Jan. 2003. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10110. 256 pages, hardcover; list price, $24.95. ISBN: 0-39301-960-8.
Rather than unfolding the seasons through a year of producing his peaches and raisins, Masumoto guides us on a journey of sensations, memories and nostalgia. As he laments the loss of the public's appreciation of fruit grown for flavor, he also revels in the tastes, textures, and aromas of truly delectable fruit.
In spring, the orchard becomes a color tapestry formed of blossoms: white from plum blossoms, shades of pink from peach and nectarine blossoms. Sun Crest blossoms are light and softly tinged, but Elegant Lady peach blossoms are dark and vivid. An unusually cold winter seems to bring deeper, darker blossoms followed by an especially good peach crop.
Spring also brings the subtle fragrances of peach and grape blossoms. Fall is filled with the heady aroma of ripe grapes drying into raisins. Bicyclists visiting the farm fill their lungs with the scent of peach blossoms, wildflowers and clover. Scents bring rushes of memories and stories of places they have ridden and smells they know.
We are introduced to the sounds of the orchard: "shu-shu-shu" of a shovel scraping the surface of hard ground, giving way to the "cho-cho-cho" of a shovel in search of deeper roots. Masumoto recalls the sounds of tractors, farm animals, barn mice and long conversations with farm dogs. He notes that farm dogs are more attentive than farm cats; cats will often walk away in the middle of a farmer's monologue. At harvest we experience the sounds of a perfectly ripe peach, "the breaking of the skin as teeth sink into the flesh, the sucking of juices out of the meat."
Masumoto recalls the joy of the first ripe peach of the season. He samples peaches with the dawn when the cool morning air intensifies both acidity and sugars. The first "perfect" peaches are picked into a straw hat to share with family. Juice stains on a young son's shirt bear witness to the juiciness of a well-grown peach.
Touch is a part of harvesting a ripe peach. At just the right moment the peach will "give" under gentle pressure, still firm but tender. Masumoto also shares the sensations of orchard chores: propping tree branches heavy with fruit, tying grape canes, the feel of farm tools in callused hands, and a daughter learning the "feel" of a tractor clutch.
Masumoto paints pictures with the simple words of a farmer. He shares the joys and the sorrows of generations of his family toiling to bring forth the bounty of earth. He laments backbreaking labor, low prices, and unpredictable weather. But he retains the dedication of a true artist and rejoices in the sensations of the orchard and the vineyard.
David Mas Masumoto is also the author of Harvest Son and Epitaph for a Peach. His organic farm is in Del Rey, Calif.