Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fruit Cocktail: A reverie

Posted By on Wed, May 12, 2010 at 2:00 PM

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Tomorrow, May 13, is National Fruit Cocktail Day. It's a good time to pay homage to one of the classic canned fruit products: the combination of chopped peaches (it's always mostly peaches, isn't it?), pears, a few grapes and bright pink cherries. Fruit cocktail packed in a thick and sugary syrup was many Americans' introduction to fruit, once they graduated past the Gerber baby food purees.

So who invented this famous cocktail? And is the story true that the product was created to make use of scraps of fruit that weren't big enough or good enough to be used in other cans of fruit?

Believe it or not: Yes.

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A website devoted to the history of the Del Monte canning factories explains that fruit cocktail was created "as a way to make use of fruit scraps when bruised or damaged fruits could not be used in canning." The exact origins of the fruit cocktail, the site explains, remain a mystery:

A California fruit canner, J.C. Ainsley, began marketing a product called "fruit salad" in 1893 ... the fruit salad contained cherries as well as diced fruits. But the product was never called fruit cocktail. In 1958, an article titled "100 Years of Canning in the West" in the journal Canner and Packer credited Herbert Gray of San Jose's Barron-Gray Packing Company with the invention of fruit cocktail in 1930."

The cocktail part of the name may have come from an early 20th century salad recipe that actually combined canned or fresh fruit and alcohol. A cookbook from 1902, Mrs. Rorer's New Cookbook, weighs in on this subject with great disdain:

"In these latter days, many American cooks make a mixture of fruit, sugar and alcohol and serve them as 'salad.' These are not salads ... they are heavy, rather unwholesome, and will never take the place of a salad. I prefer to call them fruit cocktails and serve them as a first course at a luncheon or a twelve o'clock breakfast."

Modern fruit cocktail -- the canned variety in the supermarket -- doesn't contain booze, but it does require, according to the USDA, the following fruits: pears, grapes, cherries, peaches and pineapples. Without those fruits, the mixture can't be called fruit cocktail.

 

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