Central Alaska is a gorgeous place to visit, but it wasn’t an easy place to grow up. I remember the jagged teeth of the Alaska Range across the river from our house, but also the icy, sunless winters lasting most of the year. There wasn’t much in the way of fresh fruit, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t get creative with our canned fruit salads.
Winning the Fruit Salad Lottery
I lived in a small town south a couple of hard hours’ drive from Fairbanks. Most of our food came frozen or in a can, but blueberries were the exception. During summer blueberry season, my mom would take my sister and I out to Donley Dome to go blueberry picking. It was a grand hunter-gatherer moment for a girl who loved Little House in the Big Woods, but not without risk. Most years we would see grizzly mamas taking their kids out to gather berries too, and even the cubs were bigger than I was.
We gathered all day long, baskets full of berries, or Folger’s coffee cans that served the same purpose. Then we took them home and made jams and muffins and, yes, fruit salad, in a manner of speaking. Regular fruit salad to our family at that time came in a can.
I still remember the incredibly pale peeled grapes in the canned fruit salad, the pastel tones of the different fruits, the heavy syrup. We would wash the blueberries and mix them with the same amount of canned fruit salad and consider ourselves the luckiest people on the planet. After the snow fell, I would spend my nights dreaming of next summer’s fruit salad.
I left Alaska for college in California and, in terms of food, it was like winning the fruit salad lottery. There were fruits I knew in brilliant colors and strange fruits with incredible tastes and textures. There were strawberries sweet enough to turn your heart to sugar; juicy citrus; and cool, firm grapes. I loved them all and, decades later, I never tire of trying new combinations. My home garden holds many types of fruit, including strawberries, blackberries, apples, prunes and citrus trees – and, yes, blueberry bushes as well.
Simple Fruit Salad Recipe
My favorite fruit salad recipe is simple, combining some of these wonderful fruits with garden mint, citrus zest and a little honey. You can vary your fruit salad ingredients depending on what is ripe, but in an ideal world, I would make it like this:
- Mix ½ cup orange juice and ¼ cup lemon juice with ½ t orange zest, ½ t lemon zest and ¼ cup honey.
- Heat this over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then remove from heat and let it cool.
- Mix these fruits together in a large bowl: 2 cups of ripe strawberries, 2 cups of blueberries, 2 peeled and sectioned oranges, 2 cups of pineapple cubes and 3 sliced kiwis.
- Add in 2 tablespoons of cut up mint leaves from your garden, ideally chocolate mint.
- Pour the cooled juice mix over the fruit, cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours.
That’s it. Now sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor!