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Vegetable And Fruit Carving

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Fruit carving is the art of carving fruit, a very common technique in Europe and Asian countries, and particularly popular in Thailand, China and Japan. There are many fruits that can be used in this process; the most popular one that artists use are watermelons, apples, strawberries, pineapples and cantaloupes.

Many believe that fruit carving originated in China during the Tang Dynasty, which lasted from AD 618-906. Fruit carving in China usually features mythological creatures, and animals. Not only is fruit carving used in cultural and traditional ceremonies, but also ordinary households are known for decorating plates with fruit carvings when they have guests over. Specifically, watermelon carving has been and still is very popular in China. Usually, the outside of the melon is carved on and the melon pulp is scraped out of the inside of the melon, so it can be used as a container to put food or flowers in. Chinese fruit carving is used to tell their legends and stories.

Fruit carving is included in Matthias Giegher's 1621 work Il Trinciante ("The Carver") where he describes carving oranges and citrons into abstract patterns, shell-fish, four-legged animals and the Hapsburgs double-headed eagle, but the art was not common in Europe or North America until the 1980s when several books on the topic were published.

Fruit carving is a significant part of Thai cultural heritage. Watermelon carving dates to the 14th century in Thailand during the Sukhothai dynasty. The annual Loi Krathong Festival occurs each November where people in Thailand float lamps and lanterns down a river to honour water spirits. One legend is that one of the king’s maids decorated her lantern with a watermelon carved with flower designs to impress him and that he was so pleased that he encouraged all Thai women to adopt the practice. The king also requested that fruit carving become part of the primary school curriculum. Thailand fruit carving features flowers, birds and floral patterns.

The Japanese emphasize the presentation of a dish and how the plate aesthetically appeals to others. Fruit carving in Japan is referred to as Mukimono. Mukimono began in ancient Japan in an effort to make dishes more appealing since the food was placed and served on an unglazed pottery plate, which had a rough look to it. Chefs would cover the plate in leaves and would fold them into different designs in order to make the dish look better. This technique eventually turned into carving fruit that would also be placed on the plates to enhance the appearance of the dish. At first, when this technique came out, vendors on the streets would add carved fruit to their food when customers made a special request, but now it is very common for all Japanese dishes to feature carved fruits. Fruit carving and garnishing is now a significant part of Japanese chef training.

Some people perform fruit carving professionally. Some chefs utilize fruit carving as a culinary technique. Once fruit carvers have mastered the techniques past the intermediate stage and become professionals, they can price their services to restaurants, professional caterers, hotels and resorts. Professional fruit carvers can also create centre pieces and displays for various events, such as parties and wedding receptions. On a smaller scale, fruit carvers can present a dish with decorative garnishing to add an aesthetically pleasing experience to their viewers.

Vegetable carving is the art of carving vegetables to form beautiful objects, such as flowers or birds. The origins of vegetable carving are disputed: some believe it to have begun in Japan in ancient times, others believe it to have begun in Sukothai, Thailand 700 years ago, while still others believe that vegetable carving originated in the time of the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906) and the Song dynasty (AD 960-1279) in China.

Japan has also been referred to as the root of the art of fruit and vegetable carving, called Mukimono in Japanese. According to the book "Japanese Garnishes, The Ancient Art of Mukimono" by Yukiko and Bob Haydok, Mukimono's origins began in ancient times when food was served on unglazed clay pottery. These rough platters were covered with a leaf before the food was plated. Artistic chefs realized that the cutting or folding of the leaf in different ways created a more attractive presentation. Mukimono did not become popular until the sixteenth century, the Edo period, when Mukimono gained official recognition. At this time, street artists created clever garnishes upon request. From these beginnings the art has developed into a very important part of every Japanese chef's training.

Another popular theory of the history of vegetable and fruits carving is that it originates in Thailand. It started during the Loi Krathong festival in the 14th century. During Loi Krathong, rafts are individually decorated using many objects, including banana leaves and flowers.

In the year 1364, one of King Phra Ruang’s servants, Nang Noppamart, had the desire to create a unique decoration for her raft. Nang carved a flower from a vegetable using a real flower as a pattern. She carved a bird as well and set it beside the flower. Using these carvings, she created a raft that stood out above the rest. King Phra Ruang was impressed by the grace and beauty of the carving and decreed that every woman should learn this new art.

As the centuries passed, enthusiasm for this art waxed and waned. In 1808, King Rama II loved vegetable carving so much so that he wrote poetry about it. However, during the 1932 revolution in Thailand, appreciation for vegetable carving died down. In order to revive interest, it is taught from the age of 11 in primary schools through secondary school in Thailand. Optional courses are also offered in universities throughout Thailand.

Regardless of its origins, vegetable carving is flaunted in many different Asian restaurants, cruises, hotels, and other various places. In the mid 20th Century, the art of vegetable carving began to grow outside Asia. Since then other cultures have slowly come to appreciate the beauty and culture associated with the practice. Today, one can marvel at vegetable carving throughout the world.

The products of vegetable carving are generally flowers or birds; however, the only limit is one’s imagination. The techniques of vegetable carving vary from person to person, as does the final result. Some carvings present more artistic detail, while others have simple, yet beautiful shapes. Vegetable carving is generally used as a garnish, but it can also be used for flower arranging.