From simple fruit salad to tutti frutti

Still life Fruit with Champagne by Severin Roesen.
Still life Fruit with Champagne by Severin Roesen. / SUR
  • Fruit salad may now seem like a basic dessert but it hides an illustrious past

The official change of name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is very recent (February 2019) and is nothing more than the latest twist in a long and confusing history of the word Macedonia or Macedonian. Over centuries it has evolved to mean 'coming from a historical region in the north of Greece'. It is also the name of a certain type of parsley (Athamanta macedonica), mixed chopped vegetables (usually in a jar or frozen) and a humble fruit salad, so well known and so common that it is has been consigned to the bottom line on the menu of the day.

It is true that there is no mystery in the way that fruit salad is made, but its origins have intimate and even aristocratic roots. In 18th century France the concept of 'macédoine' arose to refer to a mixture of different things or to the assembly of different pieces within the same work. There were literary, musical and culinary Macedonias, all named in honour of the plurality of ethnicities, religions and cultures that housed the Macedonian empire of Alexander the Great, which in 323 BC stretched from Pella (Macedonia) to Punjab (India). Gastronomic Macedonia originally referred to a combination of different vegetables cut into cubes and sautéed in butter, described for the first time in the book 'Le Cuisinier Gascon', a recipe book published in 1740 by the aristocrat and amateur chef Luis Augusto de Borbón, prince of Dombes.

This mixture of boiled or fried vegetables, very popular as a garnish in the French cuisine of the nineteenth century, would gradually change into various fruit salads, magnificent compositions with cream, ice cream, alcohol or set in whimsical moulds with gelatine. María Mestayer Jacquet, alias the Marquesa de Parabere, in her 'History of Gastronomy' (1943), credited the invention of this dessert to François-Xavier Tortoni, an Italian ice-cream maker who made the Café Tortoni in Paris famous between 1804 and 1818. Different fruit salads (with citrus, plums, winter fruits etc...) also appear in the first book by the 'Queen of Cooks' Marie-Antoine Carême: 'Le Pâtissier Royal Parisien' in 1815.

Whoever the creator was, these exquisite fruit salads became a staple of nineteenth-century cuisine and somewhat deconstructed or simplified, they continued throughout the following century. Emilia Pardo Bazán wrote in July 1910 that when the heat increases, vegetarian food triumphs because "you look for freshness and light, as if instinct guides you to what reminds you most of the countryside and the greenery of meadows and trees". She believed that Spain was the country that best knew how to adapt cuisine to the temperature, and that is why in Spain in the summer gazpachos, salads and fruit reign. Or as she called them, 'tutti fruttis'...

She mentions not one but two recipes of her own: pitted cherries; diced pears; grapes; banana slices; apricot pieces; pomegranate seeds; strawberries... any juicy fruit and in whatever quantities you like or need. Weigh the fruit and add half its weight in sugar. Put everything together in a salad bowl and leave it in the fridge for twenty-four hours.

"A lot of people do it differently, but I maintain that my recipe is the best. To add water to the juice is to silver gold. If you want to sublimate 'tutti frutti', the only thing you can add to it is a whole bottle of Champagne and a glass of good, aged cognac. And if you want to complicate it, season it with yellow Chartreuse or French anisette. If you have to stretch it, add soda water" states Pardo.

She also added a recipe she called 'Hesperides salad', a fruit salad with an exotic air based on sliced orange, sugar, pomegranate, banana and pineapple slices, "the juice from the pineapple, a good glass of rum, a sprinkling of cinnamon and then left to sit for eight or ten hours. With the garnet red of the pomegranate and the gold of the orange slices it resembles the colours of the Spanish flag".