucous-y and membranous, electric and cool all at once—know what’s in your mouth is colored the same
- Unlock the cradle and roll the grape ball forward, alveolar, sub-lingual, over teeth under lip to make the rabbit’s bow, then back, cool and steady, like a marble slowly melting, sweet and grape (!), no wonder they make jam out of this—it is the quintessential flavor—it is beyond the Dum Dum—it is beyond the Freeze Pop—it is better than purple Kool Aid on ice—it is summer yawning into autumn in your mouth, man, how long did they make these without telling you; how long can you stand over the sink and skin these popping, bright balls; how long will they be in season, damn, too short, and not too long
- Decide it’s over
- Push tongue to leftover navel hole; dig through while grape wriggles against teeth or ridge, helpless, gone; carve a tunnel (to China?) until the globe cracks and the pieces ply back and the seed flushes into the space between your bottom teeth and bottom lip where you might get an ulcer after all this; then fish it out
- Spit seed into hand, think about how it looks like the cereal they call Grape Nuts, throw it out (next time, swallow the seed)
- Massage the dying grape, hold it, keep him there, cool and broken, liquid, juice in the spaces between teeth and, smile
- Pick another one
The next time we eat you, we know better and stop—short of what makes a gut rot, pre-wine—but after we’ve exhausted (can we really call it this?) the feeling of peeling the Concord.
The Aesthetics of Food is a bi-monthly series where writers respond creatively to the sights, textures, smells, and sounds of food. Please send queries and submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.