A Fruit For Every Occasion
I love fruit. I don’t eat it as often as I should, but there is very little fruit out there that I don’t genuinely enjoy eating (I’m looking at you, cantaloupe). So, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been bringing a combination of fruits with me to work so I can snack on them throughout the day. Oranges have been making a frequent appearance – mostly because they are in season and really cheap to purchase as a result.
I have convinced myself that the vitamin C in these little guys is going to be my main resource for fighting off all the germs and keeping that flu nonsense the hell away from me. And I probably just jinxed myself by typing that – so there’s that.
Anyway, my point in writing to you about oranges isn’t to discuss their nutritional value as much as it is to share with you some of the memories I have of fruit and my family. The moment that sparked this idea happened recently during an interaction at work. I’d just finished peeling a rather fragrant orange and one of my coworkers came over to my desk to snag a couple of wedges. During this dialogue, he also shared a really sweet exchange he and his father used to share during the times when his father would peel an orange for him to eat. I love these moments with food – the times when something as simple as a piece of fruit can bring about cherished recollections of brief but profound moments in our personal timelines.
This made me think about all the things that fruit symbolizes for me. One of the very first memories that came to mind involved the ritual of hosting. When I was a kid, my immediate and extended families used to open their homes as a way to stay connected. I loved weekends because it meant I would get to hang out with my cousins and drink Coca-Cola out of fancy glasses and eagerly await the passing around of a box of See’s chocolates. (If you’re from Ramallah and live in Houston, it was standard protocol to have a box of See’s in your house. I’m sure it still is for many to this day.)
The most memorable part of these visits for me, however, involved the evening’s menu and how each course symbolized one pumpkin seed shell closer to calling it a night. The evening started with drinks (alcohol for the adults and soda for the kids) and small, fancy bowls of various nuts and seeds. Ashtrays were put out to collect the various shells from pumpkin or watermelon seeds, pistachios or turmous. The adults would crack things between their teeth whilst discussing various topics and the kids would be off playing video games or getting into some kind of trouble. After an hour or two, cups and bowls would be taken away and replaced with plates and a huge platter of fresh fruit. Back in the day, my mom and aunts used to spend a significant amount of time going to farms, farmer’s markets, and grocery stores to pick the best fruit. I remember the time it would take her to pick the just-right pieces for stuffing or pickling or chomping away on. It’s a neurosis I’ve carried with me into adulthood. It’s just unfortunate that I don’t currently have children of my own to stand next to me at the grocery store while I fondle every apple in the joint until I find one that doesn’t have a scratch, dent or bruise.
The fruit course also meant that we were getting dangerously close to the last service of the night and that meant, of course, that we all had to part ways. This was usually the point in the evening where elaborate plans for asking about sleepovers were drawn up. The fruit course wasn’t terribly exciting unless grapes or watermelon were involved.
The final offering for any given visit included coffee and sweets. The coffee was sometimes standard coffee (think Folgers), other times it was the much more fragrant and delicate Arabic coffee being served. My level of excitement over the sweets varied between zero when it was baklawa or ma’amoul to a hundred when it was ghraybeh or kanafeh. There was also much jubilation, from me in particular, when Pepperidge Farm apple turnovers made an appearance.
The evening would end with someone’s kid crying because of exhaustion or because someone got smacked or because the dream of spending the night away from home got squashed before one of us could finish sharing our proposal for why a sleepover was the best idea ever. The parents would say goodbye in stages – starting in the living room, and then again at the front door, and then one last time outside by the car. Brevity is not a thing my family has ever done well.
Those weekend nights were some of the best times of my life and I honestly hadn’t thought about them in ages until that random incident with the orange. It’s not a thing we do much anymore unless it’s associated with something specific. I really hope I’ll get the chance to resurrect them someday with my cousins as we begin to build our own families.
I know this post was more memory based than food/recipe based, but I did want to leave you with a very simple fruit dish that I grew up eating and still really love. I know fancy restaurants offer a variation on the watermelon/cheese idea – but the way I learned to appreciate this combination was with huge wedges of ripe watermelon paired with a little salt and boiled white cheese. You can find more information about the boiled cheese here. I prefer using the boiled cheese versus pairing it with feta or any of the other variations of salty white cheeses. Using a salt of your choosing (I stick with regular ‘ol Morton) allows you to better balance the sweet with the the salty. Plus, the chewy texture of the boiled cheese combined with the crisp crunch of the watermelon is a really delightful bonus.
Hope you enjoy if you decide to give it a try!