Fruit

290/365: National Four Prunes Day/National Pasta Day*

You can count on a good meal if you celebrate today’s food holiday. October 17 is National Four Prunes Day!

What an odd holiday this one is. Why four prunes? Why not three or five? Why not Eat A Prune? We’ve always been very specific in the rules of this challenge, stating that we need only take a single bite in order for it to count (though most times we eat the whole thing). But if we have to eat four prunes, does that mean we’re stuck with four bites? Or do we literally have to eat four prunes each? Or four prunes together? To simplify matters we considered celebrating the other food holiday today, National Pasta Day. But we just had a National Noodle Day, so…

(As it turns out, we ended up celebrating both food holidays today. Tara and I met up for lunch at The Old Spaghetti Factory. She got ravioli, I ordered spaghetti with Italian sausage. But the focus of the blog today is on prunes).

Actually, further research shows the reason for four prunes. As this blog post (and other scientific articles) states, doctors recommend eating four prunes a day to slow the aging process of the body and brain. Ahh. I’m all about living longer, so bring on the prunes!

Prunes get a bad rap due to their high fiber content. In other words, they make you poop! Because of this, they have been rebranded “dried plums” in recent years, which makes sense seeing that they are dried plums. But I think this is silly. There’s nothing wrong with the name prune, and if it’s associated with constipation relief, so be it. They are considered nutritional superstars, and are high in antioxidants, vitamin A, potassium, and iron. Prunes are native to Western Asia, but eventually spread through Europe and the Balkan Islands. They were introduced to North America by Louis Pellier, a Frenchman whose mining operation during the Gold Rush of 1848 was a bust. After finding no gold in them thar hills, Pellier purchased a plot of farmland in the Santa Clara Valley and planted plum trees in 1856. The plum industry took off, and by the mid 1880s, Pellier and others were looking for ways to expand business. Dried plums were a hit in Europe and were being imported at the rate of 22,000 tons a year, so focus shifted to growing them here. And the rest is high fiber history.

I love prunes. In school, my classmates would always give me their stewed prunes at lunch. I could never figure out why they’d pass on such a delicious and sweet part of the meal! I also enjoyed drinking prune juice because I liked the flavor. I guess I’m odd that way. The bottom line is, celebrating this holiday was a breeze. For me, anyway. I had my four prunes for breakfast. Tara was less enthused, but also took part. She liked them more than she thought she would.

National 4 Prunes Day

Categories: Fruit, Pasta | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

260/365: National Apple Dumpling Day

We’re going to have to gang up on you if you don’t help us celebrate today’s food challenge. September 17 is National Apple Dumpling Day!

Whenever I think of apple dumplings, my thought automatically turn to The Apple Dumpling Gang, a 1975 movie starring Bill Bixby, Don Knotts, and Tim Conway. I don’t remember much about it, other than the fact that it features stagecoaches, gold, and orphans.

The original Apple Dumpling Gang.

The original Apple Dumpling Gang.

Apple dumplings aren’t traditional “dumplings” in the sense that they aren’t boiled – though apparently, the original recipe for apple dumplings (credited to Susannah Carter) actually did call for boiling. Apple dumplings are a Northeastern U.S. invention closely associated with the Amish, which means in order to properly enjoy them, they should be consumed by the light of a kerosene lamp. Apples are peeled and cored and placed on a portion of dough. The hollowed-out center is then filled with butter, cinnamon, and sugar, and the pastry is sealed. They are then baked until tender. This sounded both tasty and intriguing, so we decided to go ahead and make our own using this recipe from allrecipes.com.

The result? Well, they were a little overcooked. The apple inside the pastry was delicious, but the sauce caramelized and was too hard to really enjoy. I think with a little less baking time, these would have been really good.

National Apple Dumpling Day

Categories: Desserts, Fruit, Pastry | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

250/365: National Acorn Squash Day

I don’t mean to step on any toes today, but we are going to celebrate a quintessential autumn dish. September 7 is National Acorn Squash Day!

You probably think acorn squash is a vegetable. That’s the kind of thinking that’ll get you tossed off the island, mister! (If you were on an island and you’re a man). Fact is, much like the tomato, it’s technically a fruit dressed up like a vegetable. In other words, an impostor. Squash is indigenous to North and Central America, and was one of the staple food items of Native Americans, along with beans, corn, and strawberry Jell-O. Named for it’s shape – that’d be an acorn, not a corn – acorn squash is related to zucchini, but much smaller in size. It’s typically dark green with a splash of orange, and has distinctive ridges across its surface. The flesh is yellow-orange and sweet. Acorn squash is best baked, and often served stuffed. It can also be sauteed or steamed. Just be sure to remove the fibers and stems before cooking. Unless you happen to like fibers and stems. If that’s the case, go ahead and leave ’em in. It’s your digestive tract. Other names for this fruit include winter squash, žalud squash, agern squash, ng bunga ng oak kalabasa, courge poivrée, eichelkürbis, makk squash, acorn leiðsögn, squash dearcán, squash ghianda, zīle drūzmēties, gilė skvošas, Żołądź squash, abóbora, ghindă squash, calabaza, acorn boga, ekollonsquash, meşe palamudu kabak, and sboncen fesen.

We had never tried acorn squash before, though I buy it almost every year. Like candy corn, it’s a festive way to celebrate fall (and Halloween). I often have decorative gourds on display. We baked it, with a little butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup – the recipe follows – and served it as a side dish with some fried chicken and potato salad. We were both amazed by how delicious it tasted!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Acorn squash
  • 1 Tbsp Butter
  • 2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Maple Syrup
  • Dash of Salt

1 Preheat oven to 400°F.

2 Using a strong chef’s knife, and perhaps a rubber mallet to help, cut the acorn squash in half, lengthwise, from stem to end. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff in the center of each half. Score the insides of each half several times with a sharp knife. Place each half in a baking pan, cut side up. Add about a 1/4 inch of water to the bottom of the baking pan so that the skins don’t burn and the squash doesn’t get dried out.

3 Coat the inside of each half with 1/2 a Tbsp of butter. Add a dash of salt if you are using unsalted butter. Add a Tbsp of brown sugar to the cavity of each half. Dribble on a teaspoon of maple syrup to each half.

4 Bake in the oven for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until the squash is very soft and the tops are browned. Do not undercook. When finished, remove from oven and let cool a little before serving. Spoon any buttery sugar sauce that has not already been absorbed by the squash over the exposed areas.

Yield: Serves 2 to 4, depending on how much squash you like to eat.

IMAG1447

Categories: Fruit, Vegetables | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

245/365: National Blueberry Popsicle Day

Today we pay homage to a food that technically does not exist. September 2 is National Blueberry Popsicle Day!

Early in the year, our East Coast Food Consultant – who attempted a similar food challenge in 2011 – warned us about this particular holiday. It was one he’d had trouble with, because they do not make blueberry-flavored Popsicles. At least, Popsicle® (the brand) does not make blueberry-flavored Popsicles. They might have, once upon a time, though I can find no reference to this anywhere, which begs the question: who came up with today’s food holiday, and why?!

This necessitated a change in our thinking. For this challenge, Popsicles® had to become popsicles: generic, frozen ice pops. Those are easy enough to make, in any flavor that strikes your fancy. They sell plastic molds and kits for making your own; in fact, I remember we had some as a kid, and used to freeze our own ice pops to enjoy during those hot summer afternoons growing up. So, Tara and I bought a popsicle-making kit, and – since this challenge was on my radar well in advance – I purchased some fresh blueberries from the farmer’s market in August, and froze them. I then used the following recipe I found online, which includes a little bit of lemon juice and honey for added flavor and consistency (thanks to Lyuba @ willcookforsmiles.com):

Blueberry Lemon Popsicles

Ingredients

  • 24 oz of fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup of honey
  • Juice from 1 lemon

Instructions

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor. Puree well.
  2. Split the puree among the popsicle molds.
  3. Cover the molds with saran wrap, tight. Poke very small holes right in the center and carefully stick some wooden popsicle sticks in the puree.
  4. Freeze for 5-6 hours.

Voila! Pretty easy and straightforward. Obviously, I used frozen blueberries, but these worked out well. They turned out pretty tasty – and are all natural, too!

National Blueberry Popsicle Day

Categories: Desserts, Fruit | 4 Comments

239/365: National Banana Lover’s Day*

Chances are you’ll go ape over today’s food holiday, but I’m not monkeying around one bit when I say it’s real a-peeling. August 27 is National Banana Lover’s Day!

It’s also National Pot de Crème Day. But, c’mon…how can I celebrate something I can’t even pronounce?! (Poh-deh-krem, for the record. It’s a French (duh) custard that translates to “pot of cream” because it’s baked in a ramekin). Sounds rich, and I’m sure it’s good, but we shy away from desserts whenever possible because there are so damn many of them. Besides, who doesn’t love bananas?!

Just like money, bananas don’t grow on trees. They are actually produced by a plant known as the musa acuminata – the largest herbaceous flowering plant in the world. It was named for Antonius Musa, the personal physician of Roman emperor Octavius Augustus, who was responsible for cultivating the exotic African fruit from 63 to 14 B.C., predating even rice. Acuminata means “assume nothing,” which is a polite way of saying, “when you assume, you make an ass of u and me.” Actually, that’s not true. It really means “long-pointed” or “tapering” and refers to the flowers of the plant, not the fruit. Which happens to be long-pointed and tapering, as well.

keep-calm-and-go-bananas-21Portugese sailors brought bananas from West Africa to Europe in the 15th century, and the Guinean name banema caught on, eventually morphing into banana in English. Even though bananas were discovered in Africa, they’re actually native to Southeast Asia, where many wild and exotic varieties grow. Spanish missionary Friar Tomas de Berlanga introduced them to North America.

Bananas were originally red or green. The sweet yellow variety we are used to was actually a mutant strain, discovered by Jean Francois Poujot in 1836. One day he discovered a tree on his Jamaica plantation bearing yellow fruit instead of red or green, and when he tasted it, was pleasantly surprised by the sweet flavor and began cultivating those. When bananas were first served in U.S. restaurants, they were considered exotic treats, and were eaten on a plate using a fork and knife.National Banana Lover's Day

Plantains and bananas are essentially the same; in Southeast Asia, no distinction is made between the two. Other countries consider bananas to be the soft, sweet “dessert” variety we are used to, while plantains refer to the firmer, starcher cooking variety.

We could have done virtually anything to celebrate Banana Lover’s Day, but decided to keep it simple. Tara had hers plain, and I sliced mine and added it to a bowl of Rice Krispies. There’s something about that combination I’ve always loved.

And, the day is still young. There may yet be more bananas in our future!

Categories: Fruit | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

234/365: National Eat A Peach Day*

If you’re a lover of sweet and juicy summertime fruit, you’ll be quite keen for today’s holiday! August 22 is National Eat A Peach Day.

It’s also National Pecan Torte Day. But we just celebrated National Pecan Pie Day last month, and though a torte is technically more like a cake than a pie, it’s still close enough to give us a serious case of deja vu and want to branch out and try something new. Something not-desserty. So, a peach it is!

Think peaches, and chances are, Georgia pops into your head. But the fruit actually originated in China, where it was a favorite of emperors and kings, and dates back to 2000 B.C. Cultivation spread throughout Persia and Greece, and when Alexander the Great conquered Persia, he introduced the fruit to Europe, where it quickly gained favor, especially with Romans. Archaeologists digging through the remains of towns decimated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. found wall paintings depicting peach trees (along with the curious discovery of Kilroy was here in spray paint). Spanish explorers brought peaches to England and France in the 17th century, where they became valuable and expensive treats. English horticulturist George Minifie brought the first peaches to the North American colonies in the early 17th century, planting them at his Virginia estate. Commercial production began some 200 years later, centered in Delaware, Maryland, Georgia, and Virginia. Peach trees are kind of finicky; they require both cool winter temperatures for proper chilling, and intense summer heat to mature the crop. For this reason, their range is fairly limited.

Peaches and nectarines are the same species, though they are considered different fruit. The fuzzy skin of the peach is dominant, while the smooth skin of the nectarine is the result of a recessive gene.

I love both fruits, and was eager to celebrate today’s holiday – especially since fresh peaches are very much in season right now. If I had my little way, I’d eat peaches every day!

Celebrating this holiday was a breeze, but I’m a little bummed out. Last week I had fresh peaches from the farmer’s market, and they were amazing: perfectly sweet and juicy, just the right consistency. Since we were out of town last weekend we couldn’t make a trip to the farmer’s market, so we settled on peaches from the grocery store. Which paled in comparison. If you ever think farmer’s markets are “too expensive” (hi, dad!), I’m telling you, the little bit extra you’re paying is well worth it. You get quality produce and are supporting the local community.

National Eat A Peach Day

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219/365: National Raspberries in Cream Day

What do you get when you combine a classic summer berry with the decadent richness of cream? A berry good dessert, that’s what. August 7 is National Raspberries in Cream Day!

We’ve had a few other “in cream” (or “and cream”) days this year. Like peaches. And strawberries. And like those other times, “in cream” doesn’t mean floating in a pool of cream, as I’d always figured before delving into this food challenge. It means layered with whipped cream, which is actually a relief. I don’t think fruit floating around in cream is particularly appetizing, but hey – to each his/her own. There have been a bunch of raspberry food holidays lately, which makes sense, since the juicy fruit is at its peak from June to mid-August. If you’d like a little raspberry history, click on the link.

I recently turned to you, dear readers, to ask which food you would like celebrated as a national holiday, if given a choice. If your name is Wendy, you jumped all over this question and responded with several foods you’d love to see spotlighted. Wendy is keen for a National Chip and Dip Day, a National Mozzarella Cheese Stick Day, a National Mexican Food Day, and a National Chicken Salad Day. I think those are all excellent choices, and any of them would be a welcome break from the constant parade of desserts we are honoring. My mom suggested National Chicken Paprikas Day, and while you may not be familiar with this dish unless your ancestors hail from Eastern Europe, one bite and you’ll agree with mom: it’s delicious. Too exotic? Tell that to whomever decided we would celebrate National Coq au Vin Day not once, but twice. Or any of the other French, British, Italian, Spanish, Indian, or Irish-themed dishes we have whipped up during this challenge. Thanks for your input, you two.

We took the simple route for today’s celebration. Well, kind of. We did make the whipped cream from scratch, now that we’re veterans of this technique. And just topped a bowl of fresh raspberries with it. Easy, and delicious!

National Raspberries in Cream Day

Categories: Dairy, Fruit | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

215/365: National Watermelon Day*

There’s something seedy about today’s food holiday. August 3 is National Watermelon Day!

It’s also National Grab Some Nuts Day. I’m trying very hard to resist making the obvious joke here. I’d actually prefer that we celebrated this holiday because, believe it or not, I despise watermelon. I realize I’m in the minority here, but for some reason, I have just never liked watermelon. Every year when summer rolls around I try it again, thinking “this time I’m going to like it!” – but I never do. I’m not sure if it’s a texture thing or a taste thing, but I just find the fruit very unappealing. Last year I tried it with salt, per Tara’s suggestion, but all that did was make it taste disgusting AND salty. Oh, well. Tara has been a trooper with many of the foods this year, so I have no problem eating a few bites of watermelon considering she choked down raw fish eggs not too long ago.

He carried a watermelon.

He carried a watermelon.

The botanical name for watermelon is citrullus vulgaris, and I can’t help but chuckle over that. Vulgar, indeed!  (That actually refers to “common or ordinary fruit,” but whatever). Watermelons are native to Africa, and were a valuable source of water in the desert, considering that their flesh is comprised of 90% water. It’s related to cucumbers, gourds, pumpkin, and squash – all of which I do like. (I also like watermelon-flavored candy. Go figure). The fruit was first cultivated around 2000 B.C., and watermelon seeds have been found in King Tut’s tomb and other ancient Egyptian sites. Traders passing through the Kalahari desert began selling the seeds, and cultivation spread throughout Africa, eventually spreading to Asia. Today, China is the world’s top producer of watermelon.  African slaves helped introduce watermelon to America in the 17th century, and that eventually led to a bunch of unfair racist associations and stereotypes about African Americans and their fondness for watermelon. Ain’t nobody got time for that on this here blog. Whenever I think of watermelon, Dirty Dancing comes to mind. But that’s just me.

We had purchased a watermelon from the supermarket earlier, but we met up with a friend for drinks and dinner at one of our favorite bars in Portland (shout out to Interurban). They just happened to have a special “watermelon salad” on the menu: wedges of watermelon rubbed with serrano pepper and topped with homemade ricotta cheese, cilantro, and extra virgin olive oil. I was skeptical, as usual, but I have to admit: this was the first time in my life I ever tried watermelon and didn’t hate it. It was actually quite delicious, which amazed me. Except for those bites where I mostly just got watermelon. I guess the trick is, from now on, I’ll have to add a serrano rub, homemade ricotta, cilantro, and extra virgin olive oil whenever I eat watermelon. Yum!

National Watermelon Day

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Categories: Fruit | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

213/365: National Raspberry Cream Pie Day

I just might blow raspberries in your direction if you try to skip out on today’s food holiday. August 1 is National Raspberry Cream Pie Day!

Yay. More pie.

But at least we haven’t celebrated anything with raspberries yet. These berries are related to the rose family, and originated in East Asia. They date back to prehistoric times – evidence has been found that Paleolithic cavemen enjoyed the fruit. As it grew in popularity, it came to be associated with fertility. In Greek mythology, legend has it that the berries were once white, but when Zeus’ nursemaid, Ida, pricked her finger on a thorn, the berries were stained red with her blood, and have remained that color ever since. European settlers brought red raspberries to America, where they were crossbred with our native black raspberries. George Washington was so fond of them, he cultivated raspberries at Mount Vernon. They grow throughout the U.S., with my home state of Washington being the nation’s top producer, churning out around 70 million tons per year. Oregon is second. It doesn’t surprise me, as the Pacific Northwest is well known for all sorts of wonderful berries.

I had never heard of raspberry cream pie before. It’s not exactly a common dish, but thanks to the Internet, recipes are easy to find. We decided to try this recipe from The Pioneer Woman because it features a crust made from Oreo cookies. Hello! Only, we didn’t want a whole pie, so we scaled it back by 2/3 and whipped up a mini pie instead. The result? Oh. My. GOODNESS. The Pioneer Woman knows her pies! Really, really good.

National Raspberry Cream Pie Day

Categories: Desserts, Fruit | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

188/365: National Strawberry Sundae Day

Happy Sundae! Err…Sundae. It’s a happy coincidence that today’s food holiday lands on its namesake day. July 7 is National Strawberry Sundae Day! And no, I did not stutter.

As recently mentioned, the sundae was created when conservative governments in several states banned the sale of ice cream sodas on Sundays. In order to keep their businesses afloat (joke alert!), ice cream purveyors came up with a soda-free alternative called the sundae (spelled that way to avoid offending Christians, who apparently believed that soda was the devil’s bidding). Many cities claim to be the birthplace of the sundae, including Two Rivers, Wisconsin; Plainfield, Illinois; Evanston, Illinois; New Orleans; New York City; Ithaca, New York; Cleveland, Ohio; and Buffalo, New York. The exact origin is unclear, but it is generally accepted that the first ice cream sundae appeared sometime between 1880 and 1892.

The world's most expensive sundae.

The world’s most expensive sundae.

Ice cream sundaes are simple desserts consisting of one or more scoops of ice cream, topped with sauce, syrup, whipped cream, nuts, fruit, or sprinkles, or – in some cases – all of the above. Most sundaes are cheap and satisfying, but a restaurant in New York City called Serendipity 3 serves a $1000 sundae that is hailed by Guinness World Records as the world’s most expensive. Called the Serendipity Golden Opulence Sundae, this treat is made with 5 scoops of Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream infused with Madagascar vanilla, covered in 23-karat edible gold leaf, rare Amedei Porcelana and Chuao chocolates, caviar, passionfruit, orange, Armagnac, candied fruit from Paris, and marzipan cherries. The whole thing is covered in gold dragées and served in a baccarat Harcourt crystal goblet with an 18-carat-gold spoon. You get to keep the goblet, but have to give back the spoon. Seriously?

Fresh out of $1000 bills, we had to scale back our celebration of the strawberry sundae. Instead, we spent a buck and change and grabbed one from McDonald’s. I remembered that they sold sundaes, but it had been years since I’d gotten one. They were smaller than I remember, actually – but not bad. Not bad at all.

National Strawberry Sundae Day

Categories: Dairy, Desserts, Fruit | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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