The Sweet Fruit of Hard Labor

Living the lychee life

Jean isn't quite as starry-eyed about the project, though he has his own reasons to romanticize: His father, Seyfollah Samimy, was the agricultural engineer who introduced the sugar-cane industry to Iran; Seyfollah married Henriette, a French woman whose father was an agricultural scientist and also one of his professors. So you might say cultivation runs in the Samimy blood.

Jean, however, realizes that owning fruit trees is "romantic as long as you don't have to pick the fruit." This is only the second year the trees have really set a generous crop, and the first year that Roland has hired pickers -- who pay the Samimys by the pound and take the fruit with them to resell -- to do the majority of the plucking and pruning. "Being out here just for an hour, you really get a sense of how hard these people have to work," Jean sighs, wiping his forehead under his straw hat and swiping at the gnats. Meanwhile Roland is on his cell phone checking wholesale prices, while the rest of us clip branches of Brewster and Mauritius lychees and pack them (those we don't peel and eat) in boxes for Schwartz to take back to Nemo and transform into items like crab and lychee spring rolls.

Clearly, though, the bugs in the lychee grove don't bother Lina or Ellen, who speculate about setting up platforms (to avoid the ant hills ) and camping under the finally fertile boughs of fruit. Michael Schwartz is so thrilled to have the lychees at his disposal that he speed-clips, skipping from tree to tree. (Though we pack about fifteen boxes, we don't even make a dent.) Roland sums it up nicely: "The long and the short of it is that we are all hooked on lychees. So why not have a grove of the stuff, an endless supply?"

Why not indeed. While I'm not as enchanted with the gnats and ants (or lychees themselves, truth be known), I am thoroughly taken with my own little seasonal drama: the eleven mango trees that produce a virtual hail of viable fruit on my roof every summer. And though I knew I was going to meet the owner of the lychee grove, I had no idea it would turn out to be an old college friend: Roland and I lived across the hall from each other at Tufts University when we were freshmen. If I'd been informed back then that I would grow up to be a food writer with a back-yard mango orchard and someday pen an article about Roland Samimy, water-resources engineer and lychee-grove owner, I'm sure I would have stopped drinking the hard stuff right there and then. As it stands now, I'm planning on steeping some lychee vodka this year, along with mango liqueur. For as Michael Schwartz already knows, and Roland and I both concede, the best part about raising succulent, subtropical fruit is giving it away to friends.

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