When I first moved to Israel as a twenty something, I found myself one day preparing for an autumn holiday, wanting to make a fruit salad. The fruit salad I had always made was inspired by my mother’s recipe, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and cantaloupe, with an orange citrus and mint sauce to go with it.
I searched high and low for the fruits so I could make this delicious and refreshing fruit salad, but alas, there were none to be found.
Giving up, I reluctantly used fruits sitting in a fruit bowl on my kitchen table . . . pulpy persimmons, the plumpest medjool dates, the fullest seediest figs, and the sourest citrus; and I threw into the mix some freshly grown mint. Of course, it turned out delicious. Not only did I learn my lesson about embracing new adventures rather than trying to replicate the old, but I discovered the joy of combining these unexpected fruits.
With Tu b’Shvat almost upon us, I am gearing into preparations for this minor one day holiday. Not that this is its purpose, but with so many holiday treats packed into the last few months, it is such a good opportunity for a winter cleanse. It feels good to focus on fruits of the tree.
Granted, almonds and blushing white almond blossoms, along with the fragrant etrog and fruits of the Seven Species, are the primary association of Tu b’Shvat. But really any and all fruits are its essence.
It is such a delight to be enveloped by a blast of color in the middle of a velvet white winter. Take citrus fruits. O the hues of color! Pink grapefruits, green limes, yellow lemons, orange clementines and tangerines, and those purple amethyst colored blood oranges. When I slice the peel from the pith down from the center dimple of the fruits, as they fall to the side like gorgeous vertical shards of colored glass, the beautiful mess that collects looks like vibrant colored candies while revealing round balls. Pops of color shine as pretty as the most glamorous jewelry.
Once you start a-peeling, sectioning the fruit and slicing them into wheels, the designed flesh framed by the rind, they are irresistible; and the pucker-y possibilities are endless. Refreshing savory salads with either beets or fennel and some herbs, sweet caramelized tarts folded in sugary pastry crusts, or even as an adornment, the possibilities are endless.
Drying the citrus into translucent ornaments for potpourri can be done; candied orangettes (and all the other citrus peels) can be boiled away in hot sugar syrup; and a melange of marmalades, curds and jams to spread on thick slices of toast or cake, can be yielded from the fruity pulp.
All that citrus reminds us of all those fruit bearing trees, of all those blessings. Tu b’Shvat has become a day our awareness is heightened about the source of our fruits, and we bless that.
We bless the fruits and the blessing that their colors, nutrients and joy bestow upon us. We bless the trees that have nurtured them. We bless the abundance of color and sweetness that comes just in the dead of dreary winter, to remind us of the colorful seasons to come.
And those trees, they are our metaphor, of course. As so often is the custom, a tree is planted upon the birth of a newborn baby.
Just like the trees, we endeavor to strengthen our roots deeper and healthier in the soil so that we too may grow and contribute strong branches that ripen with beautiful, colorful, vibrant fruits. Where even the peels of citrus can be candied into fruit.
Although it’s especially nice and traditional to use the Seven Species of the Land of Israel and other Israel grown fruits, as I learned that day when cutting a fruit salad, it’s not the specific fruits per se that matter, but the intention of being in the moment of a time and place to embrace the fruits they have to offer, and to bless and feel blessed by that.
Enjoy the day, and if you have the opportunity to participate in a wine and fruit Tu b’Shvat seder, even better!
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