Articles in Fruit
Summer Sundays, my mother, who hated the kitchen, would take down a box of Jell-O from the cupboard and declare “Jell-O time,” to the delight of my sister and me. We loved Jell-O. It wiggled and it wobbled, sometimes falling off the spoon but always making us smile. Mom loved Jell-O too, but more because it was convenient and let her make quick desserts. This was especially important when the weather was warm; less time in the kitchen meant more time for the three of us at the beach or camping out under the maple in the back garden and reading (while Dad happily made supper).
Mom had two favorite ways of “preparing” Jell-O for dessert: with canned fruit suspended in it or with canned milk beaten into the Jell-O when it was almost set. She also had two favorite ways of topping it: with a spoonful of Cool Whip (yum) or with a layer of custard made by adding milk to a few teaspoons of orange-colored powder that came from a can (less yum to me, as I never ceased to annoy her by excavating the shimmering layer and abandoning the custard).
Jellied desserts have always been popular, but in recent years they have experienced a renaissance. Yet despite different tastes and presentations, the enduring qualities of gelatin remain; it wiggles and it wobbles, and it makes you smile.
History of jellied desserts
Jellied desserts have long had their allure.
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Sweet jellies were important in Tudor and Stewart feasts. When not dispatching wives and involved in other nefarious things, Henry VIII delighted guests with gilded rosewater jelly at Garter Banquets (the Order of the Garter was the highest order of chivalry in England, dedicated to England’s patron saint, St. George). Such jellies were status symbols because sugar was so expensive and only available to the wealthy.
Renaissance chefs created molded masterpieces such as castles and fortresses for their wealthy patrons, and later, in the 19th century, molded jellies were all the rage again. Making them, like making any jelly before commercialized gelatin was invented, was time-consuming because bones had to be boiled and the liquid clarified and cooled to make the gelatin.
Fruit jellies that focused on the flavor of the fruit became popular in the 20th century. In her book “Kitchen Essays” (1922), a compilation of the essays she wrote for the London Times newspaper, Lady Agnes Jekyll writes, “For sweets, nothing is nicer than this specially good Orange Jelly … soft and shapeless, of the color of a blood orange, and really tasting of the fruit.”
Commercialization of gelatin
The first commercial gelatin came in sheets that required a long soaking before use, but in 1889, Charles B. Knox of Johnstown, N.Y., developed a method of granulating gelatin. In doing so, he turned gelatin into an easy-to-use ingredient that the home cook (not my mom) could turn to for fancy desserts.
That same year, Pearle Wait, a carpenter in LeRoy, N.Y., sold his formula for Jell-O to Orator Frank Woodward. Two years earlier, Wait had come up with the fruit-flavored dessert, and his wife, May, gave it its now iconic name.
After Knox died in 1908, his wife, Rose, set up a test kitchen and developed recipes — printed on Knox gelatin packages and in cookbooks — for the home cook. The recipes also appeared in newspapers and magazines under the heading “Mrs. Knox Says.”
The marketers of Jell-O, also wanting to show how versatile their product was and created free recipe booklets; one booklet had a printing of 15 million copies.
Making jellied desserts
Although jellied desserts are not difficult to make, the wrong ingredient or misjudging the strength of the gelatin may leave you with a sweet, slightly thickened “drink.”
Avoid using fresh pineapple because it contains bromelain, a chemical with protein-digesting enzymes that break down the gelatin’s protein links, resulting in the gelatin not setting. Because heating the enzymes inactivates them, canned pineapple (heated during canning) won’t ruin a jellied dessert. (When Mom wanted to make a special dessert for company, she combined lemon Jell-O, whipped cream and canned pineapple; once, though, she substituted fresh pineapple and had to serve “lemon Jell-O soup” at the end of the meal, much to her chagrin.)
Alcohol can also affect gelatin’s setting properties, but experimenting with the amount of gelatin in a recipe that calls for alcohol can overcome this problem. If using alcohol, consider light and sparkling wines paired with seasonal fruit and present in lovely dishes or wine glasses.
Non-alcoholic jellies can be made in different colors and layered in molds that will delight children, or let each color of jelly set in a glass pan and then cut it into different shapes and arrange on plates.
Perhaps we are all children at heart when it comes to jellied desserts. They wiggle and they wobble and they still make us smile.
Sparkling White Wine Jelly With Blueberries and Strawberries
This beautiful and simple dessert has the added sweetness of fresh berries.
3 cups sparkling white wine
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
¾ cup white granulated sugar
½ cup water
½ cup fresh blueberries (wash, pat dry and leave whole)
½ cup washed and hulled strawberries (pat dry and slice thinly)
1. Pour 1 cup of wine into a small bowl and sprinkle the three envelopes of gelatin over it. Let the gelatin soften for 5 minutes.
2. Place sugar in a small saucepan, add ½ cup water and bring slowly to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 1 minute and then pour over the gelatin-wine mixture. Stir to dissolve the gelatin.
3. Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat slowly until the liquid is clear. Remove from the heat and add the remaining wine.
4. Pour the mixture into a medium size bowl, cover and refrigerate until it has thickened enough to add the berries (1½ to 2 hours).
5. Gently stir the berries into the thickened jelly and divide the mixture between 4 serving dishes. Chill until set.
6. Serve with whipped cream.
Rosé wine makes a lovely pink jelly in which to suspend jewel-toned fruit.
For a more tart dessert, substitute cranberries for the blueberries and strawberries. Add ½ cup fresh and washed cranberries to the sugar and water mixture. Dissolve the sugar slowly and when the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat and cook gently for 5 minutes, then continue with the recipe’s instructions.
For an opaque dessert, whip ⅓ cup whipping cream until stiff and fold into the thickened jelly when you add the berries, then pour into serving dishes and chill until set.
For a non-alcoholic dessert, substitute 3 cups of fruit punch for the wine and then continue with the recipe’s instructions.
Top photo: A gelatin fruit salad. Credit: iStockPhoto
Let’s take a poll. If I say the word “canning” what comes to mind? From my experience, your mental images would fall into one of three categories: grannies, a skull and cross bones levels of danger, or the sleeve tattoos and multiple piercings of hip DIYers. Canning and other forms of home food preservation have an image problem.
As for my basement? Don’t get me wrong, there’s some neat stuff down there (quarts of tomatoes, some tangy chutneys and pickles, a few fall squashes still hanging on), but “Hoarders” it is not.
Everyone should learn to preserve their own food
Teaching home cooks how to preserve food is often seen as folly, a luxury technique for those who have extra time on their hands. But we eaters are in a cooking crisis right now. There are segments of our population that cannot feed themselves for lack of basic kitchen skills. Expecting people to preserve might seem, initially, like asking the starving not just to eat cake, but to decorate it, too. But preserving foods is a reliable, economical and useful means of preparing seasonal ingredients. It has served the home cook for generations and can do so again.
When I was growing up, my grandmother canned, dried and fermented everything that came out of her garden. She put up her tomatoes, dried her herbs, made tremendous dill pickles and even her own wine. She didn’t do this because she was a gourmand. She did it because she was poor. For her, it was insurance; she was essentially building her own food bank every summer so that when things got tight in the winter, there was not only good food to eat, but some delight to be had as well.
In the early 1900s “Tomato Girl” clubs taught women how to can tomatoes and imparted the business skills needed to turn canned goods into profit-generating enterprises. The women of these clubs grew their own crops and processed, packaged and sold their produce to help support their families. The clubs were often the doorway to business and educational experiences unattainable to most women at the time.
In an era when economic pressures are driving more of our citizens toward food insecurity, and the increasing cost of fuel will limit our ability to ship food as widely as we do currently, preserving our own food could be part of the solution to a more stable, sustainable and equitable
Benefits of preserving your own food
Preserving food is practical. It minimizes waste. Think of how much food is discarded at the farmers market, the grocery store and in our gardens because it went bad before it could be eaten. The famously prolific zucchini doesn’t have to wind up in the compost pile; you can turn it into pickles. Berries that are starting to fade make a terrific sauce when cooked down with a little sugar.
Preserving food at the peak of its season evens out uneven production, providing for eaters when fields are fallow.
Preserving saves energy. Canned, fermented and dried foods can be stored without refrigeration.
Preserved foods provide income. They can be sold as added-value products by farmers and community gardens. If this business model is out of reach, food swaps and barter exchanges transform preserved foods into a kind of currency that helps eaters stock up on great tasting home-crafted foods.
Preserving protects food sovereignty. Just as victory gardens fed our nation in wartime, community and school gardens can help build our individual and our national food independence.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be a deep DIY kind of a guy or gal to preserve your own food. (Though I can’t imagine you would earn your “Portlandia” badge without it.) It’s just a simple thing we can do to feed ourselves.
Photo: Sherri Brooks Vinton. Credit: Chris Bartlett
Seville, to most people, suggests Spain’s shimmering heat, smoldering flamenco, Moorish architecture, Bizet’s “Carmen” and terrific tapas. To most Brits, Seville means oranges. The trees adorn the city’s streets, their leaves deep green and glossy, their branches heavy with fruit in January and February. These are bitter oranges, Citrus aurantium var. amaro, not the sort to squeeze for juice but the kind destined for orange marmalade, that indispensable, bittersweet component of any self-respecting British breakfast.
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Citrus fruits are thought to have landed on Mediterranean shores during the 10th century via a circuitous route from China. The Romans — responsible for many of the finest fundaments of European food and wine — brought them to Spain, and the Arabs planted them widely throughout Al-Andaluz (modern-day Andalusia) both for ornamental and edible use.
From about 1770 — soon after James Lind made a groundbreaking discovery that citrus fruits helped prevent scurvy among sailors — regular shipments of oranges began to arrive in Britain thanks to the MacAndrews shipping line, whose small, speedy schooners plied regularly between Liverpool and Seville. By the mid-19th century, MacAndrews was specializing in citrus transport between Britain and the Iberian Peninsula.
In 1929, the year of the Ibero-Americana Exhibition, Seville’s streets sprouted yet more orange trees. They received a further boost in the 1960s, when the bitter orange became the firmly established urban tree of choice, valued for its compact size, its vibrant fruits and its exotically perfumed flowers.
Choice of the Brits: Seville orange marmalade
By the 1970s there were said to be about 5,000 trees; nowadays there are estimated to be more than 25,000. The trees are loved by the Sevillanos for their beauty, their fragrance and — not least — for the shade they cast in summer when temperatures regularly climb to 40 C (104 F). But the fruit is hardly used at all locally. Instead, about 90% of the crop goes to the U.K. for marmalade.
There are many recipes, but this one, which involves boiling the whole fruit before shredding it and cooking it down to a rich consistency with sugar, is simple and delicious. Bitter oranges are indispensable; sweet oranges, or even a mix of sweet with lemons, will not give the same result. In Europe they have a short season, though in the U.S. and Mexico the window is longer. You can also find them online or at Caribbean or Mexican markets (naranjas agrias in Spanish).
Seville Orange Marmalade
You can break down this recipe into several steps, timing each to your convenience. First, cook the fruit whole until soft, then cut in half, remove and reserve the pith and pips (they will contribute pectin that helps with setting) and shred the peel. Finally, boil the whole thing with water and sugar until it reaches the setting point.
Makes 8 (1-pound) jars
3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) Seville oranges (about 12)
9 cups (2 kilograms) white sugar
2¼ cups (500 grams) brown sugar
1. Wash the fruit. Put it whole in a preserving pan and add enough water to cover it by about 2 inches.
2. Bring to a boil and simmer until the oranges are quite soft and a fingernail will easily pierce the rind, about 1 hour.
3. Lift the fruit out of the water with a slotted spoon, and pour the water into a measuring jug.
4. Cut the fruit in half, scoop out all the pith and pips.
5. Put pith and pips in a small square of muslin, close up into a bag and tie tightly with string.
6. Chop the rind (finely or coarsely, as you wish) and put it back in the pan.
7. Measure out 8 cups (2 liters) of reserved cooking liquid, adding more if necessary to bring it up to the quantity needed.
8. Pour the liquid over the chopped rind and drop in the bag of pith and pips.
9. Add the white sugar and brown sugar, stir and bring the pan to a rolling boil. It should boil vigorously, but watch so it doesn’t boil over.
10. Put a small, empty saucer in the freezer to check the setting point.
11. Boil marmalade for 40 minutes to 1 hour — precise timing depends on your heat source — or until the marmalade is reduced by about one-third and the last drops from a spoon will fall away slightly stickily. Test for setting by tipping a little into the chilled saucer and draw a finger through the marmalade; it should leave a distinct channel (like Moses parting the Red Sea) and the surface of the marmalade will wrinkle slightly. If it does not, continue to boil.
12. Once the setting point is reached, pour the marmalade into clean, warm jars and cover while still hot.
Top photo: Jars of Seville orange marmalade. Credit: Sue Style
Winter citrus is as natural as can be, even though it seems like the fruit ought to be showing up in summer. Mingled among the honey tangerines, Satsuma mandarins and bags of trademarked Cuties is an unusual cross, the minneola. It’s a combination of the mandarin tangerine and a grapefruit.
The skin of the minneola is dark orange and nubby. Not perfectly round, its stem end tapers into a shape resembling a nipple. Minneola juice is darker than orange or tangerine juice. Its taste is rich but not very acidic.
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I love using minneola juice in lots of things, such as for deglazing liquid for braised pork chops or chicken. My favorite recipe is an old-fashioned frozen soufflé. The recipe calls for several specialized cooking techniques, including making custard, using gelatin, and folding egg snows and whipped cream together.
For perfect custard bases, use a double boiler, preferably one that is enamel-coated and heavy enough to provide some protection to yolk-based mixtures. To avoid curdling, do not overheat custards. Curdling is an irreversible condition in which yolks are heated beyond their coagulation point.
Be sure to keep a strainer on hand. If by chance lumps form, strain them immediately. Do not return the custard to the heat.
Overbeaten egg whites are the downfall of many a soufflé. In cold soufflés, properly beaten whites act as a binder, while hot soufflés would not rise without them. Eggs separate more easily when they’re cold, but for the most volume, beat whites after they’ve come to room temperature. Wait until some foaming has set in before beginning to add sugar in a trickle.
Cold soufflés like this one usually contain whipped cream. This, too, should not be overbeaten. Nor, for that matter, should whipped cream be over-folded into a soufflé base. If, after folding for some time, tiny lumps of white still remain, let them show. And instead of using a rubber spatula for folding, try a wooden spatula. It’s got drag that pulls the mixture along, making it likely you’ll need fewer strokes.
Best of all, a cold soufflé is a make-ahead dish. Store in the freezer, then withdraw at the end of a dinner party, ready to go. Decorate with optional whipped cream flowers and candied pieces of minneola peel, remove the collar and dessert is served.
Frozen Minneola Soufflé
2 tablespoons gelatin
¼ cup water
About 7 minneolas
1 tablespoon finely minced minneola zest
1½ cups strained, fresh-squeezed minneola (or tangerine) juice
6 eggs, separated (you will need 6 yolks and 4 egg whites)
¾ cup sugar
⅔ cup additional sugar, divided
1¼ cups heavy cream
Whipped cream for garnish (optional)
Candied minneola peel for garnish (recipe below)
1. In a small bowl, stir the gelatin in the water. Set aside.
2. Take zest off about three minneolas using a 5-hole zester, or by scraping minneolas on the finest side of a box grater, or use a planer, until you have 1 tablespoon. Juice enough minneolas, straining the juice, until you have 1½ cups juice. Set zest and juice aside.
3. To make the minneola base, separate the yolks, reserving 4 egg whites. Beat the yolks and the ¾ cup sugar on high speed until pale yellow and thick, about 2 minutes. Transfer the yolks to the top of a double-boiler. Add softened gelatin, stirring until combined. Cook over simmering water until hot and thick, about 20 minutes.
4. With a rubber spatula, scrape this custard into a large bowl. Whisk in the zest and minneola juice, combining thoroughly. Chill, uncovered, stirring two or three times, until base begins to gel, about 1 hour.
5. Meanwhile, butter a 6-cup soufflé dish. Make a collar of a folded length of wax paper or parchment paper. Butter the collar. Wrap this collar around the soufflé dish, secure with tape, then tie tightly with string. Sprinkle inside the dish and up the collar with granulated sugar.
6. Beat egg whites until foamy. Trickle in half the remaining sugar (⅓ cup) while continuing to beat whites to stiff peaks. Fold whites into gelled minneola base. Return to refrigerator.
7. Beat the cream, gradually adding the remaining ⅓ cup sugar until cream forms stiff peaks. Fold cream into soufflé base.
8. Scrape soufflé mixture into prepared soufflé dish. Freeze 4 hours or overnight. Snip string and peel off collar. Decorate with whipped cream piped from a star tip. Sprinkle with candied minneola peel.
Candied Minneola Peel
¼ cup water
½ cup sugar, plus more for dusting
1. With a sharp knife, gently scrape away white pith from peels of minneolas. Cut peels lengthwise into thin strips, then into small squares.
2. In a small pot, bring water and sugar to a boil. Stir until sugar dissolves.
3. Add peel. Simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Scoop pieces of sugared peel out of the pot with a small strainer to a sheet of wax paper. Roll warm peel in additional sugar for a light dusting.
You can make these a day ahead and store cooled candied peel in a small bowl covered with wax paper.
Minneola frozen soufflé. Credit: Elaine Corn
Cultures all around the world have rejuvenating herbal tonics, taken to strengthen and support the body. Think of the spring tonics our grandparents knew and swore by. A number of these elixirs are also aphrodisiacs, employed to arouse our emotions and feelings of love. With Valentine’s Day coming up, what better time to give them a try?
Botanical aphrodisiacs are often highly-prized and costly (ginseng, for example), but the romantic cocktails, cupcakes and sorbet (we got inventive!) below call for five main ingredients that are inexpensive and readily available in the U.S.
Aphrodisiac list to remember
Each has a cultural tradition of promoting health and well being while also supporting libido: Ashwagandha, native to India; damiana, found in Central and South America; horny goat weed from China; maca from Peru; and schisandra from China. All can be obtained as organic dried herbs or powders from Starwest Botanicals. Many are also available from Frontier Coop. Organic fairly-traded Ayurvedic herbs can be found at Banyan Botanicals, and if you’d like to try growing any of these plants yourself, Horizon Herbs can supply seeds.
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» Click here for a chance to win both "Aphrodisia" and "Kitchen Medicine" by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal.
You may be inspired to try these treats for Valentine’s day but remember they can be enjoyed any time, alone or with a partner. Here’s to health and pleasure!
Evening Energizing Cocoa
Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, a relative of the tomato, is one of the most important tonic and restorative herbs in Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life and medicine. In India, ashwagandha root is traditionally boiled in milk as a drink. It has a slightly bitter taste, so we like to combine it with cocoa to make a relaxing and restorative evening drink, adding the aphrodisiac effects of chocolate to that of the ashwagandha.
½ to 1 teaspoons ashwagandha powder
2 teaspoons cocoa powder (or to taste)
¼ teaspoon cardamom powder
1 cup milk or almond milk per person
10 drops vanilla essence
honey or maple syrup to taste
1. Mix dry ingredients in a saucepan.
2. Add milk and bring just to the boil, then remove from heat.
3. Add in the vanilla and sweetener to taste.
* * *
Damiana Iced Tea
Damiana, Turnera diffusa, is a tonic herb found in Texas, Central America and tropical parts of South America. Damiana is a tonic for both sexes, balancing hormones and supporting the nervous system as well as increasing libido.
2 heaped teaspoons damiana
1 heaped teaspoon mint
some rose petals
1. Put ingredients into a jug.
2. Pour boiling water on them, brew for 5 minutes.
3. Strain and chill.
4. Serve over ice.
* * *
Horny Goat Weed Liqueur
Horny goat weed, or Epimedium, is an herb worth trying for the name alone. It is grown as ground-cover plant in dry shade, and the species used as aphrodisiacs are Epimedium grandiflorum, E. sagittatum and E. brevicornum. The leaves, which can be used fresh or dried, have a pleasant mild taste and a mild stimulant effect.
Makes about two weeks’ supply for one person.
A handful of dried horny goat weed leaves
A slice or two of orange
3 or 4 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon brown sugar
About a cup of whisky
1. Loosely fill a jam jar (roughly ½ pint size) with the dry ingredients
2. Pour in enough whisky to fill the jar and submerge the contents.
3. Put the jar in a warm dark place for two weeks then strain and bottle.
4. Enjoy a small liqueur glassful, sipped slowly, as and when you wish.
* * *
Maca Cupcakes With Vanilla Fudge Icing
Maca, Lepidium meyenii, looks a bit like a turnip and is a staple in the high Andes. Its strengthening and hormone balancing benefits are cumulative over long periods, though some people find it immediately stimulating. The powder smells like butterscotch, but blander and with a slightly bitter taste. Maca can be added to porridge, breads and cakes. Our favorite maca recipe is for these cupcakes. Matthew loves the combination of hard, sweet icing, a soft, light cake and sensuous strawberry melting in the mouth.
Makes 10 to 12 cupcakes
Ingredients for cupcakes
½ tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon corn syrup or honey
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup light brown sugar
½ cup milk or oat milk
1 cup white flour
2 tablespoons maca powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
½ teaspoon baking soda
1. Warm vinegar, corn syrup, butter and sugar together in a pan.
2. When softened, beat until mixture becomes a creamy batter.
3. In another container, mix milk, flour and maca powder.
4. When well blended into a runny batter, pour over the cake batter.
5. Mix the two batters together to form a semi-liquid mixture.
6. Pour into 10 or 12 muffin cases.
7. Bake at 180 C (350 F) for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden on top and cooked through.
8. Cool, and add icing, as below.
Vanilla Fudge Icing
For 10 or 12 cupcakes
1 teaspoon butter
1½ cups sugar
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
10 small, very ripe strawberries
1. Melt butter and sugar in a saucepan.
2. Add milk and stir continually until it reaches boiling point.
3. Continue cooking until the mixture arrives at the soft ball stage (115 C, 240 F).
4. Cool a little, add vanilla extract and beat until smooth.
5. Spread on the cup cakes.
6. If the icing gets too stiff, warm it over hot water.
7. Decorate the top of each cupcake with a small, very ripe strawberry while the icing is still soft.
* * *
Schisandra Syrup and Sorbet
Schisandra, Schisandra chinensis, berries are the fruit of a Chinese vine in the magnolia family and are known as “five flavor berries” for their complex taste. Besides their aphrodisiac effect, they promote overall health and vitality, improve memory and concentration and help protect the liver, support the endocrine system and act as a powerful antioxidant.
Ingredients for syrup
1 cup schisandra berries
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
1. Put schisandra berries into a pan.
2. Add the water and simmer gently with the lid on for 30–40 minutes.
3. This stage is complete when the berries have given their brown-black color to the water.
4. Allow to cool for a few minutes.
5. When almost cool, put in blender and blend for a few moments.
6. Strain through a sieve.
7. Add sugar, and bring to a boil, cooking for a couple of minutes longer.
8. Allow to cool, giving a rich syrup
Ingredients for sorbet
1 cup schisandra syrup (as above)
Juice of 2 or 3 oranges, freshly squeezed
1 ripe banana
1. Mix the syrup and orange juice.
2. Peel and slice the banana and freeze it.
3. When frozen or nearly frozen, add the banana to the syrup mix.
4. Beat with a hand blender until creamy, then freeze again.
5. Serve in a chilled dish.
Top photo: Ashwaganda. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal
John McPhee once wrote a little book about oranges — a subject of no great consequence, but McPhee brought the humble breakfast fruit to life with engaging dexterity, the kind of masterful treatment that we’ve come to expect of him since. The book was called, with admirable candor, “Oranges.” In 1975, when it was published, orange juice meant reconstituted frozen concentrate, which it still does in an unfortunately large segment of the country. And an orange was simply an orange, identified only as being from California (for eating) or Florida (for juice). McPhee, I recall, mentioned blood oranges but said that no one in Florida, where he did most of his research, would grow them — there was no market, growers said, because of the name.
I first encountered blood oranges in Spain, back when McPhee was still gathering string, as freelancers say, down in Florida. For me, raised on Valencia juice oranges and occasional California navels, they were a revelation. Brilliantly colored, both in the flesh and on the skin, with flashes of red that range from sunset pink to deep mahogany, they have a sharp, tantalizing, tartly honeyed flavor that is about as far from the overwhelming sweetness of a Florida Valencia as you can get. Squeezed into a glass, the juice may look, from a distance, like tomato juice, or perhaps a glass of red wine.
The science of color
The color comes from anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants also called bioflavonoids, and they’re similar to those found in blueberries, beets, cherries, pomegranates and other fruits and vegetables deeply colored in the orange-red-purple spectrum. Cold nights in the orange groves — the low 40s or even the high 30s — force the development of anthocyanins, which in turn produce the vivid coloring. But only in blood oranges, which are notably higher in vitamin C than any others of their clan. (Expose a Valencia orange to cold and you simply reduce its growth rate.)
Plant scientists tell us what any Sicilian knows — the best place for blood oranges to experience that temperature variation is on the slopes of Mt. Etna, where the dark, mineral-rich volcanic soil contributes to their complex flavors. Blood oranges are now grown in many parts of the world, if not always with the singular results of Sicilian harvests. They can be found in supermarket produce sections even in Maine, where I live in the winter. There are actually three varieties available in Mediterranean markets — the tarocco, greatly favored in Sicily where it’s practically a native, the moro, so-called because it has the darkest and richest red color of them all, and the sanguinello, “little bloody” — the name tells you all you need to know.
A blood orange by any name
But in U.S. markets you’ll probably find the produce simply offered as blood oranges, not by a varietal name. No matter what they’re called, they are easily recognizable by the deep red blush, or splash of color, that bathes the orange skin. When the orange is cut in half, you’ll see radiant streaks of red, sometimes covering all the flesh, sometimes in vibrant flashes like the sun’s rays. For the science behind this, here’s an interesting post from the American Society of Plant Biologists.
The best way to experience blood oranges is juiced, a total revelation. Have it on its own, add a splash of vodka for Sunday brunch, or top it with prosecco or Champagne for a mimosa. There is also a respectable tradition of using blood oranges in salads in southern Italy and in Spain. Don’t even think about your grandmother’s mandarin salad with canned orange segments and dessicated coconut. No, these are made up of ingredients that, while seeming odd at first, are so right together you start to think they may have been ordained by the goddess of oranges, whoever she is. The recipes combine thinly sliced oranges with almost paper-thin slivers of red onion and chunks of black olives. The final element, which is the most peculiar and possibly the most difficult to embrace, is some form of salted fish, either anchovies or salt cod.
If you try to leave the salted fish out, I think you’ll find something is missing. The salad is dressed with juice from the oranges and of course olive oil, one robust enough to stand up to the combination of strong flavors — sweet, tangy oranges, salty fish and olives, and pungent red onions. A Spanish picual such as Castillo de Canena’s, or a full-bodied Sicilian or Tuscan oil will be best with this. That, and a few drops of aged red wine vinegar — or true aceto balsamico tradizionale, if you can afford it — just to emphasize the flavors of the orange, and there you are. Perfect for a winter lunch.
Sicilian Orange and Red Onion Salad (Insalata di Arance)
A similar salad from southern Spain uses shredded dried cod instead of the anchovies. If you like that idea, simply desalinate the cod in water for 24 to 48 hours, then dry and grill it over a direct flame (gas or, better yet, in your fireplace) until it is toasted; shred it and use in place of the anchovies below.
Makes 2 servings
4 small oranges, preferably Sicilian tarocco blood oranges
12 to 16 black olives, preferably salt-cured, pitted and halved
4 very thin slices red onion
6 anchovy fillets
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, preferably Sicilian new-harvest oil
¼ to ½ teaspoon aged red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Peel the oranges thoroughly, cutting away the white pith as well as the outside membrane that covers the orange. Slice the oranges (as thin as you can manage) on a plate to catch the juices.
2. Arrange the orange slices in a circle on a serving dish or on two salad plates. Distribute the black olive halves over the top, then the red onion slices, and finally arrange the anchovy fillets over the top.
3. Pour the orange juice over the top of the salad, holding back any seeds. Spoon the olive oil over the salad and then sprinkle with a very little vinegar and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. (A few drops of aceto balsamico tradizionale will add a touch of elegance.)
4. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature to let the flavors develop for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Note: If you cannot find blood oranges, use ordinary Florida juice oranges, but taste them before using. Tangy acidic oranges are to be preferred over sweet navel oranges, but if navels are all you can get, add lemon juice to taste to the orange juice on the plate.
Photo: Blood oranges. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins
It’s no secret that cider is booming. It is the fastest-growing sector of alcohol sales in the United States, with a more than 50% increase in the last year alone. After a century of decline, cider is showing sudden new growth, like an apple tree that lies long dormant and suddenly bursts into bloom. The popularity of craft apple cider is not a new phenomenon, but a return to America’s roots.
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In colonial days, cider was the most popular drink in America. John Adams drank a tankard of cider before breakfast every morning. Thomas Jefferson made enormous batches of cider every year from apples that he grew in his orchards at Monticello.
The majority of this cider is what’s known as industrial cider, cider made in large batches, and often made by beer companies. But there’s a steadily growing craft cider movement that depends not on massive sales but on small batches of carefully made product. The soul of cider rests in this craft cider movement, and my husband and I were determined to figure out how cider makers are bringing back the cider that helped feed Americans since Colonial times.
Terroir: Not just for wine
“Apple cider is wine,” Chuck Shelton said. “It’s not beer.” Shelton’s family owns Albemarle Ciderworks in North Garden, Va., less than 15 miles from Jefferson’s Monticello. On a rainy December morning, my husband and I visited the tasting room at Albemarle and sat down to talk with Shelton and operations associate Thomas Unsworth.
Shelton and Unsworth spent hours talking to us about the history of cider in their cozy office, schooling us on the basics of cider making. When we asked about the difference between “hard cider” and “sweet cider,” Shelton smiled and said, “We don’t use the term ‘hard cider.’ It’s cider! The real problem is educating people to understand what real cider is.”
Cider is fermented fruit, like wine. It’s not a fermented sugar from malted barley, which we know as beer. Making cider is very much like making wine. It depends on terroir, the term wine makers use to describe the soil, weather conditions, farming practices and winemaking style that give each wine its own unique personality. Often loosely translated from the French as “a sense of place,” terroir makes a wine what it is. The same can be said for cider-making.
To make a point, Thomas disappeared and returned with a glass of a light brown opaque liquid that turned out to be juice from a pressing of Winesap apples made only a few days earlier. The juice Thomas offered us was made from sweet, fresh heirloom apples grown with care and picked when fully ripe. This cider was — and ready to drink the moment it was pressed. My husband, a California native, described it as “thick, sweet, and nutritious feeling.” I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and this juice tasted like home to me. I don’t know a lot about cider or wine, but I growing up in the apple capital of Virginia means I know a fair amount about how apple juice should taste. This was the real deal.
Next, Thomas offered us a glass of their newest cider blend, a mixture of Winesap and Albemarle Pippins, which is scheduled for release in February under the name Red Hill. I’d never tasted anything quite like it. As I mulled over this unique new flavor, we continued our tour into the processing room full of gleaming metal tanks and past the old-fashioned press that Shelton had used in his early cider experiments. We ended up in the tasting room, where we ran into Shelton’s 92-year-old father, Bud. The elder Shelton talked to us about the humble origins of his family’s orchard, which began as his own retirement project. It apparently isn’t much of a retirement. He still drove the tractor in the previous week’s pressing, which netted nearly 1,600 gallons of fresh cider that would soon start its three- to four-week fermentation process.
Rooted in Virginia tradition
While we chatted, a friendly young woman named Jennifer served us three varieties of Albemarle’s cider: Royal Pippin, Jupiter’s Legacy and Ragged Mountain. My favorite was Royal Pippin, a single varietal made entirely from Albemarle Pippin apples. It’s common practice to make cider from a variety of apples to provide different flavor notes. But there’s something magical about the terroir of central Virginia that allows Albemarle Pippins to stand on their own. Several craft cideries in Virginia make a single varietal with this apple. Castle Hill Cider in Keswick makes one known as Levity. Jefferson himself grew Albemarle Pippins and created cider that was described as “champagne-like,” which is how I would describe Royal Pippin.
Perhaps it’s the purist in me, but I’m a sucker for Royal Pippin, which tasted like the real deal to me. I thought about Shelton and the life he’d created with his family on this farm. It too was the real deal, rooted in tradition and yet utterly unique.
Craft apple cider. Credit: Susan Lutz
Zester Daily readers have shown an appreciation for a stunning variety of stories over the past year. A quick scan of the 2012 reader favorites reveals a yen for Ruth Bourdain’s dishes, cuisine from every corner of the world, food preservation, photography, films, wine insider news and a treasured recipe for flavored marshmallows — as well as a critique of American taste.
Snippets of the 12 most popular Zester Daily contributors’ stories, plus the five most popular Soapboxes, are below. Follow the story links to read the complete text. Follow the contributor links to read more by each author.
The stories are listed in reverse order.
Top contributors’ stories of 2012
12. THE ORIGINS OF CURRY by Raghavan Iyer: Before I try to define the word “curry,” let me create an image for you from my college laboratory days in India where I pursued a degree in chemistry over 20 years ago. As I busied myself measuring crystals of …
11. OLD-SCHOOL SOY SAUCE by Manuela Zoninsein: There’s no one right ritual or rule to guide your eating extravaganza on Jan. 23. The Chinese New Year involves a number of great food traditions. Dumplings are reminiscent of coins in ancient China and will thus bring …
10. TEN BEST FOODIE FLICKS by David Latt: If cold weather traps you indoors for months each winter, you might run through your queue of streaming movies pretty quick. Why not entertain yourself with a library of the best …
9. HOW KERMIT LYNCH TAUGHT AMERICANS HOW TO DRINK WINE by Patrick Comiskey: Forty years ago, Kermit Lynch abandoned the handmade purse industry and opened a wine shop in Berkeley, Calif., and in doing so, became one of the great innovators of …
8. WINE’S ACCUSED GRIFTER, RUDY KURNIAWAN by Corie Brown: By the summer of 2006, when I first noticed Rudy Kurniawan at Christie’s in Beverly Hills, he had transformed the market for old wine from a sleepy backwater into a high-stakes free-for-all. Only the richest wine collectors knew him. Or thought they did …
6. EATING TO BEAT CANCER: DIET MAY PROVE TO BE A CURE by Harriet Sugar Miller: Last night, it was cauliflower curry on a bed of leeks while my husband grilled his own slab of meat. The night before I ate solo — and downed an enormous bag of kale chips (please don’t tell him) flavored with cashew dust and too much …
4. IN DEFENSE OF TRUFFLE OIL by Lynne Curry: Midwinter is high season for fresh truffles in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. With the help of an experienced truffle hunter (or a trained dog), I could spend …
2. CANNING JARS FROM FAUX TO BEST PRESERVING CHOICES by Susan Lutz: About six months ago, I salvaged a beautiful marinara sauce jar that I intended to refill with home-canned sweet pickles made using my mother’s recipe. And if I hadn’t taken a 12-week course to become a certified Master Food Preserver, I might have …
1. FLAVORED MARSHMALLOWS MADE FROM SCRATCH by Charles Perry: When you hand people homemade marshmallows, they’re always dazzled. These are actual marshmallows, but with a lush, moist texture you never find in store-bought versions. If you want your friends to keep thinking you’re a wizard, don’t tell them how simple it is …
Top Soapboxes of 2012
5. DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS IS FOR AMERICANOS, TOO by Veronica Gonzalez-Smith: In the small town of El Paso, Texas, my siblings and I grew up at a unique intersection of Mexican and American culture. As kids, we traveled in and out of …
4. THE INFANTALIZATION OF AMERICAN TASTE by Michael Krondl: Though the plague of cupcake shops has not spared any city in this great union, it would be hard to find one that illustrates my point better than …
3. CALIFORNIA’S EXCITING NEW WINES BUCK THE MAINSTREAM by Eric Asimov: We live in the most wonderful era in history to love wine. Right now, Americans have access to a greater diversity of wines than ever before, wines made in more styles from more …
2. THE FORGOTTEN QUINCE by Jane McMorland Hunter: Nowadays most people hardly know what a quince looks like. Until the 19th century, it was a commonplace orchard fruit throughout North America and Europe; now it has become …
1. RUTH BOURDAIN DISSES AND DISHES WITH ZESTER by Ruth Bourdain: It’s been more than two years since the debut of Ruth Bourdain, the sensational and often raunchy Twitter persona whose name and sensibilities are a mashup/spoof of former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl and outspoken celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. The true identity of Ms. Bourdain is still under wraps, but her tweets show her to be ….
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And that’s our list for 2012 … Here’s to discovering Ms. Bourdain’s identity in 2013!
Photo illustration, clockwise from top left:
Ruth Bourdain. Credit: Ruth Bourdain
Indian spices (originally published in 660 Curries). Credit: Ben Fink
Homemade marshmallows dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Credit: StockFood
Photo illustration credit: Karen Chaderjian