NORFOLK, Neb. — To Piyarat “Keng” Hanson, fruits and vegetables aren't just fruits and vegetables.
The Thailand native sees them as blank palettes. She creates flowers, leaves and more with a tiny knife and skills she learned in college and honed through hours of practice.
On a recent morning, Hanson deftly peeled a small watermelon, cutting a shallow hole in the flesh and methodically carving away portions until a perfectly formed flower emerged. Then she carved petal designs around the flower and decorated the border.
“I don't have a pattern. I just use my imagination,” she says.
Hanson earned a bachelor of science in home economics with emphasis in food and nutrition in Thailand. She learned to carve fruit while in college. After graduating, she worked as a dietitian at St. Louis Catholic Hospital in Bangkok and also carved fruit at a restaurant before coming to the United States with her husband, Gregg, who is the Madison County Veterans Services officer.
Now, Hanson is a food service worker at the Norfolk Veterans Home.
She's also the home's unofficial fruit carver. She created a number of fruity flowers for the home's 50th anniversary celebration in June.
Although there is some debate as to where fruit and vegetable carving started — Thailand, China or Japan — the art form dates back hundreds of years. Then, such glamorous creations were created for nobility.
She can turn cucumber and squash peelings into leaves, carrots and chilies into flowers, and more.
If she can imagine it, she can create it, she says.