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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pears:

The pear is a member of the rose family of plants.  It is native to coastal and mildly temperate regions from western Europe and north Africa east right across Asia.  The shape of the pear in most species varies from globe-like to the classic pyriform  (pear-shape) of the European pear.   The pear and its close relative, the apple, cannot always  be distinguished by the form of the fruit, some pears look very much like some apples.  One major difference is that the flesh of the pear fruit contains stone cells (also called "grit").

The cultivation of pears in cool temperate climates can be traced to the remotest antiquity.  There is evidence of pears used as a food since prehistoric times.  The pear was cultivated by the Romans who ate the fruit raw or cooked, just like apples.  According to Pear Bureau Northwest about 3000 known varieties are grown worldwide.  In the U.S. only 10 heirloom varieties are widely recognized, Green Bartlett, Red Bartlett, Bosc, Green Anjou, Red Anjou, Comice, Forelle, Seckel, Concord, and Starkrimson. 

My earliest remembrance of pears is the Seckel pear tree in our neighbor's yard in Brooklyn.   I don't think anyone ate pears from the tree, but there were always pears on the ground that we would throw at one another.  Commercially grown pears are usually wrapped in tissue paper and then placed in a box for shipping.  I  remember in Grandpa's store how they would remove the tissue paper and fold it to make a little mat to display the pears on.  My mom told me that during the great Depression people would save the tissue papers to use as toilet paper.  

Pears are consumed fresh, canned, as juice, or dried.  Pears can be stored at room temperature until ripe.  They are ripe when the flesh around the stem gives to gentle pressure.  Green Bartlett pears turn from green to yellow as they  ripen.  Other pears you have to feel.  Once ripened pears should be stored in the refrigerator where they can be kept for 2 to 3 days.

Recent studies have shown that the skin of the pear contains at least 3 to 4 times as many phenolic phytonutrients as the flesh.   These phytonutrients include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory flavonoids and potentially anti-cancer phytonutrients like cinnamic acid.  The skin of the pear also contains about half of the pear's fiber.

So, eat some pears.  Rinse with cool water and pat dry. Eat with the skin on.

Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Broccoli:


The word "broccoli" is the Italian plural of the word "broccolo" referring to the flowering top of the cabbage plant.  Broccoli is a plant in the cabbage family.  It most closely resembles the cauliflower which is another variety in the same species.   There are three common types of broccoli  including the most familiar which is the Calabrese broccoli from Calabria in Italy with its large green heads and thick stalks.   Sprouting broccoli has a larger number of heads with many small stalks.  Purple broccoli is sold in southern Italy, Spain and the UK and has a head like cauliflower but with tiny heads.  There is also what is called broccoli rabe.  Another name for it is rapini.  It has small heads like broccoli but is actually a turnip.

Thomas Jefferson first brought broccoli  seeds to Monticello from Italy.  He was not particularly fond of broccoli.  It wasn't until the Italian immigration of the 1920's that broccoli became more popular here in America.  The Italians knew the proper way to cook it.  

One of the dishes my Grandma Schiera would make was broccoli and macaroni.  She made it soupy with lots of oil and garlic.  My father told me that one time a cousin was eating over and asked what those floating  little green pieces were.  My father answered  that they were pieces of the broccoli, but his cousin insisted  they were bugs that came out of the broccoli when it was cooked.  My father did not like broccoli and macaroni for a long time after that.

Broccoli is a cool weather crop that is planted in the spring or fall.  It is available all year, but peak season is March through November.   Look for firm, clean stalks with tight bluish green florets.  Check the stems to make sure they are not too thick or hard.  Those tend to be woody.  You can peel off the outer skin of the stems and then slice it up to cook and eat with the florets.  Broccoli should have little or no fragrance.  Broccoli will keep up to seven days if refrigerated and kept moist.  Once it starts to get spongy you can slice off some of the bottom of the stalk and soak the broccoli in ice water to firm it up and extend the life. 

Broccoli is high in Vitamin C  and dietary fiber.  One of the compounds in broccoli is a potent modulator of the innate immune response with anti-bacterial, anti-virus, and anti-cancer activity.   Broccoli is usually boiled  or steamed, but may be eaten raw.  Researchers found that boiling reduces the anti-cancer compounds, but  steaming, stir frying, or microwaving has no significant effect. 

Broccoli can be prepared countless ways, but the less you do to it the better.   Steaming is my preferred way and then saute in olive oil, garlic and onion. 

So eat up!   Enjoy!  I'll show you how. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Grapes


Grapes:


Grapes grow in clusters of 15 to 300 grapes, and can be crimson, yellow, black, dark blue, green, orange, or pink.  What are referred to as "white" grapes are actually green.   Grapes can be eaten raw or used in making wine, jam, jelly, juice, grape seed extract, raisins, vinegar, and grape seed oil.

Commercially cultivated grapes are classified as table grapes or wine grapes.  Table grapes tend to be larger, seedless, and have thin skin.  Wine grapes are usually seeded (with seeds), smaller, and relatively thicker skinned.  Wine grapes also tend to have a higher sugar content.  The cultivation of grapes began 6000 to 8000 years ago in the Near East.  The earliest evidence of wine-making dates back 8000 years in Georgia.  

Growing up I remember grapes being around, but usually they had seeds, so we didn't bother with them that much.  What I remember more was my grandfather on my mother's side having a jug of his home-made wine  on the floor by his foot under the dinner table.  My father would mix the wine with some ginger ale and give it to me.   My father used to tell the story of when his father had the grocery store and had one of the cousins working for him.  Well, Grandpa Schiera used to make wine in the cellar of the store. Back then soda was sold in glass bottles and a deposit for the bottle was charged.   After the bottle was empty you could return it to the store and get the deposit  back.  It was a great way for us kids to make some money by collecting up the empties and returning them to the store.   When the store received the bottles they would have to be separated and organized to return to the bottling company.   Well, this cousin seemed to love separating the bottles in the cellar.  He was constantly asking, "Uncle Joe, can I go down and work on the bottles?"  He did a good job but something just didn't seem right.  Finally, Grandpa followed him down to the cellar and stood in the shadows to watch, only to find out the kid was doing the bottles ok, but he was also drinking some of the wine.  He always seemed so happy when he came back up after doing the bottles.

While there are no reliable statistics breaking down grape production  by variety, it is believed the most cultivated is the Sultana, also know as the Thompson Seedless.  Next is the Airen variety.  Others varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Grenache, Tempranillo, Reisling, and Chardonnay.

Yeast, which is a microorganism, occurs naturally on the skins of grapes leading to the innovation of alcoholic drinks such as wine.  Juice is obtained from crushing and blending grapes into a liquid.  The juice is sold as such or fermented and made into wine, brandy, or vinegar.  The raisin is a dried grape.

Grapes contain phytochemicals that have been positively linked to inhibiting cancer, heart disease, degenerative nerve disease, viral infections, and mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease.  Grape seed  oil from crushed seeds is used in cosmeceuticals and skin care products.  Commercial juice products from Concord grapes show potential benefits against onset stage cancer, platelet aggregation and other risk factors of Atherosclerosis, loss of physical performance and mental acuity during aging.  Grapes have long been classified as a low glycemic index food.  Studies have connected grape intake to better blood sugar balance, better insulin regulation, and increased insulin sensitivity. 

Consumption of grapes and raisins are a potential health risk to dogs.  Toxicity can cause acute renal failure with anuria and may be fatal.  No grapes or raisins for your dog.

So, Eat and drink up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Eggplant:


The eggplanat is  member of the nightshade family of flowering plants closely related to the tomato, green pepper, and potato.  The fruit is fleshy with a meaty texture.  The eggplant is botanically clasified as a berry and contains numerous small seeds which are edible but have a bitter taste.  Some of the 18th century varieties were yellow or white and resembled goose or hen's eggs which led to the name"eggplant".

The eggplant is native to the Indian subcontinent and has been cultivated in southern and eastern Asia since prehistory, but appears to have been introduced to the Mediterranean area by arabs in the early Middle Ages. Thomas Jefferson, who grew several varieties in his Virginia garden, is credited with introducing the eggplant to North America.

As an Italian kid growing up, my introduction to eggplant was eggplant parmagiana.  Eggplant  breaded and fried and then layered between layers of tomato sauce  and mozzarella cheese. In Italian we call it "melanzana".   When in college I was introduced to  "caponata", a Sicilian vegetable dish that is used like a relish.  While I love eggplant parmagiana, caponata is my favorite.

Eggplants have small amounts of nutrients, and are naturally low in calories. Unpeeled eggplants provide some fiber, and there is also some folate and potassium.  Compounds found in eggplants are anti-cancer, antimicrobial, anti LDL (bad cholesterol), and antiviral.

Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size, with smooth and shiny skin and vivid color.  Avoid discoloration, bruises, and scars. Eggplants are very perishable and sensitive to heat and cold .  Ideally store at 50 degrees for a few days.  Most eggplants are eaten with or without the skin.  To tenderize the flesh and reduce some of the bitterness you can sweat the eggplant.  After it has been cut lightly salt and let rest for 30 minutes.  Then rinse to remove most of the salt.   Eggplants are available throughout the year but are best from August to October.

Persons with already existing and untreated kidney or gall bladder problems may want to avoid eggplant because they contain oxalates which can become concentrated in fluids and then crystallized causing health problems.

Eggplants are delicious hot or cold.  They can be marinated, stuffed, roasted, grilled, or fried.   They can be used in casseroles, stews, or brochette.  Eggplant with tomato and onions is a natural (as in Ratatouille).

So.....Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

 

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Lemons:


The lemon tree is a small evergreen tree native to Asia.  Lemons were known to the Jews of Jerusalem in the 90's B.C.  They entered Europe near southern Italy in the first century A.D.   The lemon is oval in shape with a yellow textured skin. The fruit's juice, pulp, and peel, especially the zest are used for food.  

My personal remembrance about lemons is actually about grapes.  When I was in grade school in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, we lived in the second floor apartment of my grandparents' house.  Grandpa had planted some grapes in the backyard, presumably to use for wine.  Well, the grapes were a light green color with a thick skin.  They were really sour.  One day my brother and I decided to have some fun and we found that if you squeezed the grape, the pulp would shoot out the end. This we did with great relish.  After awhile the little girl who lived upstairs, about the age of our younger sister came out into the backyard.    We couldn't resist the temptation. So, we shot a couple of grapes at her.  She loved it and tried to shoot some back and said, "We're playing lemon!"  So now lemons remind me of shooting grapes with my brother back in Brooklyn. 

The juice of the lemon contains citric acid which gives it a distinctive sour taste.  Lemon juice is used to make lemonade, soft drinks, and cocktails.  It is used in marinades and as a short term preservative on foods that tend to turn brown after being sliced, such as apples, bananas, and avocados.  Lemon juice and rind are used to make marmalade and liqueur.  Slices and wedges of lemon are used for both garnish and flavoring of food and drinks.  The leaves of the lemon tree are used to make tea and for preparing cooked meats and seafood.  The oil of the lemon is used in aromatherapy.  While research showed it does not influence the immune system , it may enhance mood.  The low pH of lemon juice makes it an antibacterial.   For a Reader's Digest article about 34 uses for lemons visit: http://www.rd.com/home/34-reasons-to-load-up-on-lemons/.

Lemons are available in the supermarket all year, but peak season is May, June, and August.   Choose lemons that are heavy for their size and have skin with a finely grained texture.  The lemons should be fully ripened,  fully yellow with no green areas.  Avoid over-mature fruit with wrinkling soft  or hard patches and dull coloring. 

Lemons have unique flavonoid compounds that have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.  Vitamin C can be helpful in preventing development of artherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease.  So, always have lemons in your home. 

Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how. 

Monday, January 7, 2013



Zucchini:

Zucchini is a summer squash.  While we treat it as a vegetable, zucchini is actually an immature fruit.    Zucchini are dark to light green in color and can grow from the size of a finger to two feet long.   Most of the commercially grown zucchini is from four to eight inches long and two to three inches in width.

Many explorers who came to the Americas brought back what they considered strange foods.   The zucchini was one such food and it eventually found its way to Italy, where the zucchini we know today was developed.   In fact the word zucchini is the plural of the Italian word "zucchino" meaning "a small squash".

My maternal grandmother, Grandma Pallini, used to make "cocozelle", another word for zucchini, by cooking it in tomato sauce flavored with onion and garlic.  I just recently found out that zucchini  cooked in tomato sauce with onion and garlic is an Egyptian dish.   Go figure!

Zucchini are available in your local grocery store all year long.  Select the smaller one which tend to be younger and more tender.  Look for skins free from blemishes with a bright color.  Zucchini should be stored no longer than three days.

When preparing zucchini the skin is left on.  That's where all the nutrients are.  Just make sure you wash it well.  Zucchini has 95% water content so is very low in calories.  It also has useful amounts of folate, potassium, vitamin A , and manganese.

Zucchini can be eaten raw, sliced or shredded in a cold salad as well as lightly cooked in hot salads.  More often it is served cooked.  It can be steamed, boiled, grilled, stuffed and baked, barbecued, fried, roasted, or incorporated in  other recipes such as souffles.  It can also be baked into bread.

Zucchini's mild suttle flavor matches well with basil, bread crumbs, butter, cayene, cheese, cilantro, cream, dill, eggplant, garlic, lemon, marjoram, mushrooms, olive oil, onion, oregano, parsley, pesto, pine nuts, rosemary, sage, salmon, tarragon , thyme, tomatoes, vinegar, and walnuts.  So, go ahead and get creative.

Eat up, enjoy, I'll show you how.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Oranges:


Oranges are assumed to have originated in southern China, northeastern India, and perhaps Southeast Asia.  They were carried to the Mediterranean possibly by Italian traders after 1450 or by Portugese navigators around 1500.  Prior to then oranges were valued by Europeans mainly for medicinal purposes.

The orange has become the most commonly grown tree fruit in the world.  The United States leads  the  world in production of oranges.  Florida produces the most oranges followed by California, Texas, and Arizona.  I remember  when first moving to Florida the orange groves in our area with rows upon rows of orange trees.

 We live near the Indian River in a large citrus growing area.  I can remember seeing the groves with so many oranges on the ground and walking up to the house on the edge of the grove and knocking on the door to ask if we could take a few oranges.   Another benefit of living in a citrus growing area is the  fragrant smell of the orange blossoms.  Not far from here is an orange juice production plant and the squeezed skins are cooked to produce a mash that is fed to livestock. 

Most of the oranges grown in California are the "Washington Navels" and Valencias.   The "Washington Navel" is valued for its ease in peeling and separating, and is the most popular for eating out of hand.   The Valencia Orange, however, is the most important species in California, Texas, and South Africa.  It was the leader in Florida until just recently when the Hamlin took over.  The Hamlin orange is a small, smooth, not highly colored, seedless, and juicy.  While the fruit is only poor-to-medium in quality the tree is high yielding and cold tolerant.  The Valencia is an excellent juice orange but is also very good out of hand. 

Other orange varieties include  the Honeybell, a cross between the tangerine and grapefruit. Then there are  Temples, which are juicy and spicy sweet. They are easy to peel, section easily,  and excellent for eating out of hand. Honey Tangerines are available from mid January through March.  They are plump, juicy and mild.  They're easy to peel and section.  Another orange that is becoming popular is the Blood Orange with its redish fruit.  It is commonly grown  in the Mediterranean, but not so much in Florida because the re coloration rarely develops except during cold weather.   In California it is only grown as a novelty.   Oranges can be stored for three months at 52 degrees.

Oranges are eaten to allay fever, for asthma, to prevent kidney stones, to lower cholesterol, to prevent diabetes, arthritis, and high blood pressure.   The roasted pulp is prepared as a poultice for skin diseases.  The fresh peel is rubbed on acne and used in exfoliating facial scrubs.

Oranges are peeled, segmented and eaten out of hand or utilized in fruit cups, salads, gelatin, and numerous other desserts, and as garnishes on cakes, meats, and poultry dishes.  Oranges are squeezed for their juice and slices and peel are candied as confections.

So, eat up, enjoy, I'll show you how.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year everyone!  One of  the traditional ways you can celebrate New Year  is with collard greens.  Also add some blackeyed peas and corn bread to sop up the juice for a delicious and prosperous year.

Collards have been eaten for 2000 years  Evidence shows ancient Greeks cultivated several forms of both collards and kale.  Collard greens belong to the same species as cabbaage and broccoli. The name collard is a corrupted form of the word "coleward" which refers to the cabbage plant.  One variety of collards is the Georgia Southern. 

When I was managing a produce department for  a supermarket chain here in south, central Florida, I had a man come into our store who wanted to sell some fresh collards.  He introduced himself and Reverend James and he was a grower form south Georgia.  I walked with him out to his truck, which I recall as little more than a pick up, and it was packed to the hilt with fresh collards between layers of ice.  Well, the collards looked great and the price was right, so we bought some.   We had good luck selling them so, we bought from him whenever he came.  When I think of collards I remember Reverend James.  Growing up in New York we didn't eat collards but their close cousin kale, which I love to this day.

Collards are a good source of vitamin C and soluble fiber.  University of California at Berkley researchers discovered that collards contain a substance that is a potent modulator of the innate immune response system with potent antiviral, antibacterial, and anticancer activity. 

Look for collard greens that have firm, unwilted leaves with a deep vivid green color and no signs of yellowing or browning.  The smaller leaves tend to be more tender and have a milder flavor.  Fresh collards can be stored up to three days in the refrigerator.  Once cooked they can be frozen and kept for longer periods. Collards are typically flavored with smoked and salted meats, fatback, diced onions, vinegar, salt, and white black or red crushed pepper.

Rinse your collards well to get get rid of any dirt or grit. Strip the leaves off the stems and then roll and cut the leaves into half inch to one inch strips.  Put your seasonings and collards in a pot and cover with cold water.  Cooking times vary.  It can be anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour to even two hours.  Just check for tenderness.

Then eat up, enjoy, I'll show you how.

I invite your comments and suggestions.  You can email me at thomaseschiera@gmail.com.  Thanks!