By Mordechai Schmutter
Most of what I know about Tu B’Shvat, I learned as an adult. As a kid, I don’t think I was taught that much about it. I think each of my rebbeim assumed the others had taught us, so they just casually mentioned that it was the New Year for trees. And that’s a really strange thing to hear, as a kid, without any elaboration. And then they gave out baggies of dry fruit that the school had put together way back during the first year they opened, and everyone ate their entire bag and worried about the consequences later.
I later found out that there’s much more to the day. For example, there is an inyan to eat the fruits that Eretz Yisrael is known for, such as dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, and bukser. Even though I have yet to meet a single person under 50 who has ever successfully eaten a bukser, and most people cannot tell the difference between a date and a fig without help. I think there’s also a custom to make a corny joke about how “Tu” sounds like “two.” Maybe it’s not a custom, but everyone does it anyway.
And why dry fruit, specifically? If I have a piece of fresh fruit, am I okay?
I don’t eat a lot of fresh fruit. I do like fruit, but I like it cold, so I generally stick it in the fridge, and then I forget about it for a while, and then a month later, I’m like, “Oh! We . . . had fruit.”
It’s no one’s fault. You have to keep your fruit all the way at the bottom of the fridge, in a drawer marked “fruit,” sitting on top of your older fruit, which is sitting on top of a layer of sludge, because that’s where the label on the fridge says you have to keep it. But if I leave it out, I probably won’t eat it either, plus it would go bad faster.
So I’m thinking that I should buy a bowl of plastic fruit and leave it out, and that way I would remember that there’s fruit in the fridge. I think that’s why older people always have bowls of plastic fruit around the house. All those years of life experience taught them that this is the way to make sure to remember to eat fruit. My grandparents have a bowl of plastic fruit, and every single piece has kid-sized bite marks in it. Some from more than one kid.
But that’s just me. My kids aren’t big on fruit either. I think that’s our fault. We have a rule in our house that any kid could take a piece of fruit at any point without asking. So the kids never take fruit. They figure, “If it’s so good, why are they giving it away for free?” And it doesn’t help that they go to school, and they’re taught that fruit is healthy. And then they come home with a food pyramid, in which the foods toward the bottom, such as fruits and vegetables, are the ones you should eat the most of. Or the ones that are least important. They’re not clear on that part. I’m not even sure who invented the food pyramid anyway. I think it was the ancient Egyptians. But my point is that there’s no way they’re going to eat fruit now. We have enough of a fight trying to get them to eat vegetables. We try to make them eat vegetables with every supper, but sometimes they negotiate.
“I have ketchup. Can that be my vegetable?”
“No. If you want to count ketchup as your vegetable, you’d have to eat enough of it to make up an entire serving of tomatoes.”
And they do.
But a lot of times when they’re hungry very close to supper, we tell them to take a piece of fruit, and sometimes they do, but because they’re small kids, they take just that—a piece of fruit. They have two bites of an apple, and they’re done. So obviously, they were starving. I’m telling you: If I step in one more half banana . . .
So you have to cut the fruit for them, and you also have to make sure that like three of your kids are willing to eat that particular fruit at the same time, because that way they can each take a few pieces. That’s why it helps to have your kids close in age—so you can divvy up fruit.
Plus, with some fruits you have to plan in advance. You’re in the store doing your Shabbos shopping, and you see avocadoes or melons, and you’re like, “These would be good for Shabbos! Two weeks from now!” I don’t plan that far in advance. I generally end up doing my Shabbos shopping two or three times. The first time I buy whatever looks good, and the other times I buy whatever my wife originally sent me to buy. But I buy it anyway, and then, like 6 weeks later, I’m like, “Why is the fridge so full? Oh. We . . . had melon. When did we buy melon?”
Bananas are the worst. You buy them, and the first day they’re green, and the second day they’re brown.
Wait, when were they yellow?
It’s like you have to schedule an appointment to eat a banana. At 3 in the morning, I guess.
And it doesn’t help that you have to buy them in bunches. So you can’t say, “Well, there are ten bananas, so I have bananas for ten days.” No, they’re all attached, so on day two they’re suddenly all ready to eat, and you have to eat ten bananas that day. It’s like all of a sudden you’re foisting bananas on all your kids. “Here, take them to school!”
Don’t make your kids put bananas in their knapsacks. It’s not going to end well.
But you’re not even giving them out to be a good parent. I mean, you want to be a good parent; that’s why you bought the fruit in the first place. But now you’re just trying to get rid of it before it goes bad. It’s like taking a bottle of milk out of your fridge, the day before expiration (When did we buy milk?) and suddenly making a show of caring that your kids drink milk.
“Everyone drink up! It’s only gonna taste worse tomorrow.”
Hence dry fruit. This is when the companies take a piece of fruit, dry it out, and make it last longer. And then they bathe it in sugar, for some reason. I don’t know. I assume it’s done with machines. All I know is that when I leave fruit out in the sun, I definitely do not get dried fruit.
When I was growing up, there weren’t so many varieties of dried fruit, that I can remember. There were prunes (there were always prunes) and raisins and apricots and pineapples and the orange square ones, which I’m pretty sure were actually candy, and of course dates. Or possibly figs.
Oh, and those dry banana things. They call them “chips,” but it doesn’t make them taste better.
But now they have all kinds of dry fruit. There’s mangoes and peaches and pears and blueberries and something called “craisins” (whatever those are), and somehow blueberry craisins, and kiwi and cantaloupe. And who knows what they’re going to dry next? Maybe watermelon. We can just call it “melon.” It’s like an eight-year-old boy somehow got hold of the fruit-drying machine, and he’s just drying everything in sight. If you go there to confront him, keep an eye on your pocketbook.
“What happened to my pocketbook?”
“You like it? It’s dried pocketbook!”
“You covered it in sugar.”
So the appeal of dried fruit is definitely that it lasts. And it really does. I’ve had the same two apricots in my cabinet for years now, because we’ve long since finished the rest of the container, and we’re convinced that one day we’re going to say, “Hey! Two apricots!”
I’m just saying it’s nice to at least make sure to eat some fruits one day a year, as a family.
“No, cherry lollipops don’t count! Not unless you eat enough to get a full serving of cherries!”
And they do. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.