Most people don’t think much about raisins. So long as they are found in the right cookie and stays out of the wrong cookie; so long as they sit in the peanut butter on the celery or continue to be effectively motivate lab animals; so long as their prices to not fluctuate to a great degree, then most people find little reason to consider them with any degree of depth.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am not one of those people.
If you’ve ever directed serious contemplation toward the raisin, if you’ve ever considered its role in a given foodstuff, if you’ve ever really looked at life from its perspective, then you would have likely realized that the raisin is an entity of fierce independence. It does not necessarily want be a part of something else — it wants to be itself. It wants to be a raisin — it’s own raisin, and no one else’s.
When they’re in porridge, if you add the raisins in early enough in the cooking process, you’ll see that they will swell with the surrounding fluid, and become pleasantly plump. One is inclined to wonder if they’re trying to be grapes again. And then you can’t help but wonder: if they became grapes, what would they do next? Did you ever try to turn back into a baby? What would you do if you did? I wonder if anyone ever tried to extrapolate this process toward human senescence, proclaiming to their skeptical friends, “But look — if cooking it in oatmeal starts to turn it into a grape, maybe a hot porridge bath will turn me into a youth again!” I wonder how many people died, cooked in a cauldron of porridge, trying to be young again…
But if porridge is the only environment in which you have observed the raisin, then you will not have seen what I have seen. You will not have seen its spirit of independence. No, because they don’t have arms or legs or fins or a tail, and so they have no opportunity to swim through the porridge. Here, they are incapable of leaving and striking out on their own.
You won’t notice much if you put them in your cookies, either. Not really. Sure, the odd raisin might rise out of the clutches of the batter, and fall away from its cookie under the duress of an appropriately placed bite. But, really, the cookie holds the cookie much too tightly. Soft or Crunchy, the raisin has little opportunity to escape.
But what of breads? A soft banana bread, a fine zucchini loaf, or even a mild raisin bread? What do we see? Certainly, as in porridge, the raisins will nourish themselves on warmth and batter and become strong and plump. But that is not all. If you have ever prepared such victuals, you would know that the raisins will not remain in its assigned place. It will leap, drop, fall, roll, pop, or bounce out of its. I do not know if the raisins do not want to be in the bread or if the bread simply can’t hold on to them. I don’t know. We put raisins in the bread, but really, its not where they belong.
To be sure: the raisin is serving a purpose. It is important to texture and flavour: it is giving us something soft and juicy, and also acts as a sweetener of a very specific quality and degree. But it is always falling out! I don’t think most people realize how much anxiety they are subconsciously experiencing when they’re eating raisin bread, as they adjust their hold and crane their head to reduce the risks of losing precious raisins from their beautiful snack.
I am not saying that we should give up on raisins. They are excellent on their own or in a trail mix — where they can be a part of a group of individuals. And they thrive in the porridge, where they are able to stand out against a uniform and supportive base.
But in bread? muffins? They are not ideal. They are not the best fruit for the job (dried or otherwise).
I will direct your attention to the chopped apricot — much more pliable and sticky. It makes meaningful and lasting bonds with its surrounding bread, so that It achieves a very comparable sweetness and chewiness (if not juiciness), and is not very likely to fall out.
The cranberry, as well, is a reasonable alternative, if you are more concerned with its texture effects more than its sweetness influence.
But for me, I prefer the date. Wonderfully sweet, and it can actually melt into the bread, creating veins and pools of sticky sweetness — a soft chewiness that brings the bread somewhere entirely new.
Raisins in your bread? Only if you have no other choice. Let them be free. Let them be themselves. And bring the apricots, craisins, and dates into the fold. I mean, fold them in. Into the batter.
And have those raisins on the side (or in the porridge, peanut butter, or ice cream).