Posts Tagged With: fruit

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

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

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

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

133/365: National Fruit Cocktail Day

Today we celebrate a mixture of fruit that comes in a can. May 13 is National Fruit Cocktail Day!

Fruit cocktail was invented as a way to use up scraps of fruit that were too bruised or damaged to be used in other cans of fruit. So basically, you’re getting the rejects when you pop open a can of fruit cocktail. The exact origin is unknown; fruit salads had been popular since 1893, and contained cherries and other dried fruits. A cookbook from 1902 explains where the name was derived: In these latter days, many American cooks make a mixture of fruit, sugar and alcohol and serve them as ‘salad.’ These are not salads … they are heavy, rather unwholesome, and will never take the place of a salad. I prefer to call them fruit cocktails and serve them as a first course at a luncheon or a twelve o’clock breakfast. The author, Mrs. Rorer, is now regarded as America’s first Food Snob. In 1930 San Jose canner Herbert Gray of Barron-Gray Packing Company began selling fruit cocktail, which grew in popularity over the years. To be labeled an official fruit cocktail by the USDA, it must contain pears, grapes, cherries, peaches, and pineapples. Most are packed in either heavy syrup or a lighter, less sugary mixture.

Tara and I bought a can of fruit cocktail to enjoy as a healthy (?) dessert after dinner. Sure enough, it contained the five requisite ingredients to properly be labeled a fruit cocktail!

Fruit Cocktail

Categories: Fruit | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

118/365: National Blueberry Pie Day

Few things are as American as blueberry pie. Which makes April 28th a pretty patriotic day: it’s National Blueberry Pie Day!

Blueberries are native to North America, and weren’t even introduced to Europe until the 1930s. They grow like crazy in New England, and appealed to early settlers, who found many uses for the fruit – but strangely, eating them plain was rare. Until the 19th century, consuming fresh fruit was thought to be unhealthy, so the blueberries were typically baked into pies. I’m guessing the colonists’ food pyramid looked a lot different than ours! New England housewives almost always had a supply of both sweet and savory pies on hand, ready to serve to family and guests. Pies were proof that the family farm was thriving.

Most of the time, celebrating these food holidays is fun. But not so much when you’ve got a delicious leftover birthday cake, and the next day you’ve got to eat blueberry pie. We wanted to buy a slice to share and call it good, but blueberry pie is hard to find. Maybe if this were Maine we’d have better luck, since blueberry pie is that state’s official dessert. But blueberries would have to be in season for us to have any shot of finding one locally, and we’re still a couple of months away from that happening. We came up with a pretty good solution, though: bake a mini pie instead! I found some small aluminum pie tins in the grocery store, and used this recipe. The result? Pretty amazing, actually! The blueberries were fresh, at least (but flown in from California). I was left wondering why you don’t see blueberry pie on more menus around these parts. I probably could have gobbled the whole thing up in two minutes, but we did have that chocolate cake waiting. @#$! timing.

Blueberry Pie

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

47/365: National Almond Day

Some of these food holidays are downright nutty. Take, for instance, today: it’s National Almond Day!

Actually, I should strike that joke from the blog, because it turns out almonds aren’t true nuts at all – they are actually a fruit, more closely related to cherries and plums than to cashews or walnuts. The almond “nut” is the seed of the green, fleshy fruit. I guess the folks at Almond Joy never got the memo; their candy bar slogan – “Almond Joy’s got nuts, Mounds don’t” – is just plain wrong (not to mention grammatically clunky to begin with). In truth, Almond Joy’s got fruit, Mounds don’t.

Almonds are native to the Middle East, where they grew like weeds in the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, and were one of the first trees domesticated by man. Most ancient civilizations relied on almonds as a food source; they date back to 4000 B.C. They are mentioned numerous times in the Bible, where they were revered as symbols of divine approval and hope. The Book of Genesis calls almonds “among the best of fruits,” and almond branches were a symbol of the virgin birth of Jesus. In fact, many paintings depict almonds circling the baby Jesus (though it could be that the artists had merely worked up hearty appetites while slapping oil on canvas). King Tut was buried with several handfuls of almonds when he died, in order to nourish him on his journey to the afterlife. I’d have preferred a pizza myself, but maybe all their Round Tables were closed for the night.

Cultivated almonds are delicious and nutritious, but wild almonds are another story. Their kernels contain prussic acid, a fancy name for cyanide, and are deadly if eaten raw. Domesticated almonds are safe due to a genetic mutation that eliminated the toxic substance.Today, nearly 80% of all almonds in the world are grown in California. Earlier attempts to grow the fruit in southern states were unsuccessful due to killing frosts and high humidity, but the Golden State’s climate proved to be ideal for these little suckers.

We could have just eaten a handful of almonds to celebrate today’s holiday, but it’s the weekend and we wanted to get creative, so we decided on a chicken teriyaki stir-fry topped with slivered almonds. It was a delicious combination!

Stir-fry with slivered almonds

Categories: Nuts | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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