I noticed the high prices when I was browsing in the fruit and vegetable section of my local supermarket recently. The red capsicums and some other fruits and vegetables were expensive but no more so that they had been before the devastating Queensland floods. Things like pineapples, melons and mangoes however, were, for a seasonal and budget conscious shopper like myself, prohibitively priced.
I was reminded of a short story by Katherine Mansfield called ‘Marriage a la Mode’. In the story a working husband is travelling from London to visit his wife and children in the country for the weekend. As he waits for his train he suddenly remembers that he has forgotten to buy something for the children to whom he always takes a present. The last three times he has seen them he has taken the same boxes of sweets, hastily bought from the station’s confectionery counter. This time he wants to take something different so he buys a melon and a pineapple from the fruit counter. The implication is that a piece of tropical fruit was as much of a treat, in 1920s England, as a box of sweets. Tropical fruit had to be transported to Britain from warmer climes and it wasn’t until the late 19th century that chilling methods became reliable enough to transport these fruits in any large quantity. They were still, in the 1920s, considered exotic and as a consequence, they were also expensive. So it is credible that they would be considered by the children, to be as big a treat as a box of sweets.
I doubt that this would happen here as our produce crisis is (hopefully) only temporary and there are still plenty of growing regions in other parts of Australia that have not been affected. Our own children, spoilt for choice over the years with a wide variety of seasonal and relatively local fruits and vegetables, would probably choose lollies every time, no matter how much their parents would prefer them to choose the fresh produce.
To return to the supermarket, I bought a couple of vine ripened truss tomatoes (expensive but the only ones I can find of decent quality, can’t wait for Mum and Dad’s homegrown tomatoes in a week or two), one red capsicum, half a dozen reasonably priced nectarines, one red onion, walnuts and some loose rocket leaves. To supplement this meagre haul of fruits and vegetables I plan to use some of our herbs that we grow in pots downstairs and some cupboard stores.