Last fall, I wrote about the kid-version of edible apple bowls used as a Rosh Hashanah honey dish. Apple bowls are easy to adapt for Tu B’Shevat. You and your child can hollow an apple—the paradigmatic tree fruit—and fill it with tree fruit salad. It’s easy with a melon-baller, and the only trick is not to get too energetic and pierce the peel from the inside. Kids can even prepare the fruit for the thematic contents using double-handled apple slicer/corer combos and Montessori-style slicing tools.
Depending on the palate (e.g. pickiness) of the child in question, you can get pretty elaborate with the tree theme. Besides typical lunch-box fruit—typical for my kid, whose lunch-box is exquisitely boring—try coconut, apricot, citrus, papaya, mango, kiwi, plums, cherries, star fruit, and tree nuts galore. Or, find atypical varieties of those typical apples and pears. Dates, figs, pomegranate (juice and/or seeds), grapes and even pitted olives make a thematic nod to the Seven Species of the Land of Israel, which are a big deal at Tu B’Shevat. Dried tree fruit is a nice textural contrast tucked amongst the fresh, and are a good excuse to see if kids (or adults) realize a prune is a dried plum. (You’d be surprised.)
A spritz of orange juice or a squeeze of lime will keep apples and pears from oxidizing into beige yuckiness, and act as flavor binder for a wide array of fruits. Whip some coconut cream for a literally over-the-top finish. Divine.
All this tree fruit focus can spark a conversation about where a particular fruit comes from. And what exactly is a fruit, anyway, and which ones grow on trees? Pecans are tree fruits, which might surprise kids, but bananas are not. According to Rabbinic tradition, bananas are “fruit of the ground” (pri ha-admah) because they are produced on a herbaceous, annual plant. And grapes, which kids might know grow on vines, are fruit of the tree (pri ha-etz), because they grow on perennial stems. Blueberries are considered tree fruit for the same reason, which is good news for our fancy tree fruit salad. The idea that a trees are perennial—like a rose or azalea—is news to a lot of grownups. Do Rabbinics and botany agree on the categorizations? Not always, but it’s part of the fun to figure out what is what and why.
Who knew a simple snack-tivity could be a vehicle to explore science and religion? You and your kid get all this, plus a hands-on, personal reference point to a Jewish holiday. And of course, a healthy dessert that tastes as good as it looks.
TIP: Adults should make the first slice on the apple bowl with a sharp knife. Turn the apple on its side and make one clean cut through the top third. This method will create a lid, which children find irresistible, especially if the apple still has a stem for a handle. Pile your fruit higher than the rim of the bowl for maximum effect. A heaping bowl symbolizes the Earth’s bounty, which is at the core of this sweet holiday.
A version of this article first appeared at GourmetKosherCooking.com, February 8, 2012.