August 16, 2011
Sure, we’ve painted with pineapple skins…We even attempted to grow one from a crown on our windowsill…Still, this year’s “Crazy Fruit Day” took the old “Pineapple Day” up a notch. Today, we played a Name That Fruit Game, we created Still Life pieces with ink and watercolours, and we operated a Blind Fruit Tasting. There were also some Special Surprises towards the end of the day…
To Market, To Market…By Herself
Originally, I had planned to take the kids on an early Tuesday morning excursion down to Chinatown to pick up the fruits for today’s fun and games.
But, when I heard about some temporary changes to the streetcar route, I nixed that idea and headed over to Chinatown by myself on Monday to pick up our supply of “Crazy Fruit.”
First, on the recommendation of friends, I picked up several spiny looking Rambutans and a sextet of plum-coloured Mangosteens. I followed these up with a netted bag of Lychees and a few stalks of Longans.
Then, I asked a vendor about the Sweet Sops and Sapodillas at the front of his shop, and I picked up a pair of each of those.
The large, lone Dragon Fruit was an easy choice, because the kids were familiar with it, and they were hoping that it would be on my list.
I also spotted a trio of orange Passionfruits held together by an elastic band and added those to my increasingly heavy bag.
Trekking west through Kensington Market, I searched for the ultimate fruit (at least in my book): the Prickly Pear. I had seen them a few weeks ago at a local grocery store, and I was hoping that they might still be available somewhere.
I had a secret wish, you see, to make Prickly Pear Jelly as a special Cook’s Treat towards the end of the day.
I had Prickly Pear jelly once when I was a girl, on a family vacation at a dude ranch in Arizona. I’ve always wanted to try it once more and share it with the family. But, I couldn’t find prickly pears either in Chinatown or in the Market, so I settled for something new, a pair of orange, horned, Kiwano melons!
One last bit of preparation…The next morning, before the kids were up, I took the fruits out of their hiding spot in the cupboard and organized them onto separate plates and bowls on the dining room table. Then, I went and printed two sets of namecards for each of the fruits on yellow and green paper…
Name That Crazy Fruit
We haven’t played many games on our food days this year…so it was about time we got down to some funny business. I told the kids that it was time to play, “Name That Crazy Fruit,” and I handed each of them a set of nine cards with the names of a Crazy Fruit printed on each one. I asked the kids to place one card beside the plate or bowl filled with the fruit they thought corresponded to the name. I resisted singing the “Chiquita Banana” Song and dancing around like Carmen Miranda with a bunch of Longans on my head while the kids walked around the table trying to place name tags beneath the correct bowls and plates!
Round one, of course, was the hardest. Bea and Tobes hardly ever concurred when it came to which name suited which fruit. Still, when they did concur, they always had their answers right! They both managed to place the correct nametags under the more familiar Dragonfruit, and the brand new Kiwano (Horned Melon). Bea also labeled the Passion Fruit correctly.
For Round Two, I handed back all of the cards which they had misplaced and asked the kids to try again. Bea was quite successful in this round, correctly labeling four more of the nine fruits, for a total of six. Except for matching up his Passion Fruit card with Bea’s good guess from round one, Tobes struck out. I think this would have resulted in less disappointment on his part had I not made the mistake of keeping score in a notebook. Still, all wounds were soothed over as Bea kindly took it upon herself to explain to Tobes that she really had “lucked” into it… The kids’ discussion of “luck,” furthermore, resulted in their invention of a “fruit adoption” program which I will explain, below.
Round Three was over in a flash, as Tobes follwed Bea’s correct examples from round two. And, at last, the kids did the final switch-up between the “hairy-scary” Rambutans and the “absolutely purpular” Mangosteens, as they called them.
Still Life with Crazy Fruit
A while later, we returned to the Crazy Fruit table in order to do an art project. I quickly familiarized the kids with the concept of Still Life drawing and painting. Then, I had them arrange the crazy fruits on a large platter. I was surprised that they tended to keep the types of fruit together on the plate rather than scattering them around. I really thought the whole display was going to be much less composed than it looked!
After they had their “model” settled, I drew out the plan for how they would create their Still Life pieces. First, on a piece of thick watercolour paper , they would sketch an outline of their Still Life in permament markers.
Then, they would use watercolours to fill in the “colouring page” they had created with their markers. All of our art supplies, by the way, had come from the local dollar store – so, aside from the initial outlay for the fruit, the whole project was super-thrifty.
Bea’s still life took up the bottom half of her page. You can pick out particular fruits quite easily from the drawing. Her ability to add details has really strengthened! She also chose to do a close up of a Lychee on the upper right hand corner of her page – noting that she drew it by its “actual size,” which I thought was quite lovely.
Tobes’ piece looked almost like a pile of fruit covered over by a glass bowl, which was charming in its own right. The single Longan hanging from the roof of this so-called bowl figured as a pendant lamp lighting up an array of animated people-fruit. And, the faces on his Sapodinas reminded me of some drawings of the Moai statues I had them do years ago….
The kids wanted to do a “second round” of individual fruits. Interestingly, they both chose the dragon fruit for this second sketch. Both brother and sister veered, a bit, from the more realistic sketching of their first attempts, creating compound or fantasy fruits. Bea’s Dragon Fruit, for example, looked like a cross between the Dragon and the Mangosteen.
Before he applied his colours, Tobes’ version of the Dragon Fruit looked as much like the Kiwano (Horned Melon) or the actual fruit platter, as it did like the original, Dragon Fruit
And Then The Kids Improvised: Crazy Fruit Adoptions
As we were setting up our Still Life display, the kids decided, between themselves, they were each going to “adopt” one of the fruits, make it a home, and keep it “safe from being eaten.” Bea took a lychee from the pile and named it “Lucky Lychee,” while Tobes took a longan and named him, “Lucky Longan.” The discussion of “luck” and probability associated with the naming game had stuck with them, I guess.
After we were done with our art project, the kids went about personalizing their adoptees. They both drew faces on their fruits with the permanent markers we had used earlier. And, they both set about finding places in the house for the fruits to “live.” I nixed the bedrooms, fearing the inevitable decay and decline of the fruits in some dark corner or closet. So, Tobes hid his fruit for a while beneath a living room pillow, while Bea set up an old jewelry box as a “Lychee Lounge.” She invited Tobes to put his longan in with her lychee. Now, the two no-longer-orphaned fruits are couched in luxury on the mantlepiece!
A Blind Tasting
Once we were done staring at our fruit display and hiding the lucky pair, we moved on to the afternoon sampling! Tobes decided that he didn’t really want to do more than smell everything, but Bea was eager to try anything and everything. So, I gave Tobes the chore of helping me to slice each fruit open and to place a small slice or spoonful of the treat on our platter. We arranged the fruits in a “tasting wheel,” as Tobes put it, taking time, of course, to stop and make spooky-eyes with the round, white lychee fruits and their stones!
Then, the kids got the bright idea that Bea should wear my sleep mask and conduct her Crazy Fruit Tasting “Blind,” attempting to guess, once again, which fruit went with which name. This time, as Toby predicted, she was not as “lucky” as she had been before. Bea had seen the fruits going down on the plate and so she knew how difficult it would be to confuse the Lychee orbs, for instance, with the almost-identical fruits of the Rambutan and the Longan. And, she did mix them up!
All guessing aside, I was impressed by Bea’s determination to try everything! The only fruits she decided not to keep in her mouth were the the Sweet Sop and Sapodina – which weren’t necessarily that toothsome, to be quite honest (I tried everything along with her, out of fairness). Despite some problem spots, she championed through. In the end, her favourites were the Mangosteen, Kiwano, Lychee, and Rambutan. The Longans, however, were on her “I’ll Take a Pass” list, along with the aforementioned “S” fruits and the Passionfruit. She remains iffy about the Dragon Fruit. It was not as sweet as she remembered it when she tried it a few years ago. Perhaps we’ll have another go with that hot-pink number sometime soon.
Cook’s Treat: Lemon Balm & Verbena Jelly
While the kids were off playing independently, I decided that I would make myself another Cook’s Treat. Of course, I had wanted to make that Prickly Pear Jelly. Since this was not an option, I researched making jams, jellies and cordials from the nine fruits on our Crazy Fruit list. Unfortunately, the subtle flavours of Lychee and Co. were either just too subtle or too unpredictable for jelly making, or we just didn’t have enough of a certain fruit on hand in order to make a more robust offering. So, I decided to put off incorporating one of our crazy fruits into my mix, and, instead, went for something from the garden – something I’d never been “crazy” enough, or let’s just say, smart or savvy enough to try making before: Herb Jelly!
Now, I’m a lemon fan…So, I figured that a Lemon-type Jelly would work well, say, as a glaze over the top of a future Crazy Fruit Tart, perhaps, or a Clafouti…so I headed out to cut some Lemon Balm and Lemon Verbena…But then, I had an idea. Bea has a very bad habit of making “potions” and “wands” in the backyard by picking our most glorious blooms or by decapitating the tender, new growth on our magnolia trees… So, I figured, why not give her the opportunity to harvest what we wanted? It wasn’t a hard sell. She swiftly set aside her markers to head outside with my kitchen shears and a glass bowl, filling it high.
Then, I got to work on my jelly. This was my first attempt at jelly, actually. I’ve only ever made jams…But, armed with my new best friend, Liquid Pectin, I was ready for the challenge. I found a lovely recipe for Lemon Balm Jelly that the writer of The Creamer Chronicles had tweaked from her own Rose Petal Jelly recipe. Since I meant to use up the last of my fancy half-pint jam jars anyway, I set a large pot of water to boil on the stove and dropped the glass jars into it before I tackled the recipe.
I had plenty of herbs on hand (the little girl harvests well!), so I boldly doubled the amount of herbs called for in the original recipe, placing 1 cup of chopped lemon balm leaves and 1 cup of chopped lemon verbena leaves in a stock pot. (I’m sure that a single cup of any herb or edible flower would be sufficient for the job here). I poured about 3 cups of boiling water over this mixture, jabbed at the leaves a bit with a wooden spoon, and let them sit in the pot, covered, for about 15 minutes. While this herb “tea” was brewing, I juiced a large lemon over a strainer until I filled the bowl beneath it to 1/2 cup. When the brew was done, I strained the tea into my lemon juice until I had 3 cups of liquid.
Next, I placed my liquid into a saucepan along with 4 1/2 cups of sugar, bringing the mixture up to a hard boil. Once the jelly was boiling, I added 4 drops of yellow food coloring and 1 foil sleeve of liquid pectin. The hot jelly did not take long to return to a boil. In fact, it bubbled over, and I had to take it off of the heat. What a sweet and sticky mess!
Finally, I got my jelly to boil hard for about 2 minutes. Then, I filled 5 and 1/16 half-pint jars with the sunny hot jelly! Leaving 1/4 inch headspace under the lids of the five full jars, I processed them at a rolling boil for 10 minutes.
After a while, Bea had a taste of the jelly in the “Cook’s Treat” jar, and gave it a thumb’s up!
And Then They Improvised Again!
During their independent play time, while I was making jelly, the kids decided to do some drawing and pasting in old notebooks that they had brought home from their grandparents’ the day before. I had no idea this was going on, because I was in the kitchen, canning, and the kids were working quietly…But, what a lovely surprise to be introduced to their own Crazy Fruit Day journals! First, Tobes presented me with a sweet image of his Lucky Longan, which he had drawn on a separate page and then taped into his notebook.
Then, Bea came back to me with two sets of scrap-book style entries that just blew me away! On the first set of pages, she did a recap of her fruit orientation exercises and a sweet introduction to Lucky Lychee and Lucky Longan.
On the first page of her second spread, Bea spent time detailing the “first year” of Lucky Lychee and Longan’s lives. And, on the facing page, she drew her self-portrait with Lychee!
I was absolutely thrilled by their secret record-keeping!
What a way to end Crazy Fruit Day!!!
Lemon Balm & Verbena Jelly
- 1 cup lemon balm leaves chopped
- 1 cup lemon verbena leaves chopped
- 3 cups boiling water
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 4 1/2 cups sugar
- 4 drops yellow food colouring optional
- 1 foil pouch liquid pectin
- Place 1 cup of chopped lemon balm leaves and 1 cup of chopped lemon verbena leaves in a stock pot. (I’m sure that a single cup of any herb or edible flower would be sufficient for the job here). Pour 3 cups of boiling water over this mixture, jabbing at the leaves a bit with a wooden spoon. Let them sit in the pot, covered, for about 15 minutes.
- While this herb “tea” is brewing, juice a large lemon over a strainer set over a large (4 or 8 cup) measuring bowl, until you've measured 1/2 cup lemon juice.
- When the brew is done, strain the tea into the large measuring bowl with the lemon juice until you have 3 cups total of liquid.
- Place this tea/lemon mixture in a medium saucepan or stockpot along with 4 1/2 cups of sugar, bringing the mixture up to a hard boil over medium heat.
- Once the jelly is boiling, add 4 drops of yellow food coloring and 1 foil sleeve of liquid pectin. This hot jelly will not take long to return to a hard boil. Remove the pot from the heat for a moment if it foams.
- Boil hard over medium to medium-high heat for about 2 minutes.
- Funnel into hot, sterilized half-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
- Add lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.