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Why You Should Make Salad With Canned Fruit

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Nearly eight years later, I can so vividly recall this one New York winter day: I’m with my older sister, Upe, who is in her final days of pregnancy. I’m here to hold her hand and antsy to cradle my nephew. And Esther, her sister-in-law has brought a Filipino fruit salad for the occasion. One that stuns me with its texture, vibrancy, deliciousness, ease and most of all, how powerfully it transports me back to childhood.

Growing up, whenever there was a party at our house (and there were many), from birthdays to “meetings” to other reasons to gather and feast, huge bowls of fresh fruit, diced jelly, and evaporated milk would tailgate Jollof rice, dodo, and other savory delights. We’d enjoy the chilled, creamy fruit salad topped with globes of vanilla ice cream and slices of cream cake, a sundae of sorts.

Nigerian fruit salad typically consists of diced oranges, pawpaw (papaya), watermelon, pineapple, and sometimes banana—all tossed with fresh orange juice. A few hours in the fridge takes the fruits from acquaintanceship to friendship.

When the fruit group comes to the table, it’s enjoyment galore, especially when crowned with a pour of caramelly, almost savory evaporated milk. I loved it when my mum would add some diced strawberry jelly to the mix, which would make for a beguiling mosaic of slumped fruit, wiggly cubes, and pastel-pink sauce.

So you might understand my delight when, years later, Esther’s salad of soft, yielding fruit and creamy, tangy, sticky-sweet sauce shared a similar watercolor-esque look. But a first bite revealed some new fruity, gummy friends: nata de piña and coco (jellied, fermented cubes of pineapple juice and coconut water that have a chew beyond jelly but not quite gum), buko (the soft strands of young coconut meat), macapuno (thick jelly-like coconut flesh), and kaong (palm nuts sweetly suspended in syrup).

It reminded me of my love for canned, creamy fruit salads: the one from childhood, ambrosia—the all-American classic of fruit, cream and marshmallows, Guadalajaran bionico—where seasonal fruits meet creamy sauce and crunchy granola, and Vietnamese Chè Thái—water chestnuts, lychees, and longans wading in coconut milk.

I know most wouldn’t use “tinned foods” and “virtuous” in the same sentence; but, try dolloping, swirling cream into bobbing, rainbow fruit for yourself this weekend. I think you’ll agree: good can come from tins.

Do you have a canned, creamy fruit salad recipe you’d be willing to share? Tell us about it in the comments!

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