As we get close to the end of another year it’s time for entertaining friends and preparing festive meals. In that spirit, let’s discuss the art of carving fruits and vegetables…because you know this blog looks at design wherever we find it.
Pre-historic peoples carved all kinds of edibles including bones, shells and nuts. Today’s children and adults carve pumpkins for Halloween. And there is a well-established international community of gourd carvers.
In other words this is an ancient and universal practice.
For today’s blog post let’s look at some interesting versions of this artform and see examples from three countries.
The first example comes from Thailand where the appearance of prepared food – particularly ceremonial food – is as important as its taste. The practice of carving fruits and vegetables into elaborate floral and decorative motifs originated in the 13th century Royal Palace during special events such as Songkran, the Thai New Year.
Today the craft is taught in all levels of Thai schools and colleges. It can also be seen in high end Thai restaurants around the world.
Mukimono is the Japanese name for the art of carving fruits and vegetables.
Historians believe that Japanese Mukimono was popularized by street vendors in the early 17th century. These creative salesmen wanted to give their produce a more attractive and competitive appearance. It was also a way to introduce elegance to a humble meal served on plain dinnerware. Over the years the expectations and standards for the carvings have become much more elaborate and Mukimono has become an essential skill for all well-trained Japanese chefs.
A discussion about fruit and vegetable carving wouldn’t be complete without a nod to folk art traditions and for that we turn to “The Night of the Radishes” festival in Oaxaca, Mexico. This festival is held annually on December 23. It started in 1897 as a farmer’s market where local vendors could sell their produce in time for Christmas dinners. Some vendors began carving characters out of radishes in order to attract customers and soon a lively competition was established. Today radishes are grown under strict supervision specifically for the festival.
To wrap up today’s post here is a video demonstrating the craft of Thai melon carving. It gives you a sense of the dexterity and patience needed to produce these amazing pieces of culinary art. For those of you reading this in e-mail click here to see the video.