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Serving fruit for/with dessert - a cultural thing?

16crab Jun 13, 2011 09:19 AM

I am genuinely interested in the cultural aspect of this, so it's not meant to be a should you/'should you not do it kind of discussion. But here goes, prefaced with a little background information:

I am a Southern gal, transplanted to the Greater Toronto area, and my husband is Jewish, born and raised in said GTA. In his family, there is always fresh fruit served with dessert - whether it's brunch or dinner, large or small, or as in the case of yesterday, a four-year-old's birthday party. In my home, this never, ever happened. In the car, when I was musing as to why this was, my husband answered, 'they think it's healthy'. A good reason - but maybe not the real one as he said it's been like this his whole life, even before his mom and her generation became obsessed with fat-free, then low-carb, and so on. So then he said "maybe it's a cultural thing" which got me thinking about that aspect.

Now - my family was not a good one to gauge from - our fare was 'back-of-the-box', fried, fried and more fried...yes, people do really cook and eat like Paula Deen. Dessert was often boxed cake mix, and generally the only fresh fruit found in my house were bananas that were sliced in cereal or put into jello(!) But in my friends' homes where nutrition and fresh food were more prevalent, there was either no dessert or a lighter dessert (who remembers ice milk?) or a fruit-based dessert - not a dessert with a fruit platter on the side. Thinking to southern tradition, even when delicious fresh fruits are in season and can be bought on the side of the road --peaches for instance -- they seemed to be more commonly eaten out of hand for a snack or used to make a pie or a cobbler rather than served as a dessert i and of themselves. So what's the reason for this? Did they make pies in tighter times to make the fruit stretch? Was it a (lack of) refrigeration thing? And, since I haven't lived in the south in almost twenty years and seem to only visit at big-ticket holidays were pumpkin pie is the dessert, is it still like this or has the fruit platter become a more common thing?

This really intrigued me when we started talking about it. Any thoughts?

  1. d
    DPGood Jun 13, 2011 09:34 AM

    Great post. I sure don't know, but my thoughts based on limited experience: it seems to me that fresh fruit is consumed more (on a daily basis) in areas (climates) where it is more readily available, more tropical or even temperate climates than we enjoy here or in the "South". I think of the lady with her fruit cart on a residential street in Peru, with all sorts of great "in season" delights. When papayas are in season, for example, and you ask for one, she asks, When are you going to eat. If you say, tomorrow, she looks at what she has and says, proudly, then this one.

    1. buttertart Jun 13, 2011 09:47 AM

      We (southwestern Ontario Protestants, I grew up in the '60s) often had fruit for dessert when it was good (strawberries, raspberries, or peaches, always prepared and sugared about an hour before dinner so it made its own juice - or in winter, canned fruit or bananas in milk, other fruits sometimes with milk or cream). Sometimes a cookie with it, or bread and butter (my great-uncle insisted on this, to "cut the acid" - it's actually a nice combination). and I don't recall anyone else I've known doing so. People had "fruit nappies" (small bowls, often glass, often matching a serving bowl) for just this kind of dessert. I miss those (and the Ontario fruit). It wasn't served as a dessert side dish, and I don't recall anyone else I've known doing so.
      My mom also made a lot of pies - they do serve to preserve the fruit somewhat and stretch it to feed more people. That was a dessert completely on its own.

      1. m
        mpjmph Jun 13, 2011 10:09 AM

        I grew up in the South as well. My family wasn't exactly health conscious, but we did reserve desserts for special occasions (ice cream after Sunday dinner and recitals/concerts, other desserts at parties and church suppers only). Fruit was always around, and frequently consumed as a snack (in fact, it was the only snack left out for kids to eat without asking an adult first). It was rarely served as dessert, with the exception being watermelon at outdoor parties. Now as an adult, I usually eat a piece of fruit with each meal, but I don't necessarily wait until dessert time to eat the fruit.

        With all of that said, I wonder if the difference lie more with cultural differences in courses than in availability of fruit? Something akin to the differences in salad or cheese course timing?

        1. inaplasticcup Jun 13, 2011 11:43 AM

          Though my mother is Vietnamese and did the bulk of the cooking in our house, we ate a lot of Korean (dad) food and followed a lot of Korean food traditions. Fresh fruit as dessert was commonplace in our home, and it was never cooked into something else.

          I'm sure it's not the only reason, but judging from what Korean moms, aunts, and grandmothers tell you while insisting that you take a piece of fruit, a big part of it is the belief that it aids digestion. (Enzymes - makes sense, I guess.)

          1. e
            escondido123 Jun 13, 2011 11:47 AM

            We did not eat fresh fruit instead of dessert--not in Chicago and not in So Cal--unless strawberries were in season. Otherwise, it might have been canned fruit cocktail or peaches.

            1. scubadoo97 Jun 13, 2011 03:50 PM

              I know my extended family in Mexico City serves fruit at the end of a meal. You rarely see pastries or similar dessert. Usually just fruit, but it's really good fruit!

              1. f
                fara Jun 13, 2011 06:26 PM

                It does seem like a cultural thing. In our family, the Italian side eats ONLY fruit for dessert, and does so religiously. Ice cream or cookies, if eaten, are not served any time near dinner (could be in the middle of the afternoon or possibly late at night). The aforementioned dessert items, as Americans think of them, are considered snacks or treats in Italian culture and to eat it after a meal would be considered overkill.
                Some of the Jewish side of the family has to have fruit with other things, for example, fruit is placed on the table with the other food at brunch or lunch.

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