The slices of peach cascaded over the top of the miniature angel food cake crowned with a cloud of whipped cream. The fruits were crisp-tender, sweet, tasting of summer.
I stared at the dessert in front of me. I haven't eaten a fresh peach in 23 years. That was about when I developed an allergy to peaches and other members of the Rosaceae family that includes plums, apricots, and cherries. My Dad often got bushels of farm fresh peaches in the summers, and my brother and I feasted on bowls brimming with the juicy fruits. It must have led to an overdose on my part and a sudden intolerance for the family of fruit I loved most.
I have found that peaches that have received some sort of heat treatment are safe for me to eat; this includes canned peaches and peach pie, peach cobbler, peach ice cream. But nothing matches the sheer pleasure of biting into a ripe fruit and having the juice drip down your chin, of eating so many fresh cherries your lips and gums are stained a red-purple, of savoring the clean fresh taste of a black plum eaten out of hand. Fear of anaphylaxis has prevented me from partaking in these joys of summer. My brother has a severe allergy to peanuts and I've seen him swell to Frankensteinian proportions after accidental ingestion. I am not sure how severe my allergy is, and I don't want to find out.
I discovered fresh mango is a decent substitute for peaches, at least visually and texturally, but it's not quite the same.
But last night, with those peaches in front of me, I decided to take the plunge. Our host for the evening was driving me to the brink of insanity with his usual routine of funny voices, inappropriate comments, and general manic nonsense, while his always-calm wife blithely chattered through dinner as if her husband weren't a tad on the loony side. Maybe I wanted to end it all right there. I first announced to the table that I was allergic to peaches, then took a forkful.
I chewed, I swallowed. Nothing happened. Our hostess looked at me in horror as I continued to eat. "I have an Epi-Pen in the house, if you need it," she offered helpfully. But I didn't get that familiar skin-tightening feeling until I finished the last morsel. My mouth didn't itch, and my eyes didn't feel tight, just the skin around my temples and around my eyes. I took two Benadryl, just in case. After all the hyper-manic chatter, I would probably need a sleep aide to calm myself before bed anyway. We left an hour or so later, with me nodding off in the car during the 40-minute ride home (Neal, of course, was driving).
I rose today, exhausted but still quite alive. I survived peaches. Will I try them again anytime soon? Maybe. But I'm not a risk-taker. I lived without them for two decades, and I can probably live without them for two more, but it's nice to know that fresh summertime fruit doesn't have to be merely a happy memory for me.