Saturday, October 26, 2013

How to peel a pomelo*

AFTER watching my tentative cut into a pomelo, the uncle took away the knife before I could mangle our dessert.

Slice off the head (knife thuds). Then the “puwet (bottom)”. (Thud.)

I was going to ask how he can tell one from the other since the pomelo looks just like a lumpy ball to me.

His knife was already moving so I just answered my own question. (The “puwet” is bigger than the head. Look again at that pomelo.)

The uncle made downward slashes around the thick yellowing rind. The ring of equidistant gashes transformed the fruit into the kind of bangle that expands and contracts because of the elastic holding it together. Then I realized:

The quickest and neatest way to peel a pomelo is to husk it like a coconut.

I grew around coconuts. An image flashed of how one gripped and pulled away sections of the husk until the inner fruit was glimpsed. When the uncle turned over the peeled pomelo, I only had to pull off the spongy membrane around the sections encasing the translucent pink flesh.

The pomelos that ended on my plate were always ready to eat. I grew up in the city. The uncle was born in the countryside. Seventy years later, he also ends up in the city. The countryside he carries with him everywhere.

Whenever the uncle stops me from proceeding on an impractical route—like hacking at a pomelo in my impatience for something sweet—I wonder which makes all the difference: the sum of years one has lived or the years that mark character.

I would never dream of asking the uncle. “Kalokohan (foolishness)” is his way of dismissing anything that does not improve a bit how things are done, like politics and religion.

A few nights ago, we listened to a TV report about the Bohol mayor who turned away aid for his earthquake-hit constituents. The donors he accused of not using proper channels for their assistance then explained how they would be violating rules if their aid were to be coursed through politicians.

The following night, it was the same mayor and the same aid officials. But from talking about food packs, they now pursued “politics” and “development”. I waited if the earthquake-hit residents would appear and speak out about the aid no one was giving them, but the newscast ended with the anchors chatting about a 60-year-old man’s love for his 16-year-old sweetheart that quite a number of people were set on forbidding.

The night after, the mayor returned. The aid officials were replaced by other officials. The mayor was still resisting for reasons I lost interest in following. But he seemed to enjoy his sudden ill-fame, this irascible white-haired autocrat, perhaps the only thing in the town left unshaken by the earthquake.

In Bicol, the uncle’s hometown, the pomelo is called “lucban”. Cebuanos call it “boongon.” The version in Carcar is “takoy.” It is pale like a pearl, unlike the salmon-pinkness of the variety in Davao.

The uncle recommends dipping pomelo in salt and pepper. I find myself using salt only when the pomelo disappoints.

How can one tell if a pomelo is sweet or dry or, worst, bitter? All pomelos look alike, I complained to the uncle. The rind is the problem. It is too thick and hides the real state of the fruit beneath. If one knew how to read pomelos by their exterior, it would save one from making a bad buy.

You cannot do anything with a pomelo’s rind but remove it, said the uncle, his voice implying that he thought it was foolish to expect more from things created to be contrary, like pomelos and politicos.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 27, 2013 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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