There is and always has been a fruit bowl standing on my kitchen table. I am a fruit eater.
Winter fruit bowl filled with oranges, navels to be peeled and eaten at the end of each meal; tangerines or clementines, eaten two, three, even four at a time, reminiscent of a very citrus childhood obsession. Or stuck all around with cloves at Christmas. Grapefruits, one at a time will find its way to my fruit bowl, perched atop, yellow or pink and always from the Indian River, those groves dancing along the water just across the bridge from my childhood home, a sticker proudly announcing the fact of its Florida birthplace.
Apples and pears all autumn long and well into the winter, crispy Reine des Reinettes, Fuji or Tentations with their acidic nip and sweet juiciness, and Comice for eating, Williams for baking. Both husband's predilection. An apple a day keeps the doctor away and makes a pretty damn fine pie.
Summertime finds that fruit bowl groaning under the weight of pears and nectarines, white and yellow, plums of so many varieties my head spins, in a fancy array of red, green, yellow, pink and purple, sometimes bordering on black, like an ever-varying bouquet of dahlias.
And bananas. Always bananas no matter the season.
Little summer fruit flies dancing around and around. Wave them off with a flick of the hand.
Who put the onions in the fruit bowl?
I had one little boy who loved vegetables and one little boy who loathed them, wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole. One little boy who adored fruit of every color, the other who preferred not with the rare exception of an apple or a banana, not too ripe, please. To each little boy his own.
One's plate was piled high with veg, steamed broccoli doused liberally with freshly grated Parmesan, fork-tender carrots and zucchini bathed in couscous jus, a healthy square of spinach and feta baked between flakey layers of phyllo dough. Mushrooms, chard, peas nothing put him off. He would plow through a plateful of vegetables with glee and a huge appetite. But fruit? A placement of the fruit bowl in front of him and an offering of this or that would elicit a No, thank you! Much to a mother's chagrin, much to my disappointment and surprise.
As I piled the vegetables high on his plate and after I placed it in front of him, I would begin preparing the fruit bowl I would offer his little brother. Halved cherries in summer, grapes in the autumn, thick banana coins and a handful of berries. Cubes of apples and pears or peaches and nectarines; strawberries and wedges of tangerines. There wasn't a fruit he did not love. Colors, textures balanced to reward his growing body with a variety of vitamins.
A bowl of vegetables for one, a bowl of fruit for the other.
A bowl of fruit. A bowl haircut. A bowler. A bowling ball. Bowl me over. Life is just a bowl of cherries. Bowl me a kiss.
The contents of the fruit bowl on my kitchen counter vary on any given day. Fruit, yes, oranges, apples and bananas. A stray pen, capless, no doubt, or the odd pencil. My husband's favorite knife, the handmade knife with the beautiful cherry wood handle that he uses at most meals. The elegantly, naturally tarnished blade stuck down between pieces of fruit. What the French refer to as the "heel" of a baguette or a loaf, the rounded end of the bread, usually fallen to the bottom underneath what fruit there is. Crumbs, always bread crumbs from the odds and ends tossed into the bowl, atop the fruit at the end of a meal. A dead fruit fly or gnat once in a blue moon. Rare, but true. Tomatoes. I mean, fruit or veg? Avocados while ripening, onions or potatoes when someone has been lazy, preferring to add them to the fruit when there is a perfectly good vegetable bowl on the back counter in front of the kitchen window. A rotting piece of fruit lost and forgotten, nestled and hidden under the others, leaving a splotch of gooey dark on the bottom of the bowl.
How do you like them apples? I mean, I know, I shouldn't give a fig. Everything is pretty peaches and cream although I will admit sometimes it does drive me bananas.
The fruit bowl changes with my mood. One day or two it could simply be a soup plate, white and marked from the dishwasher. Casual. Or the old serving bowl my husband bought in a frenzied run through the houseware department of the supermarket on the outskirts of Milan when we had a party of folks invited for lunch and simply not enough dishes. Ugly it is, off-white turned to pasty beige with time, crackled ceramic, chipped edge, a painted design of tiny oranges with tiny green leaves in a ring around the bottom of the bowl. Or the nicer white bowl with the curled lip. Sophisticated.
If there is overflow, say a pound of cherries or a pint of strawberries (or two), one might very well find two fruit bowls on my counter. A smaller one for the spillover, the surfeit, the delicate, the fragile. A pretty mauve or dove grey oversized coffee bowl like those found in a French bistro.
And if company comes, one of our beautiful, handmade, Italian ceramic bowls makes its own dramatic appearance bearing a cornucopia of fruit. To be served with the cheese course. Hand-painted lemons bright yellow, deep jade green leaves. Or a sea green bowl full of tiny flowers to catch the fruit.
An old battered aluminum colander, a brown straw basket, pint-sized cardboard boxes or pale balsa wood crates meant to carry home a bowl of berries. A coffee mug or a painted wooden bowl carried back from Africa. Almost anything will do. As a fruit bowl.
Always, always a fruit bowl at every official event, wedding, Bar Mitzvah, family reunion, dinner party with the boss. A fruit bowl is as common as a punchbowl on these great occasions, at every celebration, a refreshing, healthy alternative to all the rich, heavy, indulgent desserts. Or so they say.
Just to make us all feel a little bit virtuous at the end of the festivities.
Wedges of strawberries and pretty green rounds of kiwis to show a generous hand and an exotic kiss; slices of bananas, which become gummy with liquid and time; chunks of pineapple (canned? fresh?); watermelon shaped into perfect orbs the size of gumballs, sweet and revivifying after the dancing, the heat of bodies pressed into a space inevitably too small for so many. Oranges, or more likely sections of tangerine, often of the canned variety with its tinny flavor and jarred maraschino cherries, gaudy, neon red like lipstick, glistening on their own, spreading a faint pinkness as they float in the juice. Reminding one of an old-fashioned cocktail. Without the kick. And often pushed to the side, left on the plate in a puddle of what juice cannot be slurped up. And of course cubes of apple, always apple, for the crunch.
And then there is cantaloupe. And honeydew. Muskmelons. In every fruit bowl at every occasion and the bane of my existence. Why does everyone feel the need to add cantaloupe and honeydew to every fruit bowl? Their sickly taste overwhelms. Suddenly the strawberries and the delicate kiwis taste like melon. The watermelon, once sugary sweet and reminiscent of childhood summers, turns into honeydew. Cherries and apples are now infused with the odd flavor of cantaloupe. The bananas, the very bananas ubiquitous to fruit bowls everywhere, well, no, they still taste of banana. With the addition of melon, an otherwise luscious fruit bowl has been ruined.
So I will have another slice of the chocolate mousse cake. I have no choice.