Untitled (Grapefruit)

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Ariel Knoebel

“A grapefruit is just a lemon that saw an opportunity and took advantage of it” -Oscar Wilde

I grew up in a house with dedicated grapefruit spoons. They have a pointed tip, like a spade, and small serrated edges to dig deep into the fruit and lever out sections of juicy flesh in clean triangular chunks.

My mother used to eat half a grapefruit for breakfast every morning. With the same spoon, she would sprinkle sugar over her grapefruit and into her coffee, cutting the bitterness of both. After digging out each bite, methodically excavating around the circle of the fruit, she would squeeze the husk over her bowl, drinking the extra juice like most people would slurp up cereal milk.
Citrus fruit is a lovely concept: a small bit of summer cutting through the deep chill of winter; bright colors standing out against the muted grey tones of freezing snow and sky and naked trees. In reality, though, citrus is often a lesson in disappointment. Oranges so rarely live up to their legacy, often mealy and dry. Clementines, those miniature pops of sunshine — more reliably delicious but leave you feeling empty even after several — can barely be classed as food. The ubiquitous lemon and lime serve so well to enhance flavors around them, brightening other foods on our palettes to match their vibrant citron, but become overwhelming and unpleasant when they stand alone.

Grapefruits are an acquired taste, certainly not a fan favorite, but they are the most delightful of the bunch. In trendy shades of millennial pink, they stand out against the pale golden and deep slate blue shades of winter without looking garish like the construction cone orange, or blending in like the lackluster lemon. I’ve always felt grapefruits are misunderstood, underrated, and disrespected because of their inherent bitterness and difficult nature.

I used to neatly eat the other half of my mother’s grapefruit, sprinkling it with sugar, squeezing out the dregs of juice at the end, just like her. Now, I prefer to dig both hands into it, tear off the web of membrane around each plump segment, letting juice drip onto the table and tearing chunks to pop into my mouth. Once punctured, the peel is thick enough to tear from the fruit in one large piece by running a finger underneath it all the way around. It’s the pith, the membrane around each section that is more difficult to get through, it sticks and wraps in veins around and in between sections, tangling sweet pulp and bitter flesh together. I like how the entire room fills with the sweet scent of the juice and the sharp tang of oil in the peel. I like how the smell lingers under my fingernails for hours afterwards. I no longer need sugar, I learned to love the bitter bite. A good grapefruit tastes just like the sun, sweet and warm with a burning finish.

“Food can be used to connect us, to divide us, to help us cope with things, and separate us from each other and even from ourselves in some cases.”

Photo by Ariel Knoebel

Interview by L. Valena

What did you respond to?

I received the original prompt to start the chain, which was a grapefruit in a little box, which was great. I ended up responding to it a little more literally than I was expecting I would. But, this is just the beginning, so taking a little more of a literal approach works, knowing where things are going from here.

What was your initial reaction?

I have a background in food, I write about food, but I wasn’t expecting [the prompt] to be something along those lines. The very first thing I thought of was my mom when I was little, and how she would eat half a grapefruit every single morning, and that was such a stuck memory of her in my childhood. That’s one of the first things I think of any time I see a citrus fruit, and something I associate very strongly with her.

How did you translate those memories into this piece?

I started with that memory and wrote about that association with grapefruit and my mom, and just kind of let that memory come out onto the page. I really started with my mother eating a grapefruit and the grapefruit spoons that I grew up with. We always had a whole set of regular spoons and then we had four grapefruit spoons that are very specifically made for eating grapefruit. They have kind of a point, a little serrated point on the end of them to really get into each section of the grapefruit. And I always thought it was so funny that we had something that specific. And I remember whenever we would run out of regular spoons, I’d go into the drawer and only see grapefruit spoons left and say “Oh, gosh… why are these the only spoons we have left?”

Did you use them for other things?

They’re not really good for other things because they’re pretty narrow- they’re designed for literally a segment of a grapefruit. So if you’re trying to eat ice cream or soup or something, they just don’t work that well. But it made sense that we had them because every time I eat a grapefruit now I go to grab a spoon and I’m just like “gosh I wish I had a grapefruit spoon”. I think that’s really the first place I went to, so it seemed like a good place to start.

When you look at the piece now, what does it say to you?

It was a fun exercise in not really having- I really didn’t know what the end product would look like, and not having any constraints over what the end product would look like. No length, no genre, no purpose, no argument I was trying to make, nothing specifically I was trying to say, which was both very exciting and difficult in some ways. The point of this was truly just to respond to what was given to me and this was what came out. This was just a little meditation on grapefruit.

Talk to me about how this work relates to the rest of your work, if at all?

I am currently exploring in my work this connection of food and memory/identity. How food really informs who we are and who we become in instances such as this were it’s so related to memories, and how food can be used to connect us, to divide us, to help us cope with things, and separate us from each other and even from ourselves in some cases. So, this was an interesting way of going about it. I feel like often I sit down wanting to talk about something and approaching that through the lens of food, and this kind of reverse-engineered that.

Talking about a food, and in writing it just thinking. Why does this matter? What actually am I saying through this? And what does the way I eat a grapefruit versus the way I learned to and the reason that I am attracted to this citrus fruit over all others, which I would say is not the most popular- what does that say about who I am and who I have become since I learned to eat this fruit? Food is one of the very few universal connectors- it is a great way to approach anything and anyone with some common ground.

Is there anything else you’d like to say? About this piece, about this process, or about grapefruit?

It was really fun. On the morning of the day I was going to write this piece, I woke up and actually ate the grapefruit. I had a moment where I thought “am I allowed to eat this?!” then I realized you obviously weren’t expecting me to give it back.

(Laughs) It was a gift from me to you.

I almost… I thought should I ask? And then I was like, oh my gosh just eat the grapefruit! And that was just a really cool experience. I rarely sit down and eat a meal or anything without some other input, but I was really just focused on seeing what was evoked in the process of eating that grapefruit. It was a super delicious grapefruit- it was perfectly ripe

Good, I actually spent a lot of time picking out the right grapefruit. I was like, oh man- it better be a fucking good grapefruit.

It was a good grapefruit. But yeah, it was just a really interesting place to start writing from, normally I’ll go to a memory, or a time, or I’ll be out somewhere doing something and I’ll get that spark of an idea. But, it was a new experience to kind of sit and see what came to me in that moment, knowing that I was going to write about it from there. It was fun, and I really got to get sensorially into the grapefruit- I took a bunch of pictures of it, really examined how it tasted and how it felt and how it looked, and got to kind of have a moment with it.


Call Number: C1NA | C2PP.knoUnti

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Ariel Knoebel is a writer based in Boston, MA. She is interested in exploring gender in the kitchen, the history on your dinner table, and where she can find the world's most perfect grilled cheese. For a taste of her work, check out sipandspoonful.com.