Friday, March 25, 2005

About Easter and Fruit Salad

One of the things I love most about cooking and entertaining is the connection it gives me -- and has always given me -- to my mother. She was the consummate military wife when in the 50s and 60s you supported your husband by making your household (and him by extension) look good to the other wives. Whether it was hosting a coffee or bridge club or a full luncheon or dinner party, you had the proper plates, linens, silverware, and crystal. Even if it was modest, it was clean polished and you presented the best you had. Food was the least of it but had to be fresh, delicious, and right. And no matter what, there was a particular way each thing was done. Entertaining, even casual entertaining, was more than just casual. My mother passed away two years ago but I still miss her most when I'm hosting something.

Today, I entertain quite often and love it whether it's a formal dinner party for 8, a casual brunch for 16, or a holiday party for 80. My mother and I had some of our best mother daughter moments over the years as she’d ask “what are you going to serve?” or give me advice on how to time my preparations for making dishes ahead. She had all the answers and so many ideas. I could always call her with a question getting both her advice and enthusiasm every time I give a party. This past week, I feel like I got to share a little bit with her again.

This past week, I was putting together the menu for this weekend's Easter brunch. Some friends are having their daughter baptized that day and since they are in preparations for an intercontinental move, they are a little short on, well, furniture, dishes, and a house. So, I happily volunteered to host. As I was juggling favorite Easter dishes, I thought of a terrific fruit salad my mother made frozen in muffin cups then put out to thaw just before serving. Oddly enough, an Internet search on any variation of "frozen fruit salad" yielded nothing close to what I remembered.

Now, you’ll need to know that in small towns like the one where I grew up, there was a large contingent of ladies who would always throw a bride her bridesmaid’s luncheon or a luncheon for her shower. This was an auspicious occasion in the “cycle-of-parties” for a big wedding. Usually these luncheons would be hosted by 12-16 ladies in town whose names were featured on the invitation card as it was sent out. One hostess would have it in her home even though any one of them, my mother included, could hold a sit down luncheon for at least 24 -- and did in fact. My mother threw a famous Christmas luncheon for years. She was alwasy a little dubious when I started only buying eight in any given set of anything instead of 12. (And wouldn't you know I have to head back to the store today for 12 buffet plates instead of the 8 I bought.) But with these luncheons, all the hostesses would help prepare special recipes often clipped from Gourmet or Bon Appetit. Once my mother was assigned vichyssoise – cold leek soup. Certainly cold soup was a new thing in small town in western Oklahoma, but my father and I dutifully ate the test batches for dinner not knowing what to compare it to, but certainly saying “sure, it’s good.” I learned what scrapple was the same way.

So, the frozen fruit salad was the same kind of thing. There were test batches involved and the recipe became one of my mother’s favorites as a new twist on fruit salad. We had it for quite a few holiday dinners. But somehow, I never got the recipe. So, when I started on this brunch, the frozen fruit salad came to mind. I was certain that it was in my mother's recipe cabinet at home. She kept all her recipes loose or in books above the sugar and flour.

Last week I called home. My father has since remarried – a very, sweet lady named Kay. Kay has her own children (at 86 and 78 or so, both my father and Kay are, let’s say, old enough to not care about blended families) and I'm not sure she's really even completely moved in at my Dad’s house. But, I asked her if she’d mind terribly looking through the recipe cabinet to find this recipe. Here’s the following exchange. It’s part of the reason I love small towns:

“Kay, I’m looking for this recipe of my mom’s. I’m sure it’s up in the cabinet if you could do me a huge favor and check. It was for this frozen fruit salad. All I remember was that you put all the fruit in a bowl, mixed it with something and put it in muffin cups to freeze.”

”Oh, yes! I know exactly what that is. I have that recipe, too, but if I can’t find it I know where to look. That’s Carrie Lou Draper’s recipe.”

”Oh?! Well, I can call Mrs. Draper directly, if you’d like.”

”No, no, not at all. I’ll look for it and copy it down for you.”

So, yesterday I called home and was the grateful recipient of the frozen fruit salad recipe. (Kay said “But don’t tell your dad, he’s not supposed to be eating sweets!”) Easter brunch, or any of my parties, aren’t quite the same without being able to share them with my mom, but at least I feel like she’ll be a little bit there. After all, I'm using her recipe.

Frozen Fruit Cups

1 #2 chunk pineapple (20 oz)
1 #2.5 can cling peaches
1 #2.5 can apricots
4 bananas (pretty yellow)
2 lg boxes (bags, maybe?) frozen strawberries, thawed
2 cups sugar

Dissolve the sugar into 1 cup water. Bring to boil (to make simple syrup). Set aside, let cool. Drain all fruit except the strawberies and cut fruit into small pieces. Mix fruit with simple syrup. Divide fruit salad into muffin cups and freeze. Makes 36.


Erudite Redneck said...

Re, "2 lg boxes (bags, maybe?) frozen strawberries, thawed"

I'm sure she meant boxes of fresh strawberries that she had put up, by freezing. When I was little we used to sell said boxes in a roadside vegggie-fruit stand-type thing in front of the house.

braingirl said...

Excellent point -- thanks! I'm guessing the recipe said "boxes" and my mom, not being much of a preserver, substituted those bags from the store without making note. She was all about frozen store bought strawberries (which I think are pretty awful but in Western Okla. they're pretty much the bees knees.)