Decorating with fruits and vegetables

Story and Photos by Loretta Gillespie

Decorating your table with fruits and vegetables is fun and easy. And it’s not only prettier than a floral centerpiece, but it’s more economical – you can eat it! 

In the summer you can turn a simple watermelon or honeydew into a stunning vase by drilling holes into it and inserting flowers. Use roses (Rosa spp.) or lilies (Lilium spp.) in compact arrangements for a more formal look, or wildflowers inserted randomly for a more airy feel. 

Giant cabbage is a cool-season plant, but can usually be found at farmers’ markets and grocery stores other times of the year. Other cool-weather crops, such as collards, kale, turnip greens, and broccoli, crops can be used to create stunning table displays.

Using curly kale leaves to outline dishes of finger foods adds color and interest to your food displays. The pineapple “tree” was made using five cored pineapples stacked end to end on a dowel. Jade leaves were attached with floral picks into a Styrofoam ball at the top. All of these decorations can be eaten later.

With red or green cabbage, you’ll want to leave the outer leaves intact. Thoroughly rinse to remove dirt and grit and then give it a bit of time to drain. Use a sharp kitchen knife to carefully remove the stem at its base. Try to cut it as flat as possible so your cabbage will sit upright.  

If you are using a bowl, compote dish, or a tray, place the cabbage in the middle. For a more rustic look, just place your cabbage directly on the table. You could also place it in a garden urn. 

Slowly and gently, peel back the outermost leaves. Some of them will break. Don’t worry about that, we’ll come back to it later. Just keep rolling the leaves back. When the cabbage is about the size of a grapefruit, stop peeling, which you might have done if the leaves got too tight. Don’t cut anything at this point! If you have broken leaves, use a toothpick to “pin” them back together. Snip off the top of the toothpick using your kitchen scissors. 

Use a sharp paring knife to cut out a “bowl” for your dip or salad dressing, leaving enough of the cabbage intact to form the sides. If you have an extremely large cabbage, you might place a small glass finger bowl in the depression, if not, just spoon dip/salad dressing/sauce directly in.

Carving a watermelon may be a bit tedious, but the result is a fun and creative way to display food. Add some strawberries to give it a pop of color, and this 90th birthday display steals the show!

Dress up your centerpiece with flowers such as baby’s breath (Gypsophila spp.). White roses look stunning tucked into the folds of the leaves. If you want to cook your cabbage later for a meal, simply run cool water into the depression until the dip washes away. Cook as usual, discarding any discolored leaves. 

Using curly lettuce as a base for chicken or tuna salad has been done to death! Let’s try something different – collards! The beautiful symmetrically detailed stems of collard leaves make them perfect for showcasing your arrangement. 

If your collards come from the grocery store, take a few extra minutes to choose the most beautiful ones. If you grow your own, pick the largest prettiest leaves. Be sure to rinse well with cold water to remove any debris and gently pat dry with a paper towel. If the leaves look a little dull, simply use a paper towel to apply a thin layer of mayonnaise to the leaf surface.

Decorating with food makes meals more interesting. Guests will be delighted with this clever way of serving dips and sauces. When you’ve finished using the cabbage as a container, you can eat it!

Place the collards, end to end, in a loose circle on a round platter. If the ends of the stems are very thick you might want to trim them back. Put your centerpiece, either food or floral, in the center. Chicken, tuna, or pimento cheese salads look great in such a display, as do deli meats, cheeses, tomatoes, and olives. 

When your party is over, save those collards! Clean away any remaining food and store until time to cook. Rinse again before cooking.

Artichokes look like little architectural marvels and make unique candleholders. Beware their wicked spines! If you’ll be purchasing yours at the grocery or farmers’ market, ask someone to trim them for you. 

Back in the kitchen, beginning at the top, gently pull the thick leaves apart. They may want to return to their closed position but just keep folding sections back until you have enough space to insert a glass container for the tea candle. You have to use a glass candleholder, or the flame might singe the artichoke. Showcase your artichoke candleholder in large glass vase, wine glass, or similar container.

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