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DISH: When in Doubt, Send Fruit (Or Fruit Trees)
We're a family obsessed with fruit. One of our earliest collective memories is our mother receiving gift baskets of Harry & David from her brother – a decided luxury, especially back then – for special occasions. Uncle Steve would send the same to us when we started college. There's no doubt in our minds we were the only freshmen in the dorms armed with specialty pears. Meanwhile, Jen was charged every fall with selling Florida citrus as a fundraiser for band trips to places like Montreal. These were the days when you could go to door-to-door, and people would not only answer but invite you inside while they signed up for a box of grapefruit to be delivered in the dead of winter. Still, Jen's best customer was our mom. She ordered several boxes each of navel oranges and pink grapefruit, both to squeeze every morning and to serve before the salad course at dinner. We kept those boxes in the garage, and yes, that citrus would occasionally freeze hard as bowling bowls. Buying it is one thing. Growing it is another. We're fairly consumed by that as well. When our parents bought a second home on several lovely acres in western New Jersey near the Delaware Water Gap – a former horse farm – we gifted them an orchard of stone fruit and apple trees. None really thrived because we also, all of us, are committed to growing organically. A peach tree did produce, but whatever fruit did make it to relative maturity the black bear and deer found justifiably yummy. Until recently, Jen had the most success with her 14 mango trees on the historic grove she lived on for two decades. Too much success, really. In the height of the season, there's nothing like hundreds of good mangoes per day to process, accompanied by the same number of squirrel-bitten, bug-rotted ones to gather, bag, and lug up to the front for waste removal. It really had to be seen to be believed. We say most recently, because after a few years of relative dormancy, Betsy's plum tree has exploded into a frenzy. She's been trying to save it from fire blight, but by select pruning she may have accidentally triggered a bumper crop instead. And that pruning also spread the blight, hastening its end. But as she says, at least she has hundreds of pieces of fruit to remember one season's success – along with apple and pear trees to feed the chipmunks who are a reproductive nightmare. Seriously, rabbits have nothing on them. Meanwhile, Jen was supposed to be downsizing and relaxing after so many years of gathering and processing. But she's already installed a Meyer lemon, a Key lime, a Thai lime, a pink grapefruit, and a Kazake pomegranate. And she knows there will be more fruit-bearing trees and vines to come – passionfruit is next, in fact – just as Betsy suspects the dying plum tree won't be the end of the fruits of her tree labors. We either can't help ourselves or we can't be discouraged. Or we are, at heart, true gardeners – the ultimate optimists. And this is what keeps us, along with the fruit, veggies and flowers, growing.
JK / BK
$10 Desserts and Other Fruitful Memories
Memory is a funny thing. Ours distinctly recall the baked Alaskas – what a party trick! – our mom pulled from the oven in the Seventies. Ditto for berry clafoutis. And the same for any time she blitzed fresh raspberries into sauce with some sugar and paired it with whipped cream and a slice of her flourless chocolate cake. That’s a $10 dessert in a restaurant, she’d say. She was, of course, correct. (Now it'd be a $15-20 sweet.) This week, the week of her birthday (Many Happy Returns, Mom!), Betsy reminded her of the clafoutis, that eggy, seasonal fruit puff you pull from the oven and eat still warm – with or without accompaniments. She made it with cherries as tradition demanded and dusted the sweet custard with powdered sugar. Decades later, Jen made it with mangoes because, well, everything was mangoes for her for 20 years (see page 172 of Mango). And Betsy is now turning it out with plums, of which she has one huge harvest. But what lived large in our heads is not even a flash of memory for Mom. We get it. So many dishes created in a lifetime of cooking – sometimes it’s hard to parse. We can’t remember what we did yesterday, and we’re only in our 50s. To which we say, Uh oh. Nevertheless, it made its mark on us, maybe not so much as a specific dessert, but as a lesson from a kitchen where “using it up” was standard. In Mom’s honor, Betsy reached back to what she remembered with this plum clafoutis. The recipe is from Epicurious. The fruit should be whatever you have on the counter or in the fridge. The recipe calls for whisking, but a blender, electric mixer, or food processor with a dough blade might be a better choice. The plums leaked more juice than she was expecting, so be prepared for your counters to receive some benediction. But at least she used up six fruit. That leaves 217 or so left to go.
BK / JK
Tropical Roasted Duck Salad with Plums and Water Chestnuts
Betsy and I both have a working background in food. I started at a place called the Village Bakery, serving coffee, donuts, and rolls (and cockroaches, tbh) at dawn's early rise to commuters. Meanwhile, Betsy was across town in a newly installed gourmet cheese, bakery, and deli extension at the beloved restaurant Don's, which started in the Fifties as a drive-in and went on to become a local institution. Fairly soon, Betsy had coaxed the cheese department manager into hiring me, too. There, we tasted every cheese in the case and learned how to make cheese and charcuterie boards, well before the current trend. Betsy eventually left to go to college (and tend bar during the summer on Martha's Vineyard). Being younger (only by 20 months IRL, but in school years, by a couple), I stayed and was trained in the deli, bakery, dining room, and other areas of that vast venue as well. And I continued to work there on holiday breaks and summers. The recipe below is one that I adapted from one of my favorite deli salads that I used to pack up in pints and quarts for the New Jersey mavens who wouldn't risk their manicures picking apart a bird. Don's made it with chicken and pineapple. I find that it works well – possible even better – with fattier poultry like dark-meat turkey and duck, as well as any seasonal stone fruit. 2 cups cooked, skinless duck meat, chopped (substitute turkey or chicken) 1 can water chestnuts, drained and chopped 1 small Vidalia onion, finely chopped 2 ripe plums (more if they're small), pitted and chopped, reserving any juices 4 tablespoons mayonnaise (more if you like it creamier) 2 tablespoons ketchup (more if you like it sweeter) Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together. Add in the plum juices for extra flavor. Chill if not serving immediately. Serves 2 as a generous scoop over lettuce or makes 4 sandwiches with condiments.
You’ve got big paws to fill. This is what I tell my current crop of pups, a pair of Norfolk Terriers who, yes, have their own Instagram, when I’m channeling their predecessors. This includes the Siberian husky of our childhood, a legend in clearing countertops, then hoarding whatever she’d stolen (not necessarily food, either) in her “den.” One in particular must’ve taken me to heart. I prepped caramelized plums as an ice cream and/or cake topping for a visit with friends. It was just delicious! But I left the dish on the kitchen table. And with the ghosts of large dogs past who routinely emptied the table with their tongues, Manny vaulted chair, bench, and table with his springy Norfolk Terrier legs. End of caramelized plums. Fortunately for him, not end of Manny.
DISH: Recap and Coming Soon
Betsy has been in the digital world teaching culinary, mixology, and floral skills. Fully vaccinated, she's also back to planning events. You can hire her for both by contacting her at email@example.com.
Jen's personal essay on the death of her restaurant criticism career and the discovery of her food allergies appeared in The Counter. Her pieces on the best beach hotels in Florida and the best beach hotels in the US were published in Insider. A piece on decoding the stages of testicular cancer appeared on Giddy. A poem on the Surfside tragedy is online in South Florida Poetry Journal. Coming Soon: Jen's articles for AllRecipes, published in 2020, are finalists for the Society of Professional Journalism Sunshine State Awards in the food-travel category; she'll find out the results on August 7. An article on the superiority of balsamic vinegar is forthcoming in HuffPost. Another sexual and reproductive health piece is scheduled for Giddy. Poems from her sixth full-length work-in-progress will appear in Aji Magazine, The Comstock Review, DIALOGIST, Escutcheon Review, The Fourth River, K’in, Matter, Mom Egg Review, Pirene’s Fountain, River Heron Review, Rogue Agent, and The Westchester Review, as well as couple of anthologies, one on the pandemic and one on disabilities. You can hire her for writing by contacting her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at jkaretnick.com.
Working the Date Palms
It's not the universe that shrinks but the space inside your head, crammed with schedules, reminders, to-do lists jam-packed as fruit trees in a grove, each task not insurmountable on its own but together in a kettle a boil of all things summer, the too-early arrival of fall.
You can find this and other food poems in Brie Season (Kelsay Books, 2014).