USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘fruit’
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Eating fruit before bed

My friend Justine is Chinese-American, and her parents are doctors who practice holistic Eastern medicine. She shared the following folk belief with me:

“I guess like, it’s a tradition to always eat fruit before going to bed, like you have to eat fruit before you go to bed cause that’s like, it’s better for your body and like it’ll help your immune system too. But I wonder if that’s actually helping, or if it’s more like a- it’s just something that a lot of people do. And I find that that’s like, [a common belief] across all Asian, especially Eastern Asian people.”

Like many folk beliefs and practices in East Asian medicine, this one is not necessarily based in empirical scientific proof, but this does not mean there is no truth to it. Remedies and folk beliefs formerly dismissed as “superstitious” have often been tested and proven effective by the medical/scientific institution, and subsequently incorporated into Western medicine. This belief reflects a general practice in Eastern medicine of focusing on overall bodily wellness rather than quick cures for acute illness.

Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Introduction of the Watermelon

Many many years ago Vietnam was ruled by a king who was known for his kindness. He only had one daughter so he adopted a son, who he loved as his own. Eventually the boy, An Tiêm, married the daughter, and they all lived happily together.

The king’s men, however, were jealous of the king’s kindness to An Tiêm, so they started spreading bad rumors about An Tiêm, saying he had plans to overthrow the king. When the king himself heard, he was distraught and decided that exiling An Tiêm would be the best solution, because he believed An Tiêm was able to survive outside the kingdom.

So An Tiêm and his family were sent away to a remote island where they had to farm and hunt their own food. One day though, An Tiêm noticed a flock of birds pecking on black seeds. He was curious what they were, so he took some seeds home. Eventually these seeds grew into plants that bore green fruits as large as people’s heads. The fruits had bright red insides that were very juicy and sweet, so An Tiêm called it dưa đỏ, or red melon. But later when the birds came to eat the fruit, they seemed to be calling “tây qua”, so they decided to call it that.

The watermelons sustained An Tiêm’s family, but after a while, the king started to really miss his children. One day An Tiêm decided to carve a letter onto a watermelon and cast it into the ocean, and the king finds the watermelon back at the kingdom. Discovering that his family was still alive and discovering the new fruit, the king was overjoyed and proud of his son. Because of that, the king sent for An Tiêm and they all lived back at the kingdom, happily ever after.

Informant is a Vietnamese American and a member of USC VSA, and grew up learning a lot about Vietnamese culture at home and at school. 

Narrative
Tales /märchen

How Pineapples Came to Be

My informant (A) is currently an AV technician. He grew up in Quezon City in the Philippines for the first 13 years of his life before moving with his family to San Francisco, California for a year and then moving down to southern California, where he has stayed every since. He first heard the story about how pineapples came to be from his mother when he was around six years old. The story is also used in reading books for children when they are learning to read in the Philippines. His mom and aunt told him this story to frighten him into behaving when he was a child, and he has since told the story to his younger sisters and a few other people when casually talking. The story is paraphrased below:

“There was a mom and daughter in the Philippines long ago. The daughter’s name was Piña. Piña constantly lost things and, instead of even trying to look for the things by herself, she would just ask her mom to find them. The mother was really busy because she had to work in the fields all day, but the mom still helped her daughter find the things she kept losing. One day the mom could not find her hat, which she needed when she was working in the fields to keep the sun out of her eyes. The mom asked Piña to help her find the hat because she had to hurry or she would be late to the fields. Piña replied ‘Nanay [the word for mom], I don’t where the hat is. I’m busy.’ The mom told Piña that she really needed help, so Piña finally got up and walked around pretending to look for the hat. She didn’t actually look for the hat and then told her mom that she couldn’t find it. The mom got really frustrated and then she found the hat, which wasn’t that hard to find and Piña should have seen it when she was looking. The mom got really mad and said ‘Piña, I hope you grow 1000 eyes so that you can find things.” Then the mom went to the fields and spent all day working in the fields. When she got back to the house, she asked Piña to make dinner, but Piña wasn’t there. The mom looked and looked but she couldn’t find her. Days and weeks and months go by, and still the mom can’t find Piña and gets very worried. After a while, the mom starts seeing weird plants that look like they have 1000 eyes. The mom realized that Piña had turned into these plants. These little plants are pineapples, and that’s how pineapples came to the Philippines.” (Note that Piña is the word for pineapple).

This tale seems to serve two purposes. One is that it explains how the pineapple came to the Philippines, which only happened in the 19th century, which is probably why this story is necessary to explain why they are a relatively recent addition to the fruits normally found in the Philippines. The other is a more practical purpose, which is a way for parents to scare their kids into doing stuff from themselves or risk turning into a pineapple. This is probably why it is continually told to children. My informant spelled out the name Piña for me, and he used the Spanish spelling instead of the Filipino one (pinya), even though he used the Filipino word for mom (nanay). This is also interesting because the Spanish introduced the pineapple to the Philippines.

This story touches on the tension between the older and younger generations, and the how physically hard the lives of women are.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays

A Pakistani Iftar Staple: Fruit Chaat

Context: Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. Healthy adult Muslims will fast from dawn to sunset for thirty days, and it is a time of greater spirituality, awareness, charity, and family. The informant is a Pakistani Muslim who grew up in Saudi Arabia, England, and Pakistan, and married and settled in Southern California. Here she relates a recipe for a staple of the Iftar (fast-breaking meal) table in her household, fruit chaat.

“It’s…well, ‘chaat‘, the word ‘chaat‘, it just means like a…like a little snack, and there are all sorts of chaat, so like you can have spicy chaat or dahi [yogurt] chaat…so anyway, in our house, that was the one thing we always had to have. Like it was dates, scunj’veen [homemade limeade], pakore [spicy batter-fried potatoes], and fruit chaat. Sometimes my dad would try to introduce new things into the mix, like samose…and they were always left at the end of it, like orphans. Somehow over those thirty days we never got tired off the same menu. And we still don’t.

The best fruit chaat has to have pomegranate seeds in it and amrood [guava]. ”

Though the end product may vary considerably depending on what fruits are available/in season, a person’s personal preferences, etc., the basic recipe is as follows:

1 large apple, 2 bananas, 1 large pear, 1 large peach/nectarine, 1/2 cup guava, all sliced; 1 cup red grapes, halved; 1/2 cup pomegranate; enough orange juice to “make the fruit float”; and sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Combine in a bowl. Serve chilled.

Analysis: The informant says the main reason this dish was/is such a favorite is because it is “refreshing”; after a a long, sometimes hot day, the sugar in the fruit would  boost a fasting person’s blood sugar and put them in a sweeter mood. The informant says her family almost never ate dinner, just iftaar, so having a good variety of healthy food at the table was important since they would eat so little the whole day.

The informant further relates that because certain fruits, like pomegranates and guavas, are seasonal. expensive, or both, she has taken to incorporating other fruit occasionally: strawberries, oranges, pineapple, blueberries, etc., depending on availability. I think this shows the adaptability of this simple dish: it started out as a bare-bones dish with the most basic, most common and inexpensive  fruit included, and then as she found that her native fruits were harder to come by, she incorporated more “Western” fruit that certainly would not have been available in her native Pakistan at the time she was growing up. And yet it still serves the same purpose: to lighten one’s mood and restore “sugar” levels in the body after a long day without food or water. And the informant insists that she never makes or serves it outside the holy month of Ramadan, even though, since the Islamic calendar is lunar, the time of the month changes every year and what fruits are available each year also changes.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material

Fruitcake on Christmas

This informant is a student at USC.  His dad’s side of the family is Australian, originally colonists from England.  I asked him if his family did anything uniquely Australian.  At first he said his dad didn’t bring many Aussie traditions or practices over to the US other than his accent, but then he was able to tell me about a Christmas-time tradition that his grandparents had held for generations.

Every single Christmas my Aussie grandma makes fruitcake.  The shit is really gross and I don’t know why anyone eats it so after I tried it I had to ask why she makes it every year.  First she laughed and said she really does like it, but then she told me what she knew about its historical significance.  Apparently when England was colonizing Australia they used to send these fruit cakes over with people on the ships because they lasted longer than regular cakes. But those were plum cakes, which were boiled and the fruitcakes that my grandma makes are baked so it’s not really the same.  I’m not really sure how they got associated with Christmas but that’s how they got to Australia.  My grandma literally makes her fruitcake like a month before Christmas because the fruit has to marinate or something.  I have only been Christmas there twice, but I still can’t believe my dad and all the other Aussies there actually eat it.

So it looks like these cakes originated as travel treats for the colonists and maybe stuck around after that to remind the colonists of home and the long hardship they endured to make it to Australia.  In modern day fruitcake is probably just taken for granted and generally enjoyed by the masses during the holidays.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic
Signs

“If you eat a double cherry when you’re pregnant, you’ll have twins.”

The informant, then twelve years old, first heard this phrase from her uncle, whose wife was pregnant at the time.  Her uncle and aunt were gathered with the family and announced their pregnancy.  Later after dinner, the family was eating cherries together and was discussing whether the baby would be a boy or a girl, when the topic of twins came up.  The informant’s uncle saw her aunt eating a double cherry and said, “Did you know that if you eat a double cherry while you’re pregnant, you’re going to have twins?”  My informant doesn’t really believe that this is true because she does not believe in superstitions, although it is a superstition that everyone in her family likes to joke about, because it also happened to come true.  Her aunt ended up giving birth to twin girls six months later.  This is why the informant likes to retell the tale, because it makes the superstition much more mysterious and believable when it actually comes true.

I believe this superstition is highly unlikely to be true because the events are completely separate, and that the informant’s story just happened by coincidence.  However, superstitions are always driven by the chance occurrences that happen to confirm them, making some people believe that they’re true while they may completely be random happenings.  I believe the informant tells the story only to joke around, poking fun when pregnant women are around.  The superstition is so seemingly arbitrary that people tend to believe that nobody could possibly create such a fantastical story up, so it must have some sort of truth behind it.  This is how the superstition of double cherries is spread and dispersed.

Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Signs

Fruit Ghosts

My informant heard this from her Vietnamese grandmother when she was a child.

“When a fruit bruises, it’s because a ghost bites it.”

She thinks it’s weird and funny. She likes the image of a ghost trying to bite a fruit.

Ghosts are much more natural and interact more with the world in Asian cultures than in western ones.  Also when a fruit bruises it means its gone bad or damaged which ties in with death. It is as if the ghost cannot fully interact with the world and leaves destruction behind instead.  It can’t quite bite through the fruit but it is enough to leave a mark. Fruit is also left as an offering at graves, so it shows that the spirit of the dead person the offering was left for is enjoying the gift.

Folk speech
general
Riddle

El Mamey

“Iva por un caminito y me encontre un barilito, le meti el dedito y me salio coloradito. Que es?”

English:

I was going down a road & I found a small little barrel, I stuck my finger in it and it came out red. What is it?

Answer: El Mamey ( A fruit with a brown rind and an orange-red center)

This cuban riddle (dichos) is one based on agriculture, as much of their folklore is. Their culture is very much crop-based, so this is logical. My informant, having been raised as a field worker in cuba, knows many of these riddles and sayings.

Folk speech
general
Riddle

El Platano or The Banana

“Oro parece plata no es, el que no adivine bien tonto es.”

English:

It looks like gold but silver it is not, who ever does not guess is really dumb.

This cuban dichos, or riddle, is a clever play on words. Anyone who speaks even rudimentary spanish can likely guess at this one when hearing it spoken out loud, hence the insult towards those who cannot answer it. “Plato no es,” or the “it’s not silver,” of the riddle sounds very much like “platanos,” or banana. My informant, as someone who often worked with crops as a field worker in cuba up until her early twenties, heard many riddles and saying involving fruit and other crops. With platanos being one of cuba’s main exports it’s of little surprise that a few of Cuba’s narratives and riddles center around them.

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