Does anyone remember way back to when elementary schools provided a standard hot lunch that didn’t include choices? I remember there was always an entrée of some sort, one or two vegetables, milk and dessert. Depending on what day it was, you lucked out or not. Hamburgers on buns were always popular. So were Tator Tots. Some of the grayish-colored mystery meats were not so appealing, nor the undefinable casserole dishes. On Mondays, if they served corn and Tuesdays, they served lima beans, you could guarantee that Wednesday’s fare would include succotash. (Yuck.) Nevertheless, kids either ate or didn’t eat what was served and there was no discussion of pandering to our delicate little palates.
I didn’t often think about the menus, as I’m generally not overly picky. But the one place where I could be highly pleased or disappointed lay in the desserts. Let me be perfectly clear. Desserts are sweet, indulgent, empty calories that exist for the sole purpose of making us happy, not to be nourishing. I was always elated by the prospect of chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Pudding was a favorite, as well as cobbler. I always welcomed brownies and cookies, even when they were hard as rocks. But at least once or twice a week the cafeteria threw us a curve-ball in the form of fruit cocktail (double yuck unless you managed to snag the one-half of a maraschino cherry), canned peaches, or canned pears. Let me be perfectly clear again. Fruit is not a dessert unless it is in the form of a cobbler or pie. Fruit is a . . . well, a salad, perhaps. A nutritional necessity that is healthy for our bodies. Don’t get me wrong. I love fresh fruit and there’s nothing better in the summertime than a good fruit salad, especially with cottage cheese or yogurt. I often make big fruit salads and eat them as a lunch or a side salad at dinner. But don’t try to pass fruit off as a dessert.
Even to this day I see fruit as an option under desserts on menus, and I think, who are they kidding? Fruit is not a dessert. Now before anyone gets their knickers in a knot and chides me for being insensitive to diabetics and weight-watchers, let me point out there are a number of delicious sugarless and low-calorie cakes, pies, brownies, cookies, and puddings out there. And if you want to eat a fruit salad for dessert and call it dessert, that’s your right and privilege and none of my business. I also understand there are some people who don’t particularly like sweets, although I have often been suspicious of them. I believe they are virtuous in public to make the rest of us empty-calorie indulgers feel guilty while maintaining a secret stash of Hershey bars in their closets. (Okay, again, just kidding. People without a sweet tooth obviously have a genetic defect and I would never poke fun at the handicapped.)
I inherited my sweet tooth from my mother, so I am disadvantaged, as well. It is not my fault I crave sweets, so don’t judge me. Just understand my profound disappointment when dessert turns out to be poached pears, baked apples, or a mixed fruit platter. If I’m going to cap off a meal with an unnecessary final masticatory pleasure, I’d just as soon skip the fruit, no matter how fancied up it is. Please, just let me eat cake!