Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fourth of July Fruit Salad

The back room of the store was kept cool to help preserve the freshness of the groceries. We had to wear jackets and winter hats (and eat plenty of chocolate) just to make it through a full shift.
I felt envious of customers in running clothes who pushed walking strollers. I wanted to be buying sunscreen or stopping in for the makings of a picnic instead of shivering under the fluorescent lights. My wardrobe never shifted from winter to summer that year, and I began to hate my jeans (the way ice cream shop vendors loath the sugary, creamy aftermath of too much of a good thing). I longed for a summer life, but my job did have many benefits. I am not talking about health insurance. I am talking something much more valuable. Knowledge. I was there to learn. The produce department, where I worked one day a week, was my university.

Every morning a dirty white truck would back up to the garage doors. The concrete storeroom floors (habitually kept empty for this very reason) would fill with crates of melons and peaches. Corn strained by wooden cages would poke out their husks. Boxes of cherries would rattle, bananas released potent fragrances, the whole room was bursting with the promise of flavor. We wore aprons and fumbled with crate openers, and produce knives. We heaved and slid and ripped and pried and freed the produce into our eager hands.

Then, we tasted. It was a part of our job to taste. The flavor of a peach ranges from tart and lemony to sugary sweet cotton candy. The farm, the season, the weather, the insects, the variety, these things all translate to a unique fruit experience every time. When a plant is threatened by it's environment (an insect, an invader, a storm) it releases "secondary metabolites". You may have heard of them in the supplement aisle, or perhaps on the news, they even earned an appearance on Oprah (the resveratrol episode). These "secondary metabolites" are the plants defense mechanism, and they may have human health benefits (as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and maybe more). They are called polyphenolics (a subclass of polyphenolics are the flavonoids, you may have heard of these). Flavonoids, which are responsible for the purples and reds in today's fruit salad, contribute to the flavor of produce.

With so many different fruits, and the variety of flavors within each type of fruit, it is impossible to convey a recipe for fruit salad by a list of ingredients. Here is what I did:
I chose a watermelon. I did this by holding it, feeling the weight, smelling it, and knocking on it. Then I asked myself, what looks ripe? grapes What looks local? strawberries What seems interesting? plums What is festive? blueberries (it is July 4th).

I rinsed and chopped and mixed them together, then garnished with a delicious scoop of Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey. If your fruit salad is too tart, add some cinnamon and sugar. If it is too sweet add some fresh lime zest.
Happy 4th of July!

Christina's vote: "I felt like I could put candles on this salad and make a wish"

2 comments:

  1. ILOVE THIS!!!
    C

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  2. eliza lifted this salad from your repetoire and served it at the potluck last night. i'd not read this post, had no idea who brought it - and i'll tell you my reactions:
    #1 - i had to ask what one of the fruits was. plums. i didn't know. dude - canned mandarin oranges were the most obscure fruit i ate as a kid.
    #2 - i wouldn't shut up. "is this cinnamon? is this, hey - i think there's cinnamon on this. did you eat this, hey did you try this? godDAMN these blueberries are good. this is so fresh. hey, this is really good. do you know who brought it? i think there's cinnamon on here."
    #3 - i cleaned out the bowl.
    #4 - eliza overheard me freaking about the cinnamon to some poor newcomers, and told me she made it and it was your 4th of july salad.
    #5 - must hand it to you... in my family, "fruit salad" was apples, colored marshmallows, bananas, cool whip, and sometimes... not always... sometimes nuts. i think maybe pistachio something. mmm. love that. but yours was from a different planet.

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