An Ode to the Raisin

The raisin is a dark purple, a magenta just slightly translucent at the edges where the skin is thin to give the impression of lightness. The wrinkled skin, shrink-wrapped around the fruity core, is gnarled like an old tree trunk.

The raisin has no odor until placed just under my nose, but in that instant I smell the strong fragrance of something sticky, fruity and concentrated. One whiff of the raisin evokes memories of hot summer vacations when, for a “healthy snack” my mom gave my sisters and I red “Sun Maid” boxes, whose white cardboard interiors were always stained with raisin pieces and smelled like rotten fruit and the stickiness of grubby small fingers trying to get the small pieces at the bottom of the box – the smell of headaches from the direct rays of a yellow sun concentrated through the car window.

The raisin itself is not offensive, not sticky and not dry. Sitting in my mouth, the raisin feels like a small plastic ball, but not the hard plastic of keyboards or the red rind of some cheeses. Rather the raisin, a pliable object almost imperceptibly trickling juice into my mouth, feels like fruit roll-ups: processed but fruity and therefore healthy.

My tongue feels the gnarled skin of the raisin and the dense core just as my fingers did. Perhaps because I burned my tongue on cappuccino this afternoon, the raisin feels the same throughout my mouth. The wrinkles on the raisin’s surface fit nicely around my crooked front teeth.

I roll the raisin around in my mouth and imagine it being covered with a liquid that creates small air bubbles on the raisin’s surface, like those that encapsulate a raisin caught in a glass of ginger ale, enabling the raisin to travel up and down with the release of carbon dioxide.

As I bite down, some juice is released but stops. I never realized that a raisin requires vigorous chewing in order for the full flavor to come out. And I’d forgotten also that “biting” a raisin already in my mouth requires motion on the side molars rather than the front teeth.

Saliva begins to do its digestive work, and more of the juice leaks into my mouth. I begin to taste some of the concentrated fruity fragrance I smelled earlier. The bulk of the raisin is this juice, and the round plastic ball spreads on my tongue in a flattened circle, like those colored Sunkist gummies I had at family barbeques years ago.

I finally begin to chew, and now the full richness of the raisin comes out. The same sense of delightfulness I had from that first whiff comes again in full blast, and I understand that the smell was just a foretaste of the richness to come. My mouth feels the hearty center of the raisin and chomps vigorously to separate the skin and release the fruity juices within. The fruit dissolves, leaving small bits of skin and hard fruit, which remind me of the dried skin of a grape near the stem. Raisins don’t have seeds, but there is always something hard left that makes you think they do.

The raisin disappears in a few chews, leaving my mouth with the taste of fruit concentrate, which my mind likens to grape wine with less alcohol, although I haven’t really drunk that before. But overpowering this taste is a feeling in my body of being nourished with all the goodness of the sun itself, just like Sun Maid used to say.

Written for an NYU journalism class.

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