wireless_kitchen (2007-05)

Fruit Basket Overload

Giving holiday leftovers a new lease on life

by Gay Lyons

It's the first of February, and I'm still blessed with lots of fruit left from the holiday season. Most of the year, we keep a small amount of fruit around: bananas, Granny Smith apples, maybe some grapes or berries of some variety. Sometimes I'm tempted by plums and apricots, but I'll buy two--not 10--of them. A little fruit goes a long way in a two-person household, which is why I'm still looking at holiday fruit in February.

Most of the fruit arrived in gift boxes and baskets, lots of lovely apples and pears. Then there's the bag of oranges purchased to support a high school band and my annual box of clementines. December was definitely a fruitful season. Why is that, I wondered? Why does so much fruit get passed around during the holidays? The website foodtimeline.org is a useful place to look for answers to this kind of question.

The foodtimeline is a great resource for anyone interested in food or history or both. What did Vikings eat? Who invented potato chips? What is hasty pudding? The website usually provides the answer, but if you can't find the information you seek, you can email the editor, a reference librarian with an interest in food history, who promises a response within 24 hours. I found a lot of interesting information about fruit, but nothing on the tradition of holiday fruit giving, so I dashed off an email to Lynne Olver, editor of the timeline. As promised, I received a quick response.

According to Ms. Olver: "Food historians trace the practice of proffering fresh fruit gifts for major celebrations to ancient times. These exquisite, perishable objects were expensive and reflected the giver's wealth and status. Indeed, before the age of speedy transportation and reliable refrigeration, fresh citrus fruit was out of reach of the average person. As time progressed, fresh fruit out of season (including oranges in Northern Europe and/or North America) was possible, but still rare. This made these items perfect Christmas gifts."

Other sources I consulted mentioned Boxing Day, a holiday in Great Britain and in countries settled by the British, except for the United States. On December 26, servants were given the day off to celebrate Christmas. It was traditional to send them off with boxes of goodies, hence the name "Boxing" Day. Generally, the boxes contained various food items, including fruit, which was considered a very special treat.

It appears that what began as a piece or two of fruit as a special treat somehow turned into the fruit bonanza at my house every winter. And that's how I end up in February searching for different ways to serve apples, oranges and pears. Out of these fruity experiments, I've discovered two recipes that have become favorites. I like these two so much I'll probably keep making them after the current fruit supply is gone. Here is a tasty recipe for chicken with oranges from recipezaar.com.

Sprinkle chicken pieces (from a four - pound cut up fryer) lightly with salt and brown in four tablespoons butter. Remove the chicken and add two tablespoons flour, one fourth teaspoon salt, one eighth teaspoon cinnamon and a dash of ground cloves to the drippings. Stir into a smooth paste and add one and a half cups orange juice and one fourth teaspoon hot sauce. Cook until thick. Add chicken, one half cup slivered almonds and one half cup raisins. Cover and simmer 45 minutes until tender. Add orange sections from one orange for the last five minutes. Serve with hot rice.

If you make freshly squeezed orange juice, you can use several oranges in just this one dish. With the chicken, I recommend serving this fabulous salad using peppered pears from a great little cookbook called Small Bites, a gift from my friend Bethann.

To make the salad, you'll first need to toast a cup of pecans and make some parmesan crisps.

Place the pecans in a large skillet over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400. Arrange freshly grated Parmesan cheese in little piles, about two tablespoons each, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Flatten each pile a little bit. Bake seven minutes. Let sit for a minute before removing.

When I make crisps, I always make a panful and store some for later use. After tasting the pecans and baking the crisps, you're ready to assemble the salad.

Squeeze two lemons. Core and slice two pears about one inch thick. Put them in a bowl with a tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper and a tablespoon of the lemon juice. Toss to coat. In another bowl mix one red onion, diced, and the rest of the lemon juice. In another bowl, mix three tablespoons Balsamic vinegar, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, one half a garlic clove, finely chopped, one finely chopped shallot, five tablespoons toasted sesame oil and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange six large handfuls of fresh spinach or mesclun on plates. Top with pears, onions and toasted pecans. Insert parmesan crisps at edges. Drizzle with vinaigrette.