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Remembering 'Kiwi Queen' Frieda Caplan, Who Expanded U.S. Supermarket Offerings

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Back in the early 1960s, there were not too many fruits and vegetables to choose from at the supermarket. Frieda Caplan helped change that.

KAREN CAPLAN: California brown mushrooms, purple potatoes, purple sweet potatoes, alfalfa sprouts, spaghetti squash, sugar snap peas.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That's Frieda Caplan's daughter Karen, who says her mom had a hand in introducing more than 200 fruits and vegetables to American consumers. Frieda Caplan died earlier this month in Los Alamitos, Calif.

KELLY: To understand her legacy, let's take the Chinese gooseberry. Back in the '60s, Frieda spied something special in the little-known fruit, even though it was brown and fuzzy.

K CAPLAN: Someone asked her one day, so what does that Chinese gooseberry look like? And she said, horse turds.

SHAPIRO: Frieda Caplan couldn't do anything about its looks, but she did work to change its name to the kiwi, an homage to the New Zealand growers she worked with. Caplan was later declared the Kiwi Queen, even though, ironically, she was allergic to the fruit and couldn't eat it.

KELLY: Not all her fruits took off like the kiwi, of course. But food writer David Karp says that's just part of the game.

DAVID KARP: You know what they say. It's a sell it or smell it business.

KELLY: Rejection never much fazed Frieda Caplan. Karen says nothing speaks to the personality of her mother better than her 1987 appearance on "David Letterman."

K CAPLAN: There, on film, he was sampling the horned melon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

FRIEDA CAPLAN: This is called an African horned melon. That's what it originally was called.

DAVID LETTERMAN: Wow, that's beautiful.

K CAPLAN: Then he takes a bite. And on air, he says...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

LETTERMAN: Well, that's damn near inedible.

K CAPLAN: And that infectious laughter she had just points to the forever optimist that she was. Our sales went crazy.

SHAPIRO: Frieda Caplan, aka the Kiwi Queen, was 96 when she died earlier this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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