Saturday, 30 June 2007
Kitchen Conundrum--fascinating facts to fibrillate your follicle
A Berry Good Summer
Blueberries prove that good things can come in small packages. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, blueberries are one of the richest sources of antioxidants, thanks to their anthocyanins — the compounds responsible for their blue hue. They're also a rich source of dietary fiber. But that's not all. Several studies indicate that the antioxidants in blueberries may aid in the prevention of cancer, heart disease, stroke, urinary tract infections, and memory disorders.
Most fresh supermarket blueberries are cultivated instead of wild. (You are more likely to find the wild variety canned or frozen.) They're typically available between the months of May and September, though you may be able to purchase imported blueberries during the rest of the year. When buying fresh blueberries, look for those that are deep blue with a chalky white appearance. They should move freely in their container. Avoid mushy berries or stained containers.
Blueberries are the least perishable of all berries and will last in the refrigerator for seven to 10 days. Make sure to remove any crushed or moldy berries before storing, and wash your berries before you are ready to eat them. You can also keep blueberries frozen for 10 months to a year.
Blueberries should be washed just before you eat them. Sort through your berries to remove any stems or unripened fruit.
Cherry pits have been found in Stone Age caves; perhaps our earliest ancestors, when not busy dodging angry mastodons, also had an appreciation for the cherry and its antioxidant properties, including an abundance of vitamins A, B, and C.
Russians enjoy cherry preserves in their tea; Germans distilled cherries into their brandy. Still others use them in cakes and pies, over ice cream, dried and diced into salads, as a garnish in their cocktail, sprinkled over soft cheese or soft and warm in the middle of an indulgent chocolate truffle. The question, really, isn’t what you can do with cherries- but what you can’t.
Your relationship with this luscious red fruit is more likely to be a bowl of cherries if you follow these do’s and don’ts in the purchase and use of cherries:
Always buy completely ripe cherries; unlike other stone fruits, cherries do not ripen off the tree.
Look for cherries that are plump and brightly colored; avoid those with blemishes, or which feel hard to the touch.
Cherries are highly perishable: their shelf life is about four days in the refrigerator. Use them promptly, or they will rot.
Cherries can be frozen; this is a good way to preserve both the fruit and its juice. Do not defrost cherries before using them to cook or bake, or you risk losing some of their succulent juice.
As with many plants in the Rosaceae family (including the apricot and the Japanese plum), cherry leaves are poisonous and should not be eaten.
Cherries and their juice are renowned for their ability to stain hands and clothing. For stained hands, rub lemon juice over the affected areas and rinse well with warm water. For clothing, apply any commercially common brand of stain remover directly to the stained portion of the material, wash in cold water and rest easy.
The oldest of the numerous plum varieties is thought to be Prunus salicina, known as Japanese plum although it was originally introduced to Japan from its native China. The European plum has been cultivated since ancient times and probably originated in central or south-eastern Europe. The Greeks imported plums from Syria and they were later introduced to northern Europe by the Romans.
Plums have been eaten in England for centuries. They were grown in the gardens of medieval monasteries and are referred to in the writings of Chaucer from the fourteenth century. The ever popular Victoria plum was first cultivated in Sussex in the 1840s.
The common European plum, Prunica domestica, is closely related to the cherry and is a member of the rose family (other members include the nectarine, peach, apricot and sloe).
Damsons and greengages are also types of plum, although in culinary usage the term plum is generally used exclusively to describe the sweeter varieties that can be eaten raw.
Plums are a good source of potassium, fibre and vitamins A and C. They are rich in antioxidants and also contain the amino acid tryptophan which is used by the body to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Plums should be plump, smooth and well coloured. Ripe plums yield to gentle pressure and have an inviting aroma. Firmer plums will ripen and soften at home. If you are going to be using plums in cooking, choose ones that are just on the firm side of ripe.
Keep unripe plums at room temperature to ripen. Ripe plums can be refrigerated for a few days (allow them to reach room temperature before eating). Plums freeze well; halve and remove the stones first to prevent the flavour from being impaired.
Plums should be washed before use. The skin is generally sharper than the flesh and it is often best to leave it on but, for a mellower, sweeter flavour, plums can be easily skinned as you would a tomato (cut a small cross in the skin and blanch in boiling water for 10 seconds before peeling).
Roasting, stewing or poaching are all excellent cooking methods.
Blackberries have grown across Asia, Europe and the Americas for tens of thousands of years. Archaeological records show that European inhabitants ate them as long ago as 8,000 BC.
During World War One, children in England were given time off school to collect blackberries for the production of juice that was sent to soldiers to help maintain health.
Today there are over 2,000 varieties found throughout the cooler regions of the world. Blackberries are more highly prized as a food in Britain and Northern Europe than anywhere else in the world.
Rubus fruticosus is the Latin name for the European blackberry, also known as bramble. Like the raspberry, it is an aggregate fruit and relative of the rose. It is a highly adaptable and fast-growing shrub, found in hedgerows, woodland, meadows and wasteland. It is a good pioneer species (early coloniser of a habitat) as it can grow in poor soil and its prickly stems help protect to other plants' young shoots from being eaten.
Blackberries are packed with antioxidants, including vitamin C and ellagic acid, which may provide protection against cancer and chronic disease. Their many tiny seeds make them a good source of fibre. They also contain salicylates, a group of analgesics that include the active substance in aspirin.
Wild blackberries have a depth of flavour rarely rivalled by cultivated varieties. Look for plump, dry, darkly-coloured fruit that are neither too firm nor too squishy. Check the bottom of the container for stains from soft and mushy berries. Trust your sense of smell to help you gauge quality and ripeness.
Keep blackberries dry and cool and eat within a day or two. Blackberries freeze well: spread unwashed berries in a single layer on a tray and freeze until solid before transferring to air-tight bags or containers. Blackberries vary in sweetness so vary the amount of sugar you add to recipes according to taste.