I had the boys try candied orange peels last Christmas.
There was a recipe I had wanted to try for years (actual, literal years). I had to track down raw hazelnuts, white pepper, candied lemon and orange peel and candied citron. The result, a tooth-breaking concoction, is a story for another day. In the end, I had quite a large amount of orange, lemon and citron to figure out what to do with, because I will most likely not be trying that again.
I really tried to sell those leftover candied orange peels. I explained how people knew how to make candied fruits before there were knights. How the process to make these is involved, taking days of boiling and boiling again and soaking everything in a thick sugar syrup. How this was a way to preserve sweets before electricity and refrigeration. How back in time nothing was wasted, not even peels. How it used to be when you yourself took the time to plant and harvest, raise and slaughter, grind and bake all your own food.
The boys took one ginger bite each. “This is what people used to have for candy?” My oldest is grimacing, but trying politely to hide it.
“You know, I feel really bad for people back then, that this is all they had. Especially if it was so hard to make,” he concludes.
“Mommy?” My youngest is trying to hand his peel back to me. “Do I have to finish this?”
I say what I always say in these cases, “No, honey, you never have to finish dessert.” In our corner of the modern, suburban, American world we are more worried about childhood obesity than wasting an orange peel. It has become scarily easy to gain unhealthy amounts of weight, so I count it as a good sign that my guys are taking cues from their own bodies about when to stop eating junk food. But, we do waste food because we have so much.
It is clear it is going to be up to me alone to eat these; no one else will be helping me do so. I cannot just throw them away, especially after all the weight and importance I put on them. I’ve started to feel bad for the Medieval children who would have treasured these, those poor souls my own child pities not because they had horribly short life expectancies or lived in disease-ridden poverty. He pities them for their lack of M & M s and Reese’s Cups. I vow, solemnly, to enjoy them before buying any more treats for myself.
That vow was broken almost immediately, and shamefully, by a McDonald’s apple pie. It was purchased as one of two for a dollar. The other pie was thrown out when I realized eating both secretly in my car would have cost me 500 calories. I tried to give the second one to my youngest in the backseat. He had the good sense to tell me, “I don’t really want any. You know, you don’t ever have to finish dessert, Mommy.”
If any fourteenth century kids ever time-travel and witness this, I am certain that they would shake me by the shoulders, maybe even smack me around a bit, and throw a very sorry, pitying glance at my son for having to live in the world in which he does.