I feel guilty about not making a Mother’s Day-related post. I called my mom on Mother’s day and the day before, and I sent a nifty gift + card. Hell, I posted a holiday-appropriate facebook status (and changed my profile pic to one featuring mom + me: HI, MOM!!!!). Despite all this, the one unturned digital stone is causing mad psychic grief. This post is my attempt to alleviate that grief.
Whenever I make fruit salad, I think of my mom. My mom is and is not a dessert person: she loves dessert — this is an undeniable fact. But when Sys and I were kids, our mom would either omit dessert from family dinners or serve cut fruit. Cantaloupe and watermelon were favorites, but pineapple made the odd appearance. Often, we’d have red grapes, rinsed and cut into single-serving clusters, bunches of them propped on a chipped white plate. The fruit varied seasonally, but my mom’s MO did not — no child of hers would grow up eating supermarket pie topped with Reddi-Whip, and don’t we forget it!
Special occasions called for more elaborate desserts, even in our pseudopuritanical household. Thanksgiving brought pumpkin pie (craved for weeks beforehand), Christmas brought Spritz cookies and gingerbread men whose grotesque Red Hots features bled Red #5 onto other regions of their bodies. One Easter, my mom made a lamb-shaped pound cake, iced with buttercream frosting and furred with shredded coconut; that cake was one of the best I’ve had. Also the cutest. But, nine times out of ten, fruit was our dessert.
Now, I love fruit; mornings when my cereal lacks banana coins, I feel adrift. But back then, when fruit represented a denial — of “real” dessert, of the sugary foods my classmates could eat with abandon, of daily luxury — I resented it. I judged fruit salad as a peasant dessert. How did I even know what a peasant was? (It amazes me daily that kids know about things beyond their immediate contexts.) Because it wasn’t ornate or time-intensive or ultra-sugary, fruit seemed like a compromise. Not even that — a concession. Acknowledging that fruit was indeed better than nothing, I’d eat a few sullen apple slices before helping clear the table.
Years later, I’ve outgrown my dislike of fruit salad. Mine was only a dislike based on principle; I’ve always liked fruit, especially tropical varieties. I’m in the midst of a mango kick: I love their warm color, their intense, almost sharp sweetness. I love the tiny scraping sound the peel makes as it comes away from the flesh. Mangoes have the same color scheme as parrots, and I love that, too — is that odd? (For the record, I have no desire to eat a parrot.)
This weekend, I was invited to a friend’s house for a taco party. Hook and I brought Corona (necessary, obv.), a few mangy limes (from the corner store — we didn’t try to get shitty limes, people!), and a fruit salad. Into the mixing bowl I placed watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, and mango, cleaned and cubed. Shortly before dinner, I added a dash of carbonated lime juice* and a few generous scoops of shredded coconut. The coconut was my mom’s idea.
“It adds the most wonderful texture,” she told me earlier, during our ritual Saturday morning chat. “And it has a very subtle flavor. It’s good — try it.”
Try it: you’ll like it — the supplication made by mothers everywhere. You know what? My mom was right: the coconut added just the slightest crunch, without which the salad would have been perfectly fine, but with which the dessert was awesome. The barely there coconut flavor added one extra layer of tropicality to the salad; the lime juice kept the dish from being too sweet.
Here, then, is my belated Mother’s Day post: an ode to my mom’s fruit salad. Mom, I may have given you guff when I was a kid, but I’d like to set the record straight: I am your fruit salad’s biggest fan.
*Which was only about 70% juice, in actuality. I didn’t use pure lime juice because I didn’t want that level of tartness.