Love In The Shape Of Cut Fruit

Life is filled with bitter and hard things. When you extract pits, piths, and peels, fruit becomes a reliable source of pure sweetness, only softness.

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Growing up in my household, meals were never delicious on purpose. They were economical, fast, and filling. If they were nutritious, great. Tasty? A miracle. But mostly, our dinners consisted of a three-ingredient stir fry flavored only with soy sauce, baked fish sticks from the freezer, and a big bowl of rice. Breakfast was off-brand cereal or — occasionally, misguidedly — Drumstick ice cream cones. Lunches were nearly always leftovers.
Photographed by Jooeun Bae
Dessert, though, was always luxurious: plates of naked fruit, skinless and seedless, their flesh cut into ice cube-sized pieces. My mother, with the dull paring knife she refused to sharpen, somehow turned lumpy, whole fruit into geometrically perfect pieces. She cut strawberries in the spring; mangos and watermelon in the summer. We’d eat giant grapes all year long, gleaming domes that were cut in half to remove the seeds. Once we moved into the middle class, there was cubed dragon fruit, sliced persimmons, and soft white peaches that tapered into flame-like red tips. After her elaborate preparations, my mom would nibble on whatever was left on the cores and pits by the sink before joining us at the table. 
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As dessert, cut fruit was served hours after dinner was done, but it was also offered up during homework time, or throughout long stretches of weekend afternoons. It was the only way I ate fruit, and such a normal part of my life that, for years, I thought apple skins were inedible. The inelegant orange wedges that came with my school lunches were a personal insult. Once, when the cafeteria at a new school served a bunch of grapes alongside its square pizza, I realized I was the only one peeling the paper-thin skin off each grape before popping it into my mouth. What are you doing? I can still hear my friends saying, as I hid the curling grape-skins under my milk carton.
It wasn’t until I left for college that I fully realized the amount of work that went into all that fruit. But instead of learning how to use a paring knife myself, I just got used to apple slices with the skin-on, grapefruit segments I had to gnaw out of the rind, underripe seedless grapes with skin so thick they made my tongue feel like it was wearing a fleece coat. It tasted like misery.
Photographed by Jooeun Bae
Cut fruit tastes like love. There are reasons for this. Firstly, it’s about disaster prevention, a concept Asian parents love to obsess over. My parents have explained to me that, back home, all raw produce is unclean. But while you could cook most vegetables to safely eat them, the only way to make sure your fruit was edible was to vigorously scrub and peel them. So, even though they believed that American farms were held to a higher food safety standard, why take chances? But more importantly, cut fruit is a gift. Life is filled with bitter and hard things. When you extract pits, piths, and peels, fruit becomes an accessible and reliable source of pure sweetness, only softness.
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It’s in the bowl of watermelon tips my grandparents used to offer me, made of the best bite of everyone else’s watermelon wedges. It’s in the last dragon fruit my cousin had kept in the dark corner of a pantry, timed exactly for my arrival, cut up and then hedgehogged with more toothpicks than mouths in the room — a true extravagance. It’s in cored strawberries served alongside a tiny dish of white sugar; perfectly ripe mango chunks so smooth and non-fibrous, you could almost suck them down with a straw; and naked grapes, an indulgence that felt fit only for emperors, queens, and your own kin. 
Photographed by Jooeun Bae
In Asian cultures, love is oftentimes expressed in actions rather than physical or verbal affections. In Taste, Yi Jun Loh wrote, “Instead of hugs, kisses, and words of encouragement, my mom loved through bowls of cut-up fruit.”. 
Priya Krishna wrote in Bon Appetit: “[My dad and I] didn’t have big heart-to-hearts. We didn’t attend father-daughter dances. But watching that guy painstakingly break down a pomegranate for our post-dinner enjoyment was all I needed to see.”
Real affection is rare in quarantine. I’ve heard so much bad news from loved ones, coworkers, news anchors, and strangers. I was frustrated with myself for not being able to comfort those around me. “I’m so sorry” sounded like a joke. “Things will get better,” a lie. I am apart from my parents, apart from most of my family and friends. This last weekend, I felt that blanket of helplessness and numbness spread from my temples to my fingers. So I washed my hands, stood at the kitchen counter, and started peeling grapes. The first dozen took me forever, and I was clumsy — gouging the flesh with my fingers, so there were craters rather than smoothness. It was frustrating.
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Photographed by Jooeun Bae
But as I got into a groove, perfect spheres began to emerge. Each globe was its own struggle and victory. I ate all the ugliest ones, and then set the rest out for my sister and husband.
Cut fruit, like love, doesn’t take much to serve but patience and practice. It’s the willingness to swallow some bitterness so someone else enjoys only sweetness. I needed the reminder.
In #NotYourTokenAsian, we take on the pop products, stereotypes, and culture wars that surround Asian-American identity. Follow along as we celebrate our multiplicity during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

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