June 21, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Darth Grapefruit

By |2018-03-21T18:26:12+01:00January 1st, 2008|"Suzanne's Taste"|
Eat anything, he told me, "but no grapefruit!"

I spend the first six weeks of every new year finding out whether our holiday presents (ordered with the stroke of a key and a credit card) from a Texas purveyor of delectable grapefruit, orange, smoked meats (among other treats) arrived on time to a long list of recipients.

About this time, I also receive rave thank-yous about the luxury of having a bushel of succulent citrus to squeeze, spoon, sorbet and section through the cold, wet winter months.

Oh, the quality and sweetness.

A few years ago, one talented friend thanked us with an oil painting of the grapefruit we sent him, abstract but recognizable. It immediately found its way into our kitchen. The next year he painted the tissue that wraps around each fruit. The third year, completing his trilogy, he produced a spectacular still life of yellow skin and pink flesh. We still send him grapefruit, but we’ve drawn the line, so to speak, on more paintings. Our wall space has run out.

The grapefruit tale comes to mind because of something that hit me very early one morning. At 3:12 a.m. the word “interaction” made a chilling appearance in my mind. Interaction as in drug interaction.

I vaguely recalled a conversation with a doctor about statins, a class of cholesterol-lowering rugs. “Eat anything,” he told me, “but no grapefruit!”

No grapefruit?

What if all these years (15, 20, maybe even more…) we’d been sending grapefruit to people who really shouldn’t be eating them. Maybe they’d just been too polite to speak up. What then? Had they passed the wayward fruit on to friends, fellow workers, charitable institutions, the cleaning lady?

It’s true I don’t have a clue about my friends’ medicating habits. Still, many are at an age where life is peppered with statins, antihistamines, calcium channel blockers, psychiatric meds, intestinal meds, immune suppressants — you name it.

All of these — according to what I call “The All You Wanted To Know About Grapefruit But Were Afraid To Ask” Website, the Mayo Clinic’s — interact in one way or another with my favorite citrus. Not favorably, I might add.

Of all these medications, Viagra worries me the most.

Have I unknowingly stifled the sex lives of close friends? Are their medications running amok while I smugly check off my holiday list? Is anyone I know on Zoloft? Halcion? Methadone?

Certainly a few take statins, and I have actually taken to sending them grapefruit alternatives — smoked turkey breast, fruit of the month (no citrus!), and cheeses.

No doubt the problem can be solved. It’s just that I can’t believe that it suddenly is a problem.

Will I think about next year’s holiday gifts the same way? Will a baby bonnet suddenly ignite next to a Yuletide candle? Will the long neck scarf get caught in the wheels of a Bugatti? (Or bicycle, more likely.) Will someone overdose on my homemade chocolate truffles and go into anaphylactic shock, the family holding me responsible because the recipient departed and left everything to the cat?

I wish I’d never become aware of grapefruit’s dark side.

I who drink grapefruit juice every day of my life (and pop fish oil caps and vitamins, no doubt neutralized by the grapefruit juice) just wanted to give the holiday spirit some flavor.

I hoped to start my friends’ New Year with a bit of insurance against the germs that trip us up as surely as the wind howls. I wanted to dispatch my version of citrus caviar to those in cold climes who get a glimpse of a grapefruit only as a pathetically small hardball — and even then only once or twice a season. Texas grapefruit are the jewels of the citrus world, even if they do sometimes interfere with the enzymes that break down strategic drugs in the system.

So let your doctor work it out. He can. Trust me.

After all, when I studied at Berkeley, my mother sent me grapefruit to ensure I got my vitamins. And all these years later I’m pretty sure she didn’t think how it might interact with Acapulco gold.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.