Brantley sings praises for his love of pluots

Published 10:00 pm Friday, August 21, 2009

Falling in love at first sight isn’t all that uncommon.

But, when one falls in love with a fruit …. well, that experience belongs to only a few.

Chip Brantley chuckles when he tells how he fell in love with a pluot.

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In 2000, he was in Los Angeles working with the producer of an online magazine.

There weren’t many places around the office to grab lunch so Brantley often made his way to a nearby farmers market.

“I’d go there just about every Tuesday and one day, in early August, I picked up a yellow piece of fruit that looked like a plum,” he said. “It seemed a bit overripe and was really juicy and had the most incredible flavor. It wasn’t like any plum that I remembered eating.”

Brantley was so taken with the flavor of the fruit that he sought out the woman who was selling them. She didn’t really know anything, “Come back next week.”

“I bought four pounds of the fruit and I was sold on it,” Brantley said.

“A short time later, I was at another farmers market and saw the same fruit and learned that it was a pluot, a hybrid plum – a cross between a plum and an apricot — bred by an experimental grower in Modesto. I didn’t know anything like that could be done.”

In June of 2001, Brantley’s future bride came to California and he wanted to show her a fantastic time.

He wanted to introduce her to the love of his life – the pluot.

“I called the experimental orchard where the pluot was being grown and literally begged them to let us come and tour the orchards,” Brantley said.

The young couple toured the experimental orchards of fruit breeder Floyd Zaiger with 150 people in the fruit industry and tasted the different varieties of fruit that were to be patented and released.

“What had started as a low-grade interest the pluot grew into a full blown obsession,” Brantley said.

“The first pluots patented in the 1980s were fragile and couldn’t be shipped long distances.

By the 1990s, development was such that the crop began to trickle out of California to upscale grocery stores. Now, pluots are available at many Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs.

“The best pluots that I’ve found in Alabama were at a small town Winn Dixie. It all depends on the guy unpacking the fruit and how well it’s handled. The pluot is an incredible tasting fruit.

It’s higher in sugar than other plums so it can be picked green and shipped long distances and still have the sugar and flavor that makes it so unique.”

Brantley could have been satisfied with buying and devouring four pounds of pluots every few days but eating them wasn’t enough to satisfy his curiosity.

He couldn’t stop thinking about the fruit.

“While I was in California, I was writing a food column for a newspaper and was surprised that anybody could get paid for writing about food,” he said, laughing.

And he took every opportunity to sing the praises of the pluot.

A move to Massachusetts brought new opportunities to Brantley.

But, he didn’t forget about the pluot.

The more he thought about the unique fruit and the more he learned, the more he wanted to share his love of the combo fruit.

In 2006, he wrote a proposal for a book about the pluot and a publisher bit.

Around the same time, he and a friend, who was in school with him at Mountain Brook, created a food and cooking website, cookthink, and it was taking off.

Although he wasn’t putting his French and philosophy degrees to use, he was doing what he loved.

“My dad, Bill Brantley, a Brundidge native, and my mom love to cook and dad always has a pot of something on the stove,” Brantley said.

“I was exposed to that kind of thing. I love food and cooking and I continued to be amazed that somebody would write about food.”

While in Massachusetts, Brantley worked as a cheese maker for about four years and worked on his book, “The Perfect Fruit – Pluot” which hit bookstores nationwide about two weeks ago.

“The title of the book is a little misleading,” Brantley said. It’s actually a documentary type book detailing the fruit industry in California and the beginnings of specific hybrid fruits.

 I never knew there was this much to know about stone fruit.”

And, one former Trojan has already read the book and fallen in love Brantley’s work – and the pluot.

‘It’s a sheer joy to read and hold a book written by a former student,” said Kathy Lawrence, who taught Brantley as Mountain Brook Junior High School.

“I smile when I think of how many time I wrote on Chip’s report card, ‘A writer!’ or ‘A Poet’ and, finally, ‘A Reflection of his Pike County Roots.’ Bill always got a kick out of that.”

Lawrence said Brantley had the writer’s eye from the get go.

“Writers are always looking for unique angles and Chip found one in the pluot,” she said.

“And I can’t wait to see what angle he takes next.”