Fall Harvest: Shallots

October 15, 2013 at 9:12 AM | Posted in vegetables | 2 Comments
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Shallots are harvested in late summer and into fall, and are at their sweetest when fresh. Shallots are a member of the allium family, just like onions, leeks, and garlic. While often thought of as smaller, milder onions, shallots are their own species and aren’t simply small onions. In most climates, shallots are planted in the fall to harvest the following summer and fall. Since shallots keep well if kept in a cool, dark, dry place, fresh shallots are often available into early winter.

 

 

Whole shallots

Whole shallots

The shallot (Allium cepa var. aggregatum, or the A. cepa Aggregatum Group) is a botanical variety of the species Allium cepa, to which the multiplier onion also belongs. The shallot was formerly classified as a separate species, A. ascalonicum, a name now considered a synonym of the currently accepted name. The genus Allium, which includes onions and garlic as well as shallots, is now classified in the plant family Amaryllidaceae, but was formerly considered to belong to the separate family Alliaceae.

 

 
Like garlic, shallots are formed in clusters of offsets with a head composed of multiple cloves. The skin colour of shallots can vary from golden brown to gray to rose red, and their off-white flesh is usually tinged with green or magenta.
Shallots are extensively cultivated for culinary uses, propagated by offsets. In some regions (“long-season areas”), the offsets are usually planted in autumn (September or October in the Northern Hemisphere). In some other regions, the suggested planting time for the principal crop is early spring (typically in February or the beginning of March in the Northern Hemisphere).
In planting, the tops of the bulbs should be kept a little above ground, and the soil surrounding the bulbs is often drawn away when the roots have taken hold. They come to maturity in summer (about July or August in the Northern Hemisphere), although fresh shallots can now be found year-round in supermarkets. Shallots should not be planted on ground recently manured.
In Africa, shallots are grown in the area around Anloga in southeastern Ghana.

 

 
Shallots are used in fresh cooking in addition to being pickled. Finely sliced, deep-fried shallots are used as a condiment in Asian cuisine, often served with porridge. As a species of Allium, shallots taste somewhat like a common onion, but have a milder flavor. Like onions and garlic, when sliced, raw shallots release substances that irritate the eye, resulting in production of tears.
Shallots appear to contain more flavonoids and phenols than other members of the onion genus.
Fresh shallots can be stored in cool, dry area (32 to 40 °F, 60 to 70% RH) for six months or longer. Chopped, dried shallots are also available.

 

Seafood of the Week – Crayfish

October 1, 2013 at 8:11 AM | Posted in Ball Park Smoked Turkey Franks, Seafood of the Week | Leave a comment
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Northern kōura, Paranephrops planifrons

Northern kōura, Paranephrops planifrons

 

Crayfish – also called crawfish, crawdads, freshwater lobsters, or mudbugs – are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters, to which they are related; taxonomically, they are members of the superfamilies Astacoidea and Parastacoidea. They breathe through feather-like gills and are found in bodies of water that do not freeze to the bottom. They are mostly found in brooks and streams where there is fresh water running, and which have shelter against predators. Most crayfish cannot tolerate polluted water, although some species such as the invasive Procambarus clarkii are hardier. Crayfish feed on living and dead animals and plants.

 

 

The name “crayfish” comes from the Old French word escrevisse (Modern French écrevisse). The word has been modified to “crayfish” by association with “fish” (folk etymology). The largely American variant “crawfish” is similarly derived.
Some kinds of crayfish are known locally as lobsters, crawdads, mudbugs, and yabbies. In the Eastern United States, “crayfish” is more common in the north, while “crawdad” is heard more in central and southwestern regions, and “crawfish” further south, although there are considerable overlaps.
The study of crayfish is called astacology.

 

 

In Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, the term crayfish or cray generally refers to a saltwater spiny lobster, of the genus Jasus that is indigenous to much of southern Oceania, while the freshwater species are usually called yabby or kōura, from the indigenous Australian and Māori names for the animal respectively, or by other names specific to each species. An exception is the freshwater Murray crayfish, which belongs to the family Parastacidae and is found on Australia’s Murray River.
In Singapore, the term crayfish typically refers to Thenus orientalis, a seawater crustacean from the slipper lobster family. True crayfish are not native to Singapore, but are commonly found as pets, or as an invasive species (Cherax quadricarinatus) in the many water catchment areas, and are alternatively known as freshwater lobsters.

 

 

The body of a decapod crustacean, such as a crab, lobster, or prawn, is made up of twenty body segments grouped into two main body parts, the cephalothorax and the abdomen. Each segment may possess one pair of appendages, although in various groups these may be reduced or missing. On average, crayfish grow to 6.9 in. (17.5 centimeters) in in length, but some grow larger.

 

Astacidae Austropotamobius pallipes

There are three families of crayfish, two in the Northern Hemisphere and one in the Southern Hemisphere. The Southern-Hemisphere (Gondwana-distributed) family Parastacidae lives in South America, Madagascar and Australasia, and is distinguished by the lack of the first pair of pleopods. Of the other two families, members of the Astacidae live in western Eurasia and western North America and members of the family Cambaridae live in eastern Asia and eastern North America.
Madagascar has an endemic genus, Astacoides, containing seven species.
Europe is home to seven species of crayfish in the genera Astacus and Austropotamobius.
Cambaroides is native to Japan and eastern mainland Asia.

 

 

The greatest diversity of crayfish species is found in southeastern North America, with over 330 species in nine genera, all in the family Cambaridae. A further genus of astacid crayfish is found in the Pacific Northwest and the headwaters of some rivers east of the Continental Divide. Many crayfish are also found in lowland areas where the water is abundant in calcium, and oxygen rises from underground springs.
Crayfish were introduced purposely into a few Arizona reservoirs and other bodies of water decades ago, primarily as a food source for sport fish. They have since dispersed beyond those original sites.

 

 

Australasia has over 100 species in a dozen genera. Many of the better-known Australian crayfish are of the genus Cherax, and include the marron (now believed to be two species, Cherax tenuimanus and C. cainii), red-claw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus), common yabby (Cherax destructor) and western yabby (Cherax preissii). The marron are some of the largest crayfish in the world. They grow up to several pounds in size. C. tenuimanus is critically endangered, while other large Australasian crayfish are threatened or endangered.
Australia is home to the world’s two largest freshwater crayfish – the Tasmanian giant freshwater crayfish Astacopsis gouldi, which can achieve a mass of up to 11 lb (5 kilograms) and is found in the rivers of northern Tasmania, and the Murray crayfish Euastacus armatus, which can reach 4.4 LB (2 kilograms) and is found in much of the southern Murray-Darling basin.
The two species of Paranephrops are endemic to New Zealand, where they are known by the Māori name kōura.

 

Crawfish Boil

Crayfish are eaten worldwide. Like other edible crustaceans, only a small portion of the body of a crayfish is edible. In most prepared dishes, such as soups, bisques and étouffées, only the tail portion is served. At crawfish boils or other meals where the entire body of the crayfish is presented, other portions, such as the claw meat, may be eaten. Like all crustaceans, crayfish are not kosher because they are aquatic animals that do not have both fins and scales. They are therefore not eaten by observant Jews.
As of 2005, Louisiana supplies 95% of the crayfish harvested in the US. In 1987, Louisiana produced 90% of the crayfish harvested in the world, 70% of which were consumed locally. In 2007, the Louisiana crawfish harvest was about 54,800 tons, almost all of it from aquaculture. About 70%–80% of crayfish produced in Louisiana are Procambarus clarkii (red swamp crawfish), with the remaining 20%–30% being Procambarus zonangulus (white river crawfish).

 

 

Crayfish are commonly sold and used as bait, either live or with only the tail meat, and are good at attracting channel catfish, largemouth bass, pike and muskellunge. Sometimes the claws are removed so that the crayfish don’t stop fish from biting the hook. Crayfish easily fall off the hook, so casting should be slow.
The result of using crayfish as bait has led to various ecological problems at times. According to a report prepared by Illinois State University, on the Fox River and Des Plaines River watershed, “The rusty crayfish (used as bait) has been dumped into the water and its survivors outcompete the native clearwater crayfish”. This situation has been repeated elsewhere, as the crayfish bait eliminates native species.
The use of crayfish as bait has been cited as one of the ways zebra mussels have spread to different waterways, as members of this invasive species are known to attach themselves to crayfish.

 

 

 

Fall Harvest: Chard

September 29, 2013 at 9:04 AM | Posted in vegetables | 2 Comments
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Chard like all cooking greens, chard turns bitter when it gets too hot. Chard grows year-round in temperate areas, is best harvested in late summer or early fall in colder areas, and fall through spring in warmer regions.

 

Red chard growing at Slow Food Nation

Red chard growing at Slow Food Nation

Chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla), is a leafy green vegetable often used in Mediterranean cooking. The leaves can be green or reddish in color like Bib Lettuce, chard stalks also vary in color. Chard has been bred to have highly nutritious leaves at the expense of the root (which is not as nutritious as the leaves). Chard is considered to be one of the healthiest vegetables available, and is a valuable addition to a healthy diet (like other green leafy vegetables). Chard has been around for centuries, but because of its similarity to beets it is difficult to determine the exact evolution of the different varieties of chard.

 

 

Clusters of chard seeds are usually sown between April and August, depending on the desired harvesting period. Chard can be harvested while the leaves are young and tender, or after maturity when they are larger and have slightly tougher stems. Harvesting is a continuous process, as most species of chard produce three or more crops.[10] Raw chard is extremely perishable.

 

 

Cultivars of chard include green forms, such as ‘Lucullus’ and ‘Fordhook Giant’, as well as red-ribbed forms such as ‘Ruby Chard’ and ‘Rhubarb Chard’. The red-ribbed forms are very attractive in the garden, but as a rough general rule, the older green forms will tend to out-produce the colorful hybrids. ‘Rainbow Chard‘ is a mix of other colored varieties that is often mistaken for a variety unto itself.
Chard has shiny, green, ribbed leaves, with petioles that range from white to yellow to red, depending on the cultivar.
Chard is a spring harvest plant. In the Northern Hemisphere, chard is typically ready to harvest as early as April and lasts through May. Chard is one of the more hardy leafy greens, with a harvest season typically lasting longer than kale, spinach or baby greens. When day-time temperatures start to regularly hit 30 °C (86 °F), the harvest season is coming to an end.

 

 

Swiss chard on sale at an outdoor market

Swiss chard on sale at an outdoor market

Chard has a slightly bitter taste and is used in a variety of cultures around the world, including Arab cuisine.
Fresh young chard can be used raw in salads. Mature chard leaves and stalks are typically cooked (like in pizzoccheri) or sauteed; their bitterness fades with cooking, leaving a refined flavor which is more delicate than that of cooked spinach.

 

 

Swiss chard is high in vitamins A, K and C, with a 175 g serving containing 214%, 716%, and 53%, respectively, of the recommended daily value. It is also rich in minerals, dietary fiber and protein.
All parts of the chard plant contain oxalic acid.

 

Happy Summer Solstice

June 21, 2013 at 9:52 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Today is the first day of Summer and here’s a little info about the Summer Solstice.

 

A solstice is an astronomical event that occurs twice each year as the Sun reaches its highest or lowest excursion relative to the celestial equator on the celestial sphere. As a result, on the day of the solstice, the Sun appears to have reached its highest or lowest annual altitude in the sky above the horizon at local solar noon. The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, the seasonal movement of the Sun’s path (as seen from Earth) comes to a stop before reversing direction. The solstices, together with the equinoxes, are connected with the seasons. In many cultures the solstices mark either the beginning or the midpoint of winter and summer.
The term solstice can also be used in a broader sense, as the date (day) when this occurs. The day of the solstice is either the longest day of the year (in summer) or the shortest day of the year (in winter) for any place outside of the tropics.

Quinoa

January 17, 2013 at 10:29 AM | Posted in cooking | Leave a comment
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Quinoa a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium), is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than

Quinoa

Quinoa

a true cereal, or grain, as it is not a member of the true grass family. As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beets, spinach and tumbleweeds.
Quinoa (the name is derived from the Spanish spelling of the Quechua name kinwa or occasionally “Qin-wah”) originated in the Andean region of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, where it was successfully domesticated 3,000 to 4,000 years ago for human consumption, though archeological evidence shows a non-domesticated association with pastoral herding some 5,200 to 7,000 years ago.
Similar Chenopodium species, such as pitseed goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri) and fat hen (Chenopodium album), were grown and domesticated in North America as part of the Eastern Agricultural Complex before maize agriculture became popular. Fat hen, which has a widespread distribution in the Northern Hemisphere, produces edible seeds and greens much like quinoa, but in smaller quantities.
The nutrient composition is very good compared with common cereals. Quinoa seeds contain essential amino acids like lysine and good quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and iron.
After harvest, the seeds need to be processed to remove the coating containing the bitter-tasting saponins. Quinoa seeds are in general cooked the same way as rice and can be used in a wide range of dishes. Quinoa leaves are also eaten as a leaf vegetable, much like amaranth, but the commercial availability of quinoa greens is limited.

The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to quinoa as chisaya mama or ‘mother of all grains’, and it was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using ‘golden implements.’ During the Spanish conquest of South America, the Spanish colonists scorned quinoa as ‘food for Indians’, and even actively suppressed its cultivation, due to its status within indigenous non-Christian ceremonies. In fact, the conquistadores forbade quinoa cultivation for a time and the Incas were forced to grow wheat instead.
2013 has been declared International Year of Quinoa by the United Nations.
Quinoa was of great importance in the diet of pre-Columbian Andean civilizations, secondary only to the potato, and was followed in importance by maize. In contemporary times, quinoa has become highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (14% by mass), yet not as high as most beans and legumes. Nutritional evaluations of quinoa indicate that it is a source of complete protein. Furthermore, it is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is also a source of calcium, and thus is useful for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest. Because of all these characteristics, quinoa is being considered a possible crop in NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration human occupied spaceflights.
Quinoa has a light, fluffy texture when cooked, and its mild, slightly nutty flavor makes it an alternative to white rice or couscous.

A spoonful of raw quinoa

A spoonful of raw quinoa

Most boxed/packaged quinoa has already been rinsed for convenience, and cooking instructions therefore suggest only a brief rinse before cooking, if at all. If quinoa has not been rinsed, the first step is to remove the saponins, a process that requires rinsing the quinoa in ample running water for several minutes in either a fine strainer or a cheesecloth. Removal of the saponin helps with digestion; the soapy nature of the compound makes it act as a laxative.
One cooking method is to treat quinoa much like rice, bringing two cups (or less) of water to a boil with one cup of seed, covering at a low simmer and cooking for 10–15 minutes or until the germ separates from the seed. The cooked germ looks like a tiny curl and should have a slight bite to it (like al dente pasta). As an alternative, one can use a rice cooker to prepare quinoa, treating it just like white rice (for both cooking cycle and water amounts).
Vegetables and seasonings can also be added to make a wide range of dishes. Chicken or vegetable stock can be substituted for water during cooking, adding flavor. It is also suited to vegetable pilafs, complementing bitter greens like kale.
Quinoa can serve as a high-protein breakfast food when mixed with, for example, honey, almonds, or berries; it is also sold as a dry product, much like corn flakes. Quinoa flour can be used in wheat-free and gluten-free baking.
Quinoa may be germinated in its raw form to boost its nutritional value. Germination activates its natural enzymes and multiplies its vitamin content. In fact, quinoa has a notably short germination period: Only 2–4 hours resting in a glass of clean water is enough to make it sprout and release gases, as opposed to, e.g., 12 hours with wheat. This process, besides its nutritional enhancements, softens the seeds, making them suitable to be added to salads and other cold foods.

Nut of the Week – Chestnut

January 23, 2012 at 2:09 PM | Posted in Food, nuts | Leave a comment
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Chestnut (Castanea), some species called chinkapin or chinquapin, is a genus of eight or nine species of deciduous trees and shrubs in the beech family Fagaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The name also refers to the edible nuts they

Sweet Chestnut

produce.

The chestnut belongs to the same Fagaceae family as the oak and beech. There are four main species, commonly known as European, Chinese, Japanese and American chestnuts:

European species sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) (also called “Spanish chestnut” in the US) is the only European species of chestnut, though successfully introduced to the Himalayas and other temperate parts of Asia.
Asiatic species Castanea crenata (Japanese chestnut), Castanea mollissima (Chinese chestnut), Castanea davidii (China), Castanea henryi (Chinese chinkapin, also called Henry’s chestnut – China) and Castanea seguinii (also called Seguin’s chestnut – China).
American species These include Castanea dentata (American chestnut – Eastern states), Castanea pumila (American- or Allegheny chinkapin, also known as “dwarf chestnut” – Eastern states), Castanea alnifolia (Southern states), Castanea ashei (Southern states), Castanea floridana (Southern states) and Castanea paupispina (Southern states).

Chestnuts should not be confused with horse chestnuts (genus Aesculus), which are unrelated to Castanea and are named for producing nuts of similar appearance but of no notable edibility. Nor should they be confused with water chestnut (family Cyperaceae), which are also unrelated to Castanea and are tubers of similar taste from an aquatic herbaceous plant. Other trees commonly mistaken for the chestnut tree are the chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) and the American beech (Fagus grandifolia).

Chestnut trees are of moderate growth rate (for the Chinese chestnut tree) to fast-growing for American and European species. Their mature heights vary from the smallest species of chinkapins, often shrubby, to the giant of past American forests, Castanea dentata that could reach 60 m. In between these extremes are found the Japanese chestnut (Castanea crenata) at 10 m average; followed by the Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima) at about 15 m, then the European chestnut (Castanea sativa) around 30 m.

The Chinese and more so the Japanese chestnuts are both often multileadered and wide-spreading, whereas European and especially American species tend to grow very erect when planted among others, with little tapering of their columnar trunk, which is firmly set and massive. When standing on their own, they spread on the sides and develop broad, rounded, dense crowns at maturity. The two latter’s foliage has striking yellow autumn coloring.

Its bark is smooth when young, of a vinous maroon or red-brown colour for the American chestnut, grey for the European chestnut. With age American species’ becomes grey and darker, thick and deeply furrowed; the furrows run longitudinally, and tend to twist around the trunk as the tree ages; it sometimes reminds one of a large cable with twisted strands.

The leaves are simple, ovate or lanceolate, 10–30 cm long and 4–10 cm wide, with sharply pointed, widely-spaced teeth, with shallow rounded sinuates between.

The flowers follow the leaves, appearing in late spring or early summer or onto July. They are arranged in long catkins of two kinds, with both kinds being borne on every tree. Some catkins are made of only male flowers, which mature first. Each flower has eight stamens, or 10 to 12 for Castanea mollissima. The ripe pollen carries a heavy sweet odor that some people find too sweet or unpleasant. Other catkins have these pollen-bearing flowers, but also carry near the twig from which these spring, small clusters of female or fruit-producing flowers. Two or three flowers together form a four-lobed prickly calybium, which ultimately grows completely together to make the brown hull, or husk, covering the fruits.

The fruit is contained in a spiny (very sharp) cupule 5–11 cm in diameter, also called “bur” or “burr”. The burrs are often paired or clustered on the branch and contain one to seven nuts according to the different species, varieties and cultivars. Around the time the fruits reach maturity, the burrs turn yellow-brown and split open in 2 or 4 sections. They can remain on the tree longer than they hold the fruit, but more often achieve complete opening and release the fruits only after having fallen on the ground; opening is partly due to soil humidity.

The chestnut fruit has a pointed end with a small tuft at its tip (called “flame” in Italian, and at the other end, a hilum – a pale brown attachment scar. In many varieties, the fruit is flattened on one or two sides. It has two skins. The first one is a hard outer shiny brown hull or husk, called the pericarpus; the industry calls this the peel. Underneath the pericarpus is another thinner skin, called the “pellicle” or “episperm”. The pellicle closely adheres to the seed itself, following the grooves usually present at the surface of the fruit. These grooves are of variable sizes and depth according to the species and variety.

The fruit inside these shows two cotyledons with a creamy-white flesh throughout, except in some varieties which show only one cotyledon, and whose episperm is only slightly or not intruded at all. Usually these varieties have only one large fruit per burr, well rounded (no flat face) and which is called “marron” (“marron de Lyon” in France, “marron di Mugello” in Italy, or “Paragon”).

The superior fruiting varieties among European chestnuts have good size, sweet taste and easy-to-remove inner skins. American chestnuts are usually very small (around 5 g), but sweet-tasting with easy-to-remove pellicles. Some Japanese varieties have very large nuts (around 40 g), with typically difficult-to-remove pellicles. Chinese chestnut pellicles are usually easy to remove, and their sizes vary greatly according to the varieties, although usually smaller than the Japanese chestnut.

Fresh chestnut fruits have about 180 calories (800 kJ) per 100 grams of edible parts, which is much lower than walnuts, almonds, other nuts and dried fruit (about 600 kcal/100 g). Chestnuts, as with all plant foods, contain no cholesterol[49] and contain very little fat, mostly unsaturated, and no gluten.

Their carbohydrate content compares with that of wheat and rice; chestnuts have twice as much starch as the potato. In addition, chestnuts contain about 8 percent of various sugars, mainly sucrose, glucose, fructose, and, in less amount, stachyose, and raffinose. In some areas, sweet chestnut trees are called “the bread tree”. When chestnuts are just starting to ripen, the fruit is mostly starch and is very firm under finger pressure from the high water content. As the chestnuts ripen, the starch is slowly converted into sugars; and moisture content also starts decreasing. Upon pressing the chestnut, a slight ‘give’ can be felt; the hull is not so tense, and there is space between it and the flesh of the fruit. The water is being replaced by sugars, which means better conservation.

They are the only “nuts” that contain vitamin C, with about 40 mg per 100 g of raw product, which is about 65 percent of the U.S. recommended daily intake. The amount of vitamin C decreases by about 40 percent after heating. Fresh chestnuts contain about 52 percent water by weight, which will evaporate relatively quickly during storage; they can lose even 1 percent of weight in one day at 20 °C and 70% relative humidity.

Tannin is contained in the bark as well as in the wood, leaves and seed husks. The husks contain 10–13% tannin.

The fruit can be peeled and eaten raw, but it can be somewhat astringent, especially if the pellicle is not removed.

Another method of eating the fruit involves roasting, which does not require peeling. Roasting requires scoring the fruit beforehand to prevent undue expansion and “explosion” of the fruit. Once cooked, its texture is similar to that of a baked potato, with a delicate, sweet, and nutty flavour. This method of preparation is popular in northern China as well as in Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Korea and Southeast Asia, where the scored chestnuts may be cooked in a tub of heated coal pebbles[clarification needed] mixed with a little sugar.

Chestnuts can be dried and milled into flour, which can then be used to prepare breads, cakes, pancakes, pastas (it is the original ingredient for polenta, known in Corsica as pulenda), or used as thickener for stews, soups, and sauces. In Corsica, the flour is fried into doughnut-like fritters called fritelli and made into necci, pattoni, castagnacci, and cialdi.

The flour can be light beige like that from Castagniccia, or darker in other regions. It is a good solution for long storage of a nutritious food. Chestnut bread can stay fresh for as long as two weeks.

The nuts can also be eaten candied, boiled, steamed, grilled, or roasted in sweet or savoury recipes. They can be used to stuff vegetables, poultry, fowl and other edibles. They are available fresh, dried, ground or canned (whole or in puree).

A fine granular sugar can be obtained from the fermentation of the juice, as well as a beer; the roasted fruit provides a coffee substitute. Parmentier, who among other things was a famous potato promoter, extracted sugar from chestnuts and sent a chestnut sugarloaf weighing several pounds to the Academy of Lyon. The continental blockade following shortly after (1806–1814) increased the research into developing chestnuts as a source of sugar, but Napoleon chose beets instead.

Candied chestnuts (whole chestnuts candied in sugar syrup, then iced are sold under the French name maroons glacés or Turkish name kestane şekeri (“sugared chestnuts”). They appeared in France in the 16th century. Towards the end of 19th century, Lyon went into a recession with the collapse of the textile market, notably silk. Clément Faugier ingénieur des Ponts et Chaussées was looking for a way to revitalize the regional economy. In 1882 at Privas, he invented the technology to make maroons glacés on an industrial scale (although a great deal of the over-twenty necessary steps from harvest to the finished product are still accomplished manually). Chestnuts are picked in autumn, and candied from the start of the following summer for the ensuing Christmas. Thus the maroons glacés eaten at Christmas are those picked the year before.

Sweet chestnuts are not easy to peel when cold. One kilogram of untainted chestnuts yields about 700 g of shelled chestnuts.

Chestnuts

Chestnut flavors vary slightly from one to the next, but it is somewhat sweet and certainly unique. Chestnut-based recipes and preparations are making a comeback in Italian cuisine, as part of the trend toward rediscovery of traditional dishes and better nutrition.

Chestnut wood is a useful source of natural tannin and was used for tanning leather before the introduction of synthetic tannins. On a 10% moisture basis, the bark contains 6.8% tannin and the wood 13.4%. The bark imparts a dark colour to the tannin, and has a higher sugar content, which increases the percentage of soluble non-tans, or impurities, in the extract; so it was not employed in this use.
Chestnut tannin has a naturally low pH value, relatively low salts content and a high acids content. It is one of the pyrogallol class of tannins (also known as hydrolysable tannin). As it tends to give a reddish tone to the leather, it is most often used in combination with quebracho, mimosa, myrabolans, and valonia.
The wood seems to reach its highest tannin content after the trees reach 30 years old. The southern European chestnut wood usually contains at least 10 to 13% more tannin than chestnut trees in northern climates. Today, the largest producer of extract for tanning is Italy.

Fabric can be starched with chestnut meal.

Linen cloth can be whitened with chestnut meal.

The leaves and the skins (husk and pellicle) of the fruits provide a hair shampoo.

Fruit of the Week – Bitter Gourd

November 28, 2011 at 12:55 PM | Posted in dessert, Food, fruits | 1 Comment
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Momordica charantia, called bitter melon or bitter gourd in English, is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae,

Bitter melon fruit, cleaned and sliced for cooking.

widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all fruits. There are many varieties that differ substantially in the shape and bitterness of the fruit. This is a plant of the tropics, but its original native range is unknown.

This herbaceous, tendril-bearing vine grows to 5 meters. It bears simple, alternate leaves 4–12 cm across, with 3–7 deeply separated lobes. Each plant bears separate yellow male and female flowers. In the Northern Hemisphere, flowering occurs during June to July and fruiting during September to November.

The fruit has a distinct warty exterior and an oblong shape. It is hollow in cross-section, with a relatively thin layer of flesh surrounding a central seed cavity filled with large flat seeds and pith. The fruit is most often eaten green, or as it is beginning to turn yellow. At this stage, the fruit’s flesh is crunchy and watery in texture, similar to cucumber, chayote or green bell pepper, but bitter. The skin is tender and edible. Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits; they are not intensely bitter and can be removed before cooking.

As the fruit ripens, the flesh becomes tougher, more bitter, and too distasteful to eat. On the other hand, the pith becomes sweet and intensely red; it can be eaten uncooked in this state, and is a popular ingredient in some southeast Asian salads.

When the fruit is fully ripe it turns orange and mushy, and splits into segments which curl back dramatically to expose seeds covered

China phenotype

in bright red pulp.

Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The China phenotype is 20–30 cm long, oblong with bluntly tapering ends and pale green in color, with a gently undulating, warty surface. The bitter melon more typical of India has a narrower shape with pointed ends, and a surface covered with jagged, triangular “teeth” and ridges. It is green to white in color. Between these two extremes are any number of intermediate forms. Some bear miniature fruit of only 6–10 cm in length, which may be served individually as stuffed vegetables. These miniature fruit are popular in India and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Bitter melon is generally consumed cooked in the green or early yellowing stage. The young shoots and leaves of the bitter melon may also be eaten as greens.

Bitter melon is often used in Chinese cooking for its bitter flavor, typically in stir-fries (often with pork and douchi), soups, and also as tea. It has also been used in place of hops as the bittering ingredient in some Chinese beers.

It is very popular throughout South Asia. In Northern India, it is often prepared with potatoes and served with yogurt on the side to offset the bitterness, or used in sabji. In North Indian cuisine it is stuffed with spices and then cooked in oil. In Southern India it is used in the dishes thoran/thuvaran (mixed with grated coconut), theeyal (cooked with roasted coconut) and pachadi (which is considered a medicinal food for diabetics). Other popular recipes include preparations with curry, deep fried with peanuts or other ground nuts, and pachi pulusu, a soup with fried onions and other spices.In Tamil Nadu a special preparation in Brahmins’ cuisine called ‘pagarkai pitla’.

In Pakistan and Bangladesh, bitter melon is often cooked with onions, red chili powder, turmeric powder, salt, coriander powder, and a pinch of cumin seeds. Another dish in Pakistan calls for whole, unpeeled bitter melon to be boiled and then stuffed with cooked ground beef, served with either hot tandoori bread, naan, chappati, or with khichri (a mixture of lentils and rice).

Bitter melon is a significant ingredient in Okinawan cuisine, and is increasingly used in mainland Japan. It is popularly credited with

A small green bitter melon

Okinawan life expectancies being higher than the already long Japanese ones.

In Indonesia, bitter melon is prepared in various dishes, such as gado-gado, and also stir fried, cooked in coconut milk, or steamed.

In Vietnam, raw bitter melon slices consumed with dried meat floss and bitter melon soup with shrimp are popular dishes. Bitter melons stuffed with ground pork are served as a popular summer soup in the South. It is also used as the main ingredient of “stewed bitter melon”. This dish is usually cooked for the Tết holiday, where its “bitter” name is taken as a reminder of the poor living conditions experienced in the past.

In the Philippines, bitter melon may be stir-fried with ground beef and oyster sauce, or with eggs and diced tomato. The dish pinakbet, popular in the Ilocos region of Luzon, consists mainly of bitter melons, eggplant, okra, string beans, tomatoes, lima beans, and other various regional vegetables altogether stewed with a little bagoong-based stock.

In Nepal, bitter melon is prepared as a fresh pickle called achar. For this the bitter gourd is cut into cubes or slices and sautéed covered in oil and a sprinkle of water. When it is softened and reduced, it is minced in a mortar with a few cloves of garlic, salt and a red or green pepper. It is also sauteed to golden-brown, stuffed, or as a curry on its own or with potatoes.

In Trinidad and Tobago, bitter melons are usually sauteed with onion, garlic and scotch bonnet pepper until almost crisp.

Bitter melon has been used in various Asian and African traditional medicine systems for a long time.in Turkey it has been used as a folk remedy for a variety of ailments, particularly stomach complaints. The fruit is broken up and soaked in either olive oil or honey.

In 1962, Lolitkar and Rao extracted from the plant a substance, which they called charantin, which had hypoglycaemic effect on normal and diabetic rabbits. Another principle, active only on diabetic rabbits, was isolated by Visarata and Ungsurungsie in 1981. Bitter melon has been found to increase insulin sensitivity. In 2007, a study by the Philippine Department of Health determined that a daily dose of 100 mg per kilogram of body weight is comparable to 2.5 mg/kg of the anti-diabetes drug glibenclamide taken twice per day. Tablets of bitter melon extract are sold in the Philippines as a food supplement and exported to many countries.

Other compounds in bitter melon have been found to activate the AMPK, the protein that regulates glucose uptake (a process which is impaired in diabetics

Bitter melon also contains a lectin that has insulin-like activity due to its non-protein-specific linking together to insulin receptors. This lectin lowers blood glucose concentrations by acting on peripheral tissues and, similar to insulin’s effects in the brain, suppressing appetite. This lectin is likely a major contributor to the hypoglycemic effect that develops after eating bitter melon.

Two compounds extracted from bitter melon, α-eleostearic acid (from seeds) and 15,16-dihydroxy-α-eleostearic acid (from the fruit) have been found to induce apoptosis of leukemia cells in vitro. Diets containing 0.01% bitter melon oil (0.006% as α-eleostearic acid) were found to prevent azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis in rats.

Researchers at Saint Louis University claims that an extract from bitter melon, commonly eaten and known as karela in India, causes a chain of events which helps to kill breast cancer cells and prevents them from multiplying.

Bitter melon has been used in traditional medicine for several other ailments, including dysentery, colic, fevers, burns, painful menstruation, scabies and other skin problems. It has also been used as abortifacient, for birth control, and to help childbirth.

Calendar for June 21st, 2011 Summer Solstice

June 21, 2011 at 12:31 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Summer Solstice

The summer solstice heralds the beginning of summer. The timing of the solstice depends on when the Sun reaches its farthest point north of the equator. This occurs annually on June 20 or June 21 in North America, depending on your time zone. The word solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop), reflecting the fact that the Sun appears to stop at this time (and again at the winter solstice). In temperate regions, we notice that the Sun is higher in the sky throughout the day, and its rays strike Earth at a more direct angle, causing the efficient warming we call summer. In the winter, just the opposite occurs: The Sun is at its southernmost point and is low in the sky. Its rays hit the Northern Hemisphere at an oblique angle, creating the feeble winter sunlight.

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