It is undoubtedly a most fortunate thing for us in Australia that fruit is so abundant, and that it is easily within the reach of all. There is something wonderfully attractive about it; its colouring in particular appeals so to the eye that a good show of well-assorted fruit is always certain to ensure attention. Many fruits, moreover, have a magnificent fragrance which lends to their agreeable taste. It is somewhat of a pity that fruit is not more ordinarily eaten at meals, particularly with the breakfast. There is an old proverb that fruit is gold in the morning, silver at noon, and lead at night; and it is undoubtedly a fact that it is especially beneficial when eaten early in the day. In France, fruit is a constant part of every meal, and there is no question but that such a proceeding is desirable. It was formerly the custom with English people at regular dinners to have dessert on the table all through the courses, but it is now more customary to present it at the termination of the repast, so that it is quite fresh and not saturated with odours absorbed from the soup, fish, etc.
The agreeable qualities of fruits may be said to reside in three different factors. First, there is the proportion of sugar, gum, pectin, etc., to free acid; next, the proportion of soluble to insoluble matters; and thirdly, the aroma, which, indeed, is no inconsiderable element therein. This latter quality - the aroma, fragrance, or perfume of fruit - is due to the existence of delicate and exquisite ethers. These subtle ethers are often accompanied by essential oils, which may render the aroma more penetrating and continued. Those fruits like the peach, greengage, and mulberry, which almost melt in the mouth, contain a very large amount of soluble substances. Some fruits, like the peach and apricot, carry but a small amount of sugar as compared with the free acid they contain. Yet the free acid is not distinctly perceptible, because its taste is covered by a larger proportion of gum, pectin, and other gelatinous substances. There are other fruits again, such as the currant and gooseberry, which are markedly acid, because there is only a small amount of gum and pectin, and a relatively larger amount of free acid.
With regard to fruit when eaten in its raw state, the question of ripeness is a most important one, and is always to be considered; so that whatever views may be entertained as to the dietetic value of ripe fruit, there is a consensus of opinion on the fact that when unripe it is most injurious. Care must be taken, therefore, to see that it is perfectly ripe, and no considerations of economy must be allowed to over-ride the fact. At the same time, though ripeness is a necessary qualification of wholesomeness, yet fruit must not be over-ripe, as changes occur which render it undesirable for the system, and thus in avoiding Scylla we may fall into Charybdis. The skin of fruit should never be eaten, nor should the stones, pips, or seeds be swallowed, as there is a danger of their accumulating in a small pouch of the bowel known as the vermiform appendix. Their lodgment in this little pocket is a constant source of peril, and would soon set up an inflammation, which must always be attended with a considerable amount of danger.
As to the question of the unripeness or over-ripeness of fruit, the following remarks by Dr. F. W. Pavy, an acknowledged authority on all that relates to food, are worth recording : - "Fruit forms an agreeable and refreshing "kind of food, and, eaten in moderate quantity, exerts a "favourable influence as an article of diet. It is chiefly of "service for the carbo-hydrates, vegetable acids, and alkaline "salts it contains. It enjoys, too, in a high degree, the "power of counteracting the unhealthy state found to be "induced by too close a restriction to dried and salted pro-"visions. Whilst advantageous when consumed in moderate "quantity, fruit, on the other hand, proves injurious if eaten "in excess. Of a highly succulent nature, and containing "free acids and principles liable to undergo change, it is "apt, when ingested out of due proportion to other food, to "act as a disturbing element, and excite derangement of the "alimentary canal. This is particularly likely to occur if "eaten either in the unripe or over-ripe state; in the "former case, from the quantity of acid present; in the "latter, from its strong tendency to ferment and decompose "within the digestive tract. The prevalence of stomach and "bowel disorders, noticeable during the height of the fruit "season, affords proof of the inconveniences that the too "free use of fruit may give rise to."
The different forms of fruit, and also of vegetables, owe their great value to the fact that they possess powerful anti-scorbutic properties. It will be best and simplest to define the word "anti-scorbutic" as "good against the scurvy." This latter disease is notably dependent on a want of fresh fruit and vegetables in the dietary, and consequently is more often observed amongst sailors; and though accessory conditions, such as great privations, bad provisions, or unhealthy surroundings, may predispose to it, yet that which essentially produces it is the deficiency of the former articles from the food. At the present time it is not nearly so frequently seen, since, according to the mercantile marine regulations, subject to legislative enactments passed in 1867, in lieu of vegetables, one ounce of lime juice, sweetened with the same quantity of sugar, must be served out to each man daily.
In scurvy there is some great change effected in the blood, and it is as well to refer briefly to the characters possessed by the latter. The blood as it exists in the body is a red alkaline fluid, having a saltish taste and possessing quite a noticeable odour. It consists of minute bodies, the corpuscles, immersed in a liquid, the liquor sanguinis. Salts also enter into its composition, and include the chlorides of potash and soda; the phosphates of lime, magnesia, and soda; the sulphate of potash, and free soda Of these the salts of soda predominate, and the chloride - that is, common salt - is usually in excess of all the others. The uses of these salts in the blood are to supply the different tissues with the salts they respectively require, to take part in maintaining the proper specific gravity and alkaline character of the blood, and to prevent any changes going on within it.