Gregg Verutes- Not a Typical Mother’s Day Present

Gregg, an intern with National Geographic Maps, was raised on Long Island but has since spent time living
in Ithaca, NY, San Diego, CA and Washington, DC.  His hobbies range
from outdoor sports like surfing, sailing, camping and soccer to indoor
fun with music, cooking and art.

image_verutes_1.JPGI was born a New Yorker and as such, the sight of palm trees translates in my mind as rest, relaxation, and vacation.   Moving to San Diego, a coastal paradise, it took some convincing that this was the norm.  After two years of living in the Pacific Beach neighborhood, an MTV spring break Mecca, I switched gears by relocating just one mile away. Up the mesa and overlooking the beaches rests Bay Park, a small community consisting of predominately the 65+ demographic.  The tallest building in our neighborhood was a Geriatric high-rise just walking distance to the Hometown Buffet, which boasted the cheapest early bird special for miles.  Not knowing what to expect of our new location, my roommate and I began exploring the area.  

We would walk along the ridge of the canyon and spot our neighborhood’s endless supply of citrus.  Many of the trees were neglected, either through lack of watering or the fruits being left to ripen and fall to the ground.  Instead of being confronted by college students screaming out car windows, we could now stroll peacefully and converse with residents of our laid back community.  It was a glorified retirement at the ripe old age of 26.  

image_verutes_3.jpegAn afternoon Frisbee game would often cease when our disc became lodged
in a neighbor’s roof.  One thing led to another and before we knew it,
we were making friends, getting a history lesson, or washing a couple’s
skylights on the roof “while [we were] up there”.  This became our
shtick as we chatted with numerous locals who were overloaded with
fruit varieties and stories.  Throughout the seasons we tasted lemons,
limes, plums, and avocados all growing along the streets.  Being of the
highest quality, naturally, these ingredients found their way into some
delicious Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine, including hummus, fish
tacos, guacamole and various salsas.  Despite all this, my personal
favorite was a simple orange.  If we had even modest precipitation
during the so called “rain season” (which was equivalent to about a
week’s worth of rain back east), the trees would bear large, juicy
fruit by late February.  Needless to say we spotted some of our
favorite trees and made friends…quickly.

One weekend, by accident, we performed a taste experiment.  A friend
from Washington, DC brought an orange that he purchased from a grocery
store before he made his trek across the country.  First, we indulged
in the local California variety followed by the DC-bought orange.  Now,
I am not a food snob, but after eating the local orange, my friend’s
purchase was barely edible.  It wasn’t just that the latter had
traveled more than 3,000 miles, but that it truly lacked anywhere close
to the flavor of the Bay Park orange.  The best way to describe each
bite of the winning fruit was like consuming rich honey or nectar
without the sticky consistency. Each fruit was seedless and absolutely
delicious. I would compare it in taste to the richness of a sorbet or
sweet dessert but with only natural sugars.

image_verutes_2.jpegTo our dismay, these dependable trees began to bear less fruit by late
April and our cherished snacks began to pass their prime.  I began to
think of my family back in New York and how I wish they could celebrate
in our finding.  Cuisine is one of the best ways to share a piece of
one’s traditions and while this fruit was simple, it represented a true
part of our daily routine.  The end of the northeast winter was
especially harsh that year and I wanted to brighten up their spirits
and maybe even combat my sister’s seasonal battle with the flu.  For an
early Mother’s Day gift, I boxed up twelve oranges to ship to Long
Island, NY.   The present was certainly well received.  Some may say it
wasn’t worth the $9.50 in shipping cost, but that some has never tried
a Bay Park orange.

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