Friday, September 27, 2013

New Foods

none of these foods existed when I was a kid

Two of my neighbors dropped off gifts of fresh food this week. As I looked at them and the other fresh foods in my kitchen, I was struck by the fact that all the fruits and vegetables on my counter were new foods. None had been available when I was a kid.

Many of the foods that I now enjoy did not appear in markets when I began cooking in the 1960s. My favorite eating apple, Honeycrisp, hit the markets in the 1990s. My Delicata squash won awards in 2002.  The lovely little Fairy Tale eggplant won kudos in 2005. You get the idea. 

This insight made me begin mulling over my prejudice about genetically modified foods. I started thinking that creating new foods is nothing new; only the methods have changed. I do not know which eggplant parents created the little hybrid that I enjoy, yet I eat it freely and don't worry. However, I have an entirely different feeling about genetically modified foods, maybe because I've heard them referred to as "frankenfoods."

Apparently, many other people share my inarticulate concern; I just read that the so-called Monsanto Protection Act was removed from a government spending bill, largely because of public outcry.
Only time will tell whether the outcry is warranted or not. Will GM foods open a Pandora's box of problems, or will they save the planet? I plan to keep following this issue. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Apple Snob

I admit it—I'm an apple snob. I'm not snobby in the sense that I need expensive apples; I'm snobby in the sense that I need good apples. A lousy apple can turn me off this fruit for weeks, so I'm careful where I buy them. Since I live within minutes of several orchards, buying the fruit at the source is my favorite way to purchase. Next favorite is buying at a trusted local farmstand.

Massachusetts is not one of the great world producers of apples, but it sure enjoys its orchards and autumn apple festivals. New England grows a wide variety of apples, each with its special attributes. Some, like honeycrisp, are great for eating out of hand; others, like the many green varieties, are great for cooking; and still others, including the oddly named Tremlett's Bitter, are useful for cider. Some apples store well, while others lose flavor or texture once the season is past.

Most commercial apples are not grown from seed, because most apple trees cross-pollinate with other apple trees, so their seeds may not be true to type. Instead, branches from a desirable tree are grafted onto some hardy root stock, which is a time consuming process. Also, the trees usually don't produce fruit for several years, and they require careful pruning and pest control. Remember all this the next time you are surprised at the cost of some apples.

Yesterday I learned that an apple tree planted outside of Town Hall is a fameuse apple tree, which is one of the older types. It was a gift to the town from our Bicentennial Committee the year the town held its bicentennial. Our town was once home to several commercial orchards, so it was an appropriate gift. This variety was chosen because it a type of apple grown when our town was first founded.  The Town Hall tree is bursting with ripe fruit, so today I'm going down to try one; the taste is said to be memorable. Should be fun.

I had never heard of the fameuse before, so I looked it up. In doing so, I came across some apples that wowed me because of their names. New apples seem to have simple names, like Fuji or Jazz, but older types had some wonderfully fanciful names: Ashmead's Kernel; Peasegood's Nonesuch; Esopus Spitzenburg; Maiden's Blush; Allen's Everlasting; Westfield Seek-no-Further.

Friday, September 6, 2013


your colors may vary
Last week, a neighbor brought me veggies from his farm: eggplant, peppers, summer squash, and tomatoes. The quantity was a bit daunting until I thought of ratatouille. Besides being the title of a delightful animated film, ratatouille is a summer vegetable stew made from all those late summer treats I mentioned. Additionally, it contains lots of garlic and often basil.

I had made this dish before, but my last batch was a bit watery for my tastes. In fact, a watery texture is one reason why I used to avoid many summer squashes. When I was younger, they were served to me steamed or boiled. Not only didn't they look very appetizing but they were also bland and limp. Then I discovered grilling and roasting summer squash, and my attitude towards these vegetables switched 180 degrees.

But back to the ratatouille. I looked at various recipes online and settled on one by Alice Waters, a California chef I had met years ago. What I liked about her recipe was that the vegetables were all cooked separately at first and then combined. Although this takes slightly longer than just throwing everything into a pot, the results are wonderful. The vegetables had wonderful textures. I served it the stew as a side dish that evening. The next day, I made an open faced sandwiches, serving veggies over crusty French bread that had been sliced lengthwise, toasted, and topped with melted provolone.

Because I received the vegetables as a gift, I did not think too much about colors. I had an abundance of yellow squash, pale purple fairy tale eggplant, and purple bell peppers, which lose most coloring during cooking . This meant that my completed dish was not as colorful as one would be if it were made with red bell peppers, green and yellow squashes, and regular dark eggplant. Were I buying vegetables for this dish, I would probably consider color. Still, I had several spectacular meals from this recipe, and I encourage you to try it.