Fruit

National California Strawberry Day

March 21st is a day for all you Golden Staters to show your pride. It’s National California Strawberry Day!

I’m surprised we didn’t celebrate any strawberry-themed holidays during our yearlong food challenge in 2013, especially considering the widespread popularity of this fruit. Wild strawberries have been around for eons. The ancient Romans used them for medicinal purposes, no doubt to help heal gladiatorial wounds. The French developed a fondness for them in the 1300s, transplanting the wild berries from forests to their gardens; King Charles V had some 1,200 strawberry plants in his royal garden alone. Demand grew over the following two hundred years, as strawberries were seen as a kind of wonder cure for treating depression, in addition to a variety of physical ailments. The “modern” strawberry is native to Eastern North America, and was brought to Europe by explorers in the 1600s. Just think: if it weren’t for some brave adventurer who crossed the Atlantic – twice – the world might never know Strawberry Quik, and that would be a sad thing.

Strawberries are prized for their sweetness, fragrance, and complex flavors. They are made into jellies and jams, ice cream, yogurt, smoothies, pies, shortcake, perfumes, and cosmetics. Hint: those last two not edible. (Well, they probably are, but I’d stick with dipping them in chocolate or cherishing them with a glass of champagne myself).

California is the nation’s leading strawberry producer; in 2014, 2.3 billion pounds were harvested – about 88% of the country’s fresh and frozen berries. Which is pretty impressive! However…

The best strawberries in the world are grown right here in the Pacific Northwest. I suppose I’m biased, but our berries are much more succulent and juicy, and pack a lot more flavor than California strawberries. Unfortunately, our growing season is a lot shorter, limited pretty much to the month of June. But that’s okay – I don’t mean to hog the spotlight from our neighbors to the south.

I picked up some California strawberries in a nearby produce store and ate them plain. And I have to say, they weren’t too bad!

CAstrawberries

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National Fresh Squeezed Juice Day

As promised, occasionally we’ll celebrate some of the food holidays we chose to skip last year in favor of others. Today marks one of those. January 15 is National Fresh Squeezed Juice Day!

Actually, this is a recent addition to the calendar. I updated the National Food Holidays page to directly link to each challenge, and in the process, did some double-checking against a variety of online calendars looking for missed holidays. There were a bunch, as it turns out. I lamented often last year about the lack of consistency between calendars and our “majority rules” stipulation. I have yet to find two food holiday calendars that are perfectly identical, but feels ours is as close to perfect as it gets!

This holiday was a timely one, as Tara had zested a bunch of lemons over the weekend in order to bake my dad a birthday cake, and had no idea what to do with the leftover peeled lemons. I’ve always subscribed to the axiom “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade!” – and in this case, I took that quite literally. Fresh squeezed lemonade it was!

Fresh squeezed juices have been a staple of the American diet ever since some klutzy Colonist accidentally stepped on an orange. Actually, that’s not what the history books tell us, though it makes for a humorous story. Humans have probably been drinking the juices from a variety of fruits for thousands of years, but the modern juice industry got its start in the mid-1910s thanks to an excess of oranges. California farmers had grown too many to sell, and not wanting to waste them, decided to juice them instead, taking advantage of a new process known as pasteurization. Now the juice could be stored for longer periods of time, and the nation’s railway system was able to whisk away cartons to major cities around the country. The juicing industry was born.

Of course, this refers to commercial juice, which is anything but fresh-squeezed. Fresh juice was seen as a healthy alternative to sodas and other beverages, and in the 1980s the popularity of juice bars (and home juicing machines) exploded. Suddenly, every Dick and Jane worth their salt was juicing their own fresh squeezed oranges, apples, grapefruits, pineapples, tomatoes, grapes, carrots, cranberries, mangoes, passion fruit, and pomegranates.

I have always been a big fan of lemonade, and fresh squeezed is about a thousand times superior to Minute Maid or any type of frozen concentrate. Tonight’s was no exception!

National Fresh Squeezed Juice Day

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355/365: National Kiwifruit Day*

You’ll be green with envy if you don’t take a bite into today’s sweet and juicy food of honor. December 21 is National Kiwifruit Day!

Alternatively, some calendars list today as National Hamburger Day, but others show that as May 28 (we celebrated brisket). There was also a National Cheeseburger Day in September, so we’re going with kiwifruit (only I’m shortening it to kiwi, since that’s what many people call it, and it’s less cumbersome to type) instead.

Kiwi is the edible berry of a woody vine native to China, and has actually been declared a National Fruit of China. In the early 20th century, Mary Isabel Fraser – principal of a girl’s college in New Zealand – brought back kiwi seeds after visiting mission schools in Yichang. The seeds of the Chinese gooseberry, as the fruit was known back then, were planted in 1906, and began fruiting in 1910. The fruit was popular with American servicemen stationed in New Zealand during World War II, and plans were made to market and export the fruit to the U.S. Not feeling the name was an accurate representation of the fruit, it was changed to melonette, but the importer was unhappy because melons and berries attracted high duties. Exporter Jack Turner suggested the name “kiwifruit” in 1959 because both the fruit and New Zealand’s native bird, the kiwi, were similar in appearance – small, brown, and furry. The name has stuck ever since (except in China, where it is now known as the Macaque peach.

Whatever you call it, kiwis are delicious! The easiest way to eat them, I learned long ago, is to slice them in half, and then scoop out the sweet flesh with a spoon. Which is exactly what we did this morning.

National Kiwifruit Day

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335/365: National Eat a Red Apple Day

You’ll keep the doctor far away if you adhere to today’s food challenge. December 1 is National Eat a Red Apple Day!

Now that it’s December, we officially have only one month left in our food challenge! Time flies, huh? I’m beginning to think we just might pull this whole thing off. Knock on wood, of course.

When it comes to apples, red ones are among my favorites (though green ones have their charms, as well). We are fortunate enough to live in Washington state, by far the largest apple producer in the country. Approximately 59% of apples in the U.S. are grown here, followed by New York (10%), Michigan (8%), Pennsylvania (5%), and California (4%). As a result, I think I’ve become really picky over my apples. Red Delicious apples are certainly red, but anything but delicious. They are simply way overrated. If I’m shopping in the supermarket, I prefer Gala or Honeycrisp apples; otherwise, I’m partial to some heirloom varieties you can find up here, particularly Spitzenburg (which has the distinction of being Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple). This year, I discovered a relatively new apple, the Crimson Crisp. We used one as the base for our caramel apple on Halloween.

Unfortunately, our crimson crisp apples are long gone, but finding a red apple in Washington in December is not a difficult task. I chose a Gala apple, while Tara went with a Red Delicious (despite my protestations). Hey, to each their own. I enjoyed my apple while watching the Broncos beat the Chiefs. That’s a win/win in my book!

National Eat A Red Apple Day

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327/365: National Eat a Cranberry Day*

You may have “red” about today’s holiday in the news. November 23 is National Eat a Cranberry Day!

And also National Espresso Day. But we’ve celebrated several coffee holidays this year, while not yet paying homage to a fruit that I’m particularly fond of. Plus, with Thanksgiving right around the corner, these little red guys are going to take a starring role. In my mind, you can’t have turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy and stuffing and green bean casserole without also including cranberries. We may be a few days early, but today we are honoring the cranberry! (And despite the official name of the holiday, we’re eating more than one).

Cranberries are one of three fruits native to North America (the others being blueberries and Concord grapes). Native Americans used them as a food source (in particular, pemmican – a combination of crushed cranberries, dried venison, and melted fat), fabric dye for rugs and blankets, and medicine to treat arrow wounds. Pilgrims originally named the fruit “craneberry” because the pink flowers that bloomed in the spring resembled the head and bill of a sandhill crane. They found them not only delicious, but a helpful bartering tool with the local tribes. Sailors took cranberries with them on ocean voyages to prevent scurvy, and began shipping them to Europe for sale. Captain Henry Hall was the first to cultivate cranberries in 1816, and by 1871, the first association of cranberry growers was formed. Today, 40,000 acres of cranberries are harvested every year.

Cranberries don’t actually grow in water, though they need very specific growing conditions to thrive: acidic peat soil, fresh water, sand, and a growing season that lasts from April to November, plus a dormancy period that allows the fruit to chill and mature. They actually grow on vines that survive indefinitely; some in Massachusetts are 150 years old and still producing fruit!

To celebrate, we bought a bag of almonds that contained dried cranberries. It’s a good thing today is Eat A Cranberry Day, because there were a whopping two in the bag. Oh, well – that’s one apiece, all we needed anyway!

National Eat a Cranberry Day

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319/365: National Raisin Bran Cereal Day*

You may be raisin hell if you skip breakfast today. November 15 is National Raisin Bran Cereal Day!

It’s also National Bundt Day, but I’m not much of a baseball fan, and when I am I like to swing for the fences rather than gently tapping the pitched ball with my bat to make it more difficult to field. What’s that? Wrong kind of “bunt”? Doesn’t matter. We’re celebrating cereal today.

Raisin Bran cereal was first introduced in 1926 by U.S. Mills, under the brand name Skinner’s Raisin Bran. The name was originally trademarked, but in 1944 the District Court of Nebraska ruled the name couldn’t be used as a trademark because A name which is merely descriptive of the ingredients, qualities or characteristics of an article of trade cannot be appropriated as a trademark and the exclusive use of it afforded legal protection. The use of a similar name by another to truthfully describe his own product does not constitute a legal or moral wrong, even if its effect be to cause the public to mistake the origin or ownership of the product. In other words – minus the legalese – if your product contains raisins and bran, you don’t own the name Raisin Bran any more than if your product contained chocolate and milk and you trademarked the name Chocolate Milk™. Not gonna happen, folks. As a result, a number of companies sell their own versions of raisin bran cereal, including Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Post. The cereal is naturally high in fiber, but is sometimes criticized for containing too much sugar.

Raisin Bran was a favorite cereal of mine growing up, but I don’t eat it much anymore these days. It’s too sweet to me, and I agree with Tara that it gets too soggy in milk too quickly. Still, it made for a decent enough breakfast before work this morning!

National Raisin Bran Cereal Day

National Raisin Bran Cereal Day

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318/365: National Guacamole Day*

Holy moley! You’ll be green with envy if you don’t get to participate in today’s food holiday. November 14 is National Guacamole Day!

It’s also National Pickle Day (so the “green with envy” joke works either way). I love pickles, but we already celebrated them with the oddly-named National Snack A Pickle Time back on September 13, so today we’re giving guacamole its due. (Interestingly, according to some sources, there was also another guacamole holiday right around the same time – September 16 – but we celebrated Cinnamon Raisin bread that day).

Guacamole was invented by the Aztecs back in the 15th century when some klutz stepped on a ripe avocado. That story may not appear in history books, but c’mon, how else could it possibly have happened?! The Aztecs called their avocado sauce, which they mixed with onions and tomatoes, ahuaca-mulli (“avocado mixture”). You’re going to have a ball with this, because it gets better: the word “avocado” is derived from the ancient Nahuatl word for “testicles.” Yummy. Spaniards were enamored with the dish and brought avocados back to Spain, but they didn’t grow very well in Europe, so they remained a treat for people traveling to the Americas. The English made an avocado paste they called “Midshipman’s butter” and spread on their hardtack to give it flavor (only this being the English, it’s flavour). The majority of American avocados are grown in California, and an estimated 30 million pounds of guacamole is consumed on two particular days: Super Bowl Sunday and Cinco de Mayo. Guacamole comes in many forms: it can be thick and chunky, or smooth and almost soupy. Typical ingredients include onions, serrano and/or jalapeno peppers, cilantro, lime, and tomatoes.

I am particularly proud of my homemade guacamole. It’s simple to make and delicious! I adapted the recipe from that found in a local Mexican restaurant, only mine tends to be smoother. I take two avocadoes, one tomato, half an onion, 1 serrano pepper, a handful of cilantro, a tablespoon of jalapeno juice, lime juice, and kosher salt to taste. Mash/mix/stir them all together, and let the flavors blend for 1/2 an hour in the fridge. That’s exactly what we did tonight! So, so good.

National Guacamole Day

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304/365: National Caramel Apple Day

Happy Halloween! I’m not going to trick you: today’s food holiday is a real treat. October 31 is National Caramel Apple Day!

National Caramel Apple DayOnce upon a time, people handed out homemade caramel apples to trick-or-treaters who came to their doorsteps, but the fear of candy tampering put an end to this. That’s a real shame, because personally I’d much rather have a caramel apple than a lame Tootsie Roll, but that’s just me. Caramel apples were invented in the 1950s by Dan Walker, a sales representative for Kraft Foods. Individually-wrapped caramels were one of Kraft’s top-selling candies, and Walker’s creation led to increased sales (and probably made apple growers pretty happy, too). Recipes for caramel apples were printed on the labels, and still appear to this day. Vito Raimondi invented and patented a caramel apple making machine in 1960, speeding up the manufacturing process. Most people are content to make their own nowadays.

I hadn’t had a caramel apple in years. A couple of weeks ago we went to Hood River, Oregon to buy fresh apples along the “Fruit Loop.” We had some tart, crispy Crimson Crisps left over, so we made caramel apples from scratch. (Well, using a packaged caramel apple kit, but close enough). The contrast between sweet and tart, soft and crisp was wonderful!

Hope you had a spooktacular Halloween!

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299/365: National Pumpkin Day*

Orange you glad there’s a holiday devoted to your favorite gourd? October 26 is National Pumpkin Day!

It’s also National Pretzel Day and National Mincemeat Pie Day. I’d have loved to grabbed a pretzel and called it good – it doesn’t get much easier than that, and we’re on the road in Denver this weekend – but we already celebrated pretzels back in April. Duplicate food holidays annoy me. And I’m not much of a mincemeat fan, so pumpkin it is! But we’re going to pass on the obvious, pumpkin pie, because there’s a special food holiday devoted to that particular dessert (December 25, of all days)! Fortunately, pumpkin-flavored anything is all the rage these days, so it wasn’t difficult to find a way to celebrate this holiday, even from the road.

Pumpkin is derived from the Greek word pepon and means “large melon.”  It is a type of winter squash native to North America, and traditionally refers to round, orange varieties of squash that are commonly carved into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, and made into pies in the fall months, when they are ready for harvesting. They are one of the most popular crops in the U.S., with 1.5 billion pounds being produced annually; top growing states are Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California. Most parts of the pumpkin are edible including the shell, seeds, flowers, and leaves. They were a Native American staple, and were cut into thin strips and roasted over a fire to serve as sustenance during the long, harsh winters. The flesh was roasted, baked, parched, boiled, and dried, and the seeds were used as a type of medicine. Even the hard shells did not go to waste; these were used as bowls and containers to store grains, beans, and seeds. Columbus brought pumpkin seeds back with him to Europe, but these were fed to pigs and were not seen as fit for human consumption.National Pumpkin Day

Ol’ Christopher was wrong. Pumpkins are delicious! We celebrated by grabbing a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks this morning. This seasonal favorite is always highly anticipated when fall rolls around, and today’s tasted extra delicious!

Stay tuned for a special announcement regarding Eat My Words tomorrow.

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293/365: National Brandied Fruit Day

Those who like to mix their alcohol with fresh fruit will find today’s food holiday intoxicating. October 20 is National Brandied Fruit Day!

Brandied fruit is a simpler and more convenient way of preserving food than canning: it requires little more than fruit, brandy, and sugar. Alcohol kills bacteria, allowing you to skip the sometimes rigorous steps involved in canning. The downside, as stated, is that – as with pickling – it takes time for the flavors to meld. Luckily we plan our food holidays in advance, but unfortunately, not a month in advance, so we were unable to make our own brandied fruit. Too bad – this would have been fun! But at least we were able to order a jar online. It’s not as easy to find as you might think! Why use brandy (derived from the Dutch word brandewijn, which means “burnt wine”) to preserve fruit rather than, say, vodka or wine? The truth is, any high-proof spirit will work, but brandy is popular thanks to its flavor. Rumtopf, an early version of brandied fruit, originated in Germany; folks would fill a stoneware jar with fruit, top it with rum, and let the whole thing distill, until it turned into a tasty “rum pot.” An early recipe published by the Ladies Guild of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in East Randolph, New York, in 1907 states, Take one cup of brandy, one of sugar and one fruit to begin. Whatever fruit you choose, lay it in jar, first, then sugar, and lastly brandy; continue to add different fruits as they appear in season, one cup of each. You do not need any more brandy; as the juice will be extracted from the fruit and increase the amount. Commence with strawberries, and all kinds of fruit as they ripen. It is not to be cooked. Little has changed in the ensuing century.

As stated, I was bummed when I discovered we didn’t have enough time to make our own brandied fruit. This is one holiday that should have been on our radar even sooner. But not to fear, Dundee Fruit Company came to the rescue! As an added bonus they’re local, located about an hour south of where we live, in the Willamette Valley. This didn’t prevent us from paying almost $10 in shipping on a $9.95 product…sigh…but we didn’t have much choice in the matter. We ordered brandied marionberries, one of their top sellers. Marionberries are native to Oregon, and are a cross between a raspberry and blackberry. And they’re delicious!

We served them over vanilla ice cream. Delicious though they may be, when they’re brandied, they are strong. Whew! Can’t say we loved this, which bums me out given the cost. But it was alright.

National Brandied Fruit Day

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