Receiving a B minus on a report card, a betrayal of trust and a cookie full of raisins when you were expecting chocolate chips are each a special kind of drag. When I was little, all disappointments, big and small, were compounded by a lingering heartsickness. And so it happened that my fear of biting into a brownie and finding a rancid walnut was trumped by my apprehension about dried fruit. In batter, the line between pleasure and pragmatism blurs, spurring the collision of worlds seemingly best kept separate. A gummy vitamin was a ruse but fruitcake was a ruthless paradox, and it filled me with uncertain feelings that confused me, like when I saw my scary school principal enjoying an ice cream cone at the mall.
Still, dried fruit remained an affront to unadulterated goodness; scabs to sybaritism; rain on the parade. Delia Smith's brave tributes to the lowly prune raised my badly tweezed teenaged eyebrows, but they also raised my curiosity. Prunes had always seemed - due to unfortunate but effective marketing - as dusty and fusty as Metamucil. Now, Delia had plumped them up and pimped them out as the dark chocolate's dreamy and favoured dark horse. The FDA accommodated this makeover by re-identifying prunes as "dried plums" after a solid push from the prune industry.
We grew up drinking qamar-el-deen - apricot fruit leather dissolved in water - during Ramadan, and "we" excludes me. I found its murkiness suspect and staunchly refused to touch it. We also ate dates, which occupied a special category of dried fruit until I discovered an irresistible line of Liberté Canadian yogurt that was made with plums and walnuts, figs and dates, oranges and marzipan. If yogurt didn't have to taste like homework, maybe dried fruit didn't have to, either.
My relationship to apricots was transformed after I tasted unsulfured Turkish dried apricots, but I still preferred Turkish figs, with seeds that crackled while I chewed. It wasn't until a friend made apricot and almond chews that the transformation was complete. They were revelatory - the first time I'd had a dried fruit cookie that didn't taste like a consolation prize. Apricots and almond have a natural affinity for each other: most commercial almond extracts are made from the kernels of apricot or peach pits.
Dehydrated fruit is popular, but it reminds me of space food - puffy and weightless. The bananas are crunchy clouds of banana-flavoured air, but I prefer the tenacity of a chewier dried fruit experience. I've never enjoyed crumbly dried papaya or pineapple, which are actually candied. Instead, I buy chewy strips of dried mango and roll them in lime juice and chili powder, or gooey dried strawberries, which remind me of Swedish Fish with rigor mortis.
In college, I snubbed trail mix in favour of high-glycemic hedonism; it made me less like livestock. For a while, I was enamoured with the weird indigo stains from inside "blueberry" doughnuts and muffins, which led to an eventual obsession with the "Berry Berry" bagel at Dunkin Donuts. (It smelled like bubblegum and lipgloss, a mystery I've chosen not to ponder.) Ocean Spray released Craisins, which were sweeter than native, hand-harvested, juice-sweetened dried cranberries found in health food stores. Finally, I was introduced to dried red tart cherries and stopped fighting. Avoiding dried fruit because it lacked in fun was almost as dumb as starting each day with a Berry Berry bagel.
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