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Five Servings a Day?!

Remember when fruit stands used to be everywhere? I'm not sure why we called them fruit stands since they sold lots more than fruit. When I was growing up my mother often shopped at a fruit stand on South Irby close by the Health Department. After Thanksgiving they opened a Christmas tree lot next door but the fruit stand was open year-round.

They sold milk and bread, soft drinks and snacks, plus whatever fruit and vegetables were in season. There might be oranges and tangerines, apples and grapes, bunches of bananas, whole pineapples, even coconuts in the shell. As a child I seldom saw some of those except at Christmas time. Most of our fruit came in cans or jars, pineapple, peaches, applesauce, fig preserves or raisins, with the exception of fresh bananas.

Of course Santa Claus always left lots of fruit in our Christmas stockings, and Mimi and Da always ordered a case of mixed fruit to share with everyone. In between the oranges, grapefruit and tangerines were nestled these little round miniatures called kumquats. They were one of Da's favorites and he was welcome to them. Eat peel and all? Yuk.

I dutifully ate whatever form of fruit was available. Mama said they were vitamins in the "raw," so to speak, so down the hatch they went. It sure beat having to pinch my nose to get down a tablespoon full of shiny black tonic.

It was easy to stock up on butter beans, okra, snap beans, tomatoes, onions -- most every veggie you needed could be found at the Irby Street fruit stand. In colder months Mama browsed the bins for collards and cabbages, turnip tops with purple and white roots attached, even dried limas and smoked ham for flavoring. Only after our trip to the fruit stand did we drop by the grocery store for rice and sugar, flour and coffee.

At McKenzie Grammar School we learned how many servings a day you were supposed to eat of starches, leafy green vegetables and meats. I loved potatoes in any form, corn on the cob drenched in butter and salt, and grits with scrambled eggs on the side. Red meat was great too, especially a Sunday roast simmered with a bay leaf. But leafy green vegetables? Uh uh. Looked too much like grass. I didn't eat green. You know – green beans, green cabbage, green okra, green anything. Turnip roots were no-no's too because they came attached to green leaves. If it was green Mama hid it in something else, like soup. Vegetable soup with a nice ham bone surrounded by potatoes and carrots could easily hide bits of cabbage or turnip root. In later years I used this technique to get eggplant past my own kids.

My daughter and I recently joined a weight loss program. One of the first things the little handouts proclaimed was the need for five servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Okay, what qualifies as a serving? Um hum, about half of what I thought. What's a recommended fruit? Oranges, apples and bananas, no problem. Veggies? Broccoli, spinach, cabbage and string beans. Green. Here we go again with the grass-colored stuff.

Some years ago a new friend who had recently moved here from Chicago went shopping for groceries. She browsed through the shelves and put a can or two of peanuts in her cart. Back at home she opened a can and found they were wet. Assuming they were spoiled she dumped the can in the garbage, then reached for another can. Also wet. Hmmm. She thought she should report these rotten peanuts to the store manager. She was amazed to find out they weren't spoiled peanuts, they were boiled peanuts. All the peanuts she’d ever eaten before had been parched. You know, dry.

She visited me one afternoon when I was cooking butter beans for supper. When the beans were mostly done I dropped a few whole baby okra in the pot. A little later I offered her one. From the horrified look on her face I didn't think she'd eat it and she didn't. To her it ranked right up there with the boiled peanuts. I smiled, thinking back to my no-green days. Today I actually enjoy green vegetables, especially the "free" ones I can eat by the pot full on my new diet. It's amazing what growing up did for my southern taste buds!

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