Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The Fruit Salad That Revived Me After Childbirth

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In The Fourth Trimester, we ask parents: What meal nourished you after welcoming your baby? This month, it’s a reviving fruit salad from food writer and Caribbean Flavors for Every Season author Brigid Washington.

When I was expecting my first child, I’d hear other soon-to-be mothers rightly quip about the pains and pangs of pregnancy, and I’d empathize as best as I could. But that practice was challenged by a personal truth: I loved being pregnant. None of the food aversions, morning sickness, or near-lethal levels of fatigue I experienced was a match for the bliss I got from the bump.

This gave me the naive assumption that an uneventful gestation would be followed by an equally undramatic delivery. It wasn’t. After a harrowing 52-hour labor that ended in an emergency C-section, I could barely process what had just happened to me, my husband, Joseph, and our blessedly perfect baby boy, Luke. I also didn’t have the relational courage to ask for help.

At the time we were newcomers living in upstate New York for work, and Albany seemed inhospitable for two people who were raised in the Caribbean and longed for warmth in all forms. We tried, and on some level, succeeded in finding friendships, a few of which persist to this day. However, at the time, despite our efforts, the harsh reality was that even our burgeoning connections mirrored a city that was unfamiliar, distant, and cold.

All this was until a bag of cherries broke through the ice.

A week after I had Luke in late May, a very new friend, Casey, politely asked if it would be okay for her to pop over for a quick hello. I tentatively agreed because I was still recovering. She brought over a bouquet of flowers, a six-pack of Magic Hat beer, a fresh baguette, and three pounds of sweet cherries. The beer languished in the back of our refrigerator for months. Joseph ate the bread with a salted soft-boiled egg. But the cherries—red, ripe, raw—were a new mother’s unexpected reward, and still the most memorable push present I’ve ever received.

Casey said that fruit was an afterthought. Yet it afforded me a spectral perspective of the hidden joys found in accepting help, even when—perhaps especially when—it’s offered by a new friend. Casey stayed at our apartment for less than 20 minutes, the perfect hi/bye. But the care that hugged me each time I plucked the cherry from the stem, rolled the juicy orb in my mouth, and bit the meat off its seed, was long-lasting. I ate almost all of those cherries in one sitting, feeling satisfied, seen, and supported.

For the next couple of months I hungered only for more fruit, the way I did as a child and teen growing up in Trinidad and Tobago. But finding fresh tropical fruit in upstate New York was a stretch assignment. There was no tree-ripened guava, pommerac, or Julie mango for me to hand-pick, as I typically would on my island. So I instead settled for other imported equivalents that bridged the gap: pineapples, off-ripe mangoes, and kiwis. Even though some of the fruit tasted flat and lacked the floral perfume of anything homegrown, I was determined to make the ingredients sing.

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