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Anneli Rufus

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Flaming Dessert Burns Restaurant Patrons

Posted: 07/05/11 10:15 AM ET

A diner received third-degree burns in a Florida restaurant two weeks ago when her order of Bananas Foster caught fire.


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Her three companions were burned as well. First created in 1951 at historic Brennan's restaurant in New Orleans, Bananas Foster is made -- usually tableside -- by combining butter, sugar and cinnamon in a pan until the sugar dissolves, then continuing to cook gently while adding banana liqueur, bananas sliced lengthwise, and rum -- then igniting the rum. When done right, this creates a wild pyrotechnical spectacle. When done wrong, as it apparently was at Palm Beach's Ozona Blue Grilling Company that night, the flames can leap back from the pan into the bottle of rum, creating ropes of liquid fire -- such as those that burned the diners. The rum used at Ozona Blue was 151 proof.

That's a tragic story, not to be miminized in any way. But one of the main reasons it shocks us is that fruit is not supposed to hurt.

We take fruit for granted in the United States, because we have so much, because it's everywhere, because on its own it's not fattening or interesting enough to count as dessert except, perhaps, at cheerleader camp or in jail. (Come on, even a mango is no Dove Bar.) And yet for that same reason, fruit is a comfort food. It comforts us because it's cheap and easily available and sweeter than, say, tuna or Saltines so, in a pinch or on a camping trip or after a terrible shipwreck, it will do.

Those of us raised on Lemon Coolers and Strawberry Quik and supermarket Granny Smiths can learn, with effort, to find comfort in fruit as it is. Fresh off the branch, fruit was designed to comfort birds and animals at least, whose seed-studded scat sprouts new plants. In this Age of Obesity, I startled myself during a lavish buffet last week at historic Wente Vineyards near San Francisco where, despite pastry chef Leena Hung's heavenly chocolate cake and creamy berry tarts, I was enchanted by platters of simple raw organic fresh summer fruit most of all. Gorging on pink-and-yellow peaches -- velvety, juicy, sweet-tart -- I hoped no one was keeping count.

No comfort yet? Consider fruits from far away, such as these dragonfruit, as seen at the Wicked Spoon restaurant in Las Vegas:



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Consider fruits as, at least, the main point of sugary desserts (Bananas Foster, say) and other treats. For instance, Charles Antona Corsican Specialties is a glorious testament to biodiversity, turning that sunny Mediterranean island's regional produce into all-natural, preservative-free chutneys, jellies and jams in such flavors as fig, myrtleberry, black cherry-thyme, strawberry-clementine, and quince-vanilla-cinnamon.

Consider growing your own fruit. Consider foraging. Consider giving fruit another chance to comfort you as it waits for you naked, plain, almost invisible in a crowd, authentically sweet and so easily bruised, like all those would-be lovers you've ignored.


Images courtesy of Kristan Lawson.