We ended up owning a vast cooler full of fruit pursuant to an under-attended neighborhood function recently, and the poor fridge was jammed to the rafters with watermelon and bowls of grapes and such. This highly non-local windfall was begging to have its volume consolidated, since the arrival of fruit fly season meant that keeping any of it outside the fridge for any length of time was a non-starter. I figured that the quickest way to compact it all would be to purée it (juicing not being an option since we haven’t replaced the broken juicer yet). And then there was all that gelatin in the cupboard.
Post-blending, I stirred the mixture through a strainer and tasted it. Out-of-season fruit from far away lacks a certain… what’s the word… flavor, so I augmented it with honey and some mango lemonade that also came in the cooler. And then I bloomed a bunch of sheets of gelatin, wrung them out, melted them into a small amount of the mixture, and then poured that into the rest of it in a pyrex dish. Then into the newly capacious fridge it went to chill and set up nice and wiggly-like. There was (is) a fair amount of it, and it’s seen service in a few forms over the ensuing days: with mango lemonade granita on top (we grated a popsicle we had made on the microplane), with coconut milk “ice cream” (that vegan stuff from the store) and last–my favorite–with homemade yogurt mixed with homemade maple syrup and strawberries from the garden. The currants are blushing, and we got a couple of raspberries yesterday, so I’m thinking of this as a rehearsal for treats to come in the ensuing weeks as fruit season gets into high gear.
We don’t have dessert most nights, but with a child that can be a struggle. Sugar makes kids into little relentless crackhead lawyers; life becomes consumed with incessant negotiations about when, and how much, and what the minimum requirements will be to get the next sweet, sweet hit. The billions of dollars spent on finding more and better ways to sell crap to our kids have drastically altered the food landscape. We’ve managed to keep him pretty well insulated from most advertising–he only learned what McDonald’s is a few months ago and has never eaten there–and not having TV has been a huge factor in retaining our positions as curators of his media exposure. But every time a gap, however small, opens up, there’s some branded piece of garbage right there to imprint itself permanently on his brain. Today he went to the doctor, and they drew some blood, and so after he got an Oreo cookie from the drugstore near the office for being such a good sport. Now he’ll never forget that name, ever.
I’m not some strident hippie killjoy who only uses brown rice syrup in everything. Far from it. I do try to use honey and maple syrup as much as I can, because they’re locally produced and contain many beneficial compounds, and they taste wonderful to boot. But we have and use sugar, too, when needed, and we buy chocolate and baked things from time to time. What I resent, though, is that so much of parenting today feels like playing defense. As long as we stay home, we eat healthy, whole food, with much of it made from scratch. The minute we step out, there’s a whole universe of seductive shite aimed specifically at kids’ vulnerable little minds and bodies; the candy is all two feet off the floor, the ads are all bouncy cartoon hijinks, and every holiday is now principally about thematic sweets and related shopping. It was right around the Mad Men era when those agencies first began experimenting with tie-ins between toys and shows. Now it’s a given, and every company knows to aim their message at the kids and let their incessant badgering and whining do the heavy lifting.
I accept that living in the world requires exposure to all manner of things, and I remember my own childhood pretty well so I’m not really worried about his long-term prospects. I ate my share of sweets. But my Mom also had a big garden and baked bread and cooked dinner from scratch every night, so the counterweight was there and her investment of time and effort is now paying off with interest. In Europe, there are laws against advertising directly to children; studies have proved that kids younger than eight are unable to understand that an advertiser may not have their best interest at heart. The lack of any similar regulation here–and the zero percent chance such a law would have of passing any time soon, let’s be realistic–says a lot about our profits before people culture.
Sweets are about pleasure, and joy, and sharing, and marking special occasions. They shouldn’t be a pitched battle between parents and giant corporations. The good news is that it’s forcing me to innovate; as with churning smoothies in the ice cream machine, gelling is an excellent way to turn something completely healthy and nutritious into something that any kid will agree is a dessert. Getting Milo to eat fruit is no problem at all (he loves it all) but tricking him into eating nothing but for dessert is a small victory nonetheless.