Fed up with that fruity flavour

One cannot conceive of a perfect lamb chop as one can a perfect pear; there is no perfect loaf, no ideal grain

If you have ever had one of those faux-medieval banquets where young ladies with lank hair sing ballads, their squires strum lutes and the serving-wenches show alarmingly balconied busts, then you will know that the prevailing taste of the fare, far from being rough and hearty and cooked on an open hearth, is sickly sweet with fruit (mainly preserved).

This taste for exotic fruit (currants), nuts (almonds) and spices (cinnamon) is the result of early tourism. After a long ride to the Holy Land with dried, smoked or salted venison or beef hanging by one's saddle-bag, the rich, copious and sweet foods of the Near East must have seemed a promise of heaven: not least of their virtues was the releasing of pent-up bowels.

As well as its purely practical contribution to our diet (as, for instance, in the abolition of scurvy on board ship with citrus rich in vitamin C), fruit is enshrined in our collective food memory in a special, metaphorical way. Not for nothing did God, in parting the waters and making land, see to it that, long before he had conceived of Man, there should be what creation needed: grass, grain and "fruit tree bearing fruit after its kind". Nor is it an accident that in the centre of the Garden of Eden therestood a "tree of life" and it was from that tree Eve plucked her fatal fruit.

Today's readers, with their briefer attention spans, are probably not familiar with George Meredith's Ordeal of Richard Feverel and therefore will not know of Sir Austin Absworthy Bearne Feverel's Great Shaddock Dogma: "that Evil may be separated from Good; but Good cannot be separated from Evil" and thus "a truly good man is possible on earth", a contention that causes much travail to the hero of his novel. This Shaddock (some think a grapefruit, some the shaddock-apple, that original forbidden fruit) is the ultimate expression of fruit as a way of thinking, a pondering on Good and Evil.

In food, fruit occupies precisely that place given it in Genesis as in Meredith, a self- reproducing marvel of original innocence and good, and it is probably one of the oldest of all connections between two specific flavours, sweet and sour, and two textures, soft and hard. Few culinary clichs, in fact, are able to match the old pork-and-apple; the vast Pacific and Caribbean ham-and-pineapple, the commonplace prosciutto-and-melon, the American turkey-and-cranberry, the Nordic venison-and-juniper berry, the basic chutney, fruit-and-onion-and-spice.

These combinations are in some way instinctive to different national cuisines, as lamb- and-date, or pork-and-prune, duck-and-orange, fish- and-lemon: indeed, in the form of wine, as grape-and-everything.

Now, there are some more addicted to this than others, just as it is notable that there are fruit-eaters and non-fruit-eaters. To what form of deprivation would one ascribe the modern German fascination (or our own, in wartime) with bananas? In what way, to carry out the sexual imagery, are peaches more luscious and juice-drooling than other fruit and to be used in seduction? Why do apricots mean a poisonous end to the sinful Duchess of Malfi?

It must be that in our culture, as against those in which fruit is so plentiful as to be commonplace, fruits are a rarity: of limited season, of especial perishability, but also capable of perfection. One cannot conceive of a perfect lamb chop as one can of a perfect pear; there is no perfect loaf, no ideal grain. But there are ideal fruits, and some of us are passionate about them.

My sainted mother is a fruit-freak. In many a restaurant in my youth, I have seen the fruit proffered and rejected by her, with an art all the more amazing for the fact that there is no true way to ascertain the perfect fruit without opening it up. Clearly, to her, a fruit was a very special gift of God and, to my certain knowledge, never has she insulted a fruit by using it in cooking, for that would have been to defeat its integrity.

The rest of us do, myself included, use it as an integral part of our cooking repertory. My objection to this is to our automatism in so doing. An apple baked in a suckling pig's mouth is decorative; it is good because baked apples are good. But commercial apple sauce with a pork chop? Well, my wife loves it; I dissent. I know what she is after: the sweetness that will bring out the sweetness of the pork. But it is that very sweetness to which I object.

There are meats whose asperities are assuaged by fruit: a dark and high hare is much improved by being cooked in fresh grapes; mutton that is fatty and ancient is revivified by plum and nectarine; a stringy chicken is improved by being stuffed with raisins and rice; my own beef en croute la Sviatoslav Richter, a rich concoction of sweet Russian jams, cherry and plum, mixed with wild mushrooms, started as a tribute to the pianist 10,000 miles from his homeland, and remains good.

These are all searches for some subtle combination of flavours that will salvage the ordinary or the slightly over-the-top; but the modern tendency to dress nearly everything with a coulis or this or that berry, to chuck exotic fruit (some as tasteless as the kiwi) into any dish merely to make it vaguely "eastern" (all so-called Polynesian restaurants): all these I deplore. They are forms of what I call "armchair cuisine", letting your fingers "do the walking" through one's collected cookbooks. Cooking is more rigorous than that. As instances of perfection fruits do not deserve to be adulterated.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Sport
Tony Bellew holds two inflatable plastic sheep at the weigh-in for his rematch with Nathan Cleverly
boxingGrudge match takes place on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson at PS1
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer - £30,000 OTE Uncapped

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines