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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Peaches

 

Peaches:


The peach is a deciduous tree native to China and South Asia.  It is considered to be "the tree of life" and symbol of immortality and unity. It is a member of the rose family.   Peaches have been cultivated in China since 2000 BCE.  Alexander the Great introduced the peach into Europe.  Peaches were originally planted in St. Augustine, Florida, but were introduced by Franciscan monks into St. Simon and Cumberland islands along the Georgia coast in 1571.  Today China is the world's largest producer of peaches  followed by Italy.  California produces 50% of  the peaches in the U.S.  growing 175 varieties.  Peaches are also grown in Georgia and South Carolina.   The peach is the state fruit of South Carolina, and Georgia is nicknamed "The Peach State".

Peaches and nectarines are actually the same species, but are regarded commercially as different fruits.  The nectarine has a smooth skin whereas the peach has a fuzzy skin. Many erroneously believe that the nectarine is a cross between a peach and a plum. This is just not correct.   The peach is a climacteric fruit, which means it continues to ripen after being picked.   More than 80 chemical compounds contribute to the peach's aroma.

Cultivated peaches are divided into clingstone and freestone depending on whether the flesh of the peach sticks to the stone (i.e. the pit).  There are hundreds of varieties.  Peaches with white flesh are typically very sweet with little acidity.  Yellow-fleshed peaches typically have an acid tang coupled with sweetness.   White fleshed are most popular in China, Japan, and neighboring Asian countries.  Europeans and North Americans historically favor the acidic yellow-fleshed peach.

When I was a kid,  I remember one time my Grandfather buried some peach pits in the yard to see if they would grow.  They did not grow in Brooklyn, New York, but it was fun to experiment.  Then I remember how we would have peaches in wine.  What a summer treat.  See below for how easy it is to make..

Peaches are available year round, but the season for fresh U.S. peaches is from May to October.  August is National Peach Month.  Peaches are most nutritious when eaten raw.  They are low calorie (38 calories for a medium peach) and cholesterol free.  Peaches are a good source of energy, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, iron, potassium, and Vitamins A, B, and C.  They are also a rich source of bioactive compounds including phenolic acid, anthrocyanins, flavonoids, and procyanidins.

Look for peaches that are heavy for their size with a rich color and possibly a slight whitish bloom.   They should yield to slight pressure and have a sweet aroma.  Avoid peaches that are excessively soft or with cuts or bruises.  Store unripe peaches in a paper bag to ripen.  When ripe,  store at room temperature and use within a few days.   Incidentally,  a study in the "Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture" found that canned peaches are as loaded with nutrients as fresh peaches.

Peaches are great to eat out of hand.  Just wash thoroughly and rub with a paper towel to remove the fuzz.  Sliced peaches  should tossed with lemon juice to retard browning.   Peaches are easy to use in smoothies, fruit salads, or soaked in red wine.  Peaches are used in jams, cakes and cobblers, and to add a tangy sweetness to poultry, pork, or veal dishes.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, coriander, sherry, marsala, and rum can be used to enhance peach dishes.  Peaches are great when grilled. 

To remove the skin of a peach score the bottom of the peach with an "X".   Placed the scored peach in boiling water to blanch for 40 seconds.  Carefully remove from boiling water  and  place in an ice bath for one minute. Remove from the ice bath, let drain and pat dry.  The skin will then easily peel off the peach.

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

Simple but good:

Peaches soaked in wine:

2 or 3 fresh peaches
red wine of your choice
granulated sugar.

Place peeled and sliced fresh peaches in a jar or other coverable container.  Sprinkle the peaches with sugar.  Pour enough red wine to cover the peaches.  Cover the jar or container and put in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, but he longer the better. Enjoy on a sultry summer evening.



Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tomato:

The tomato is the state vegetable of New Jersey, the state vegetable and the state fruit of Arkansas, and the official fruit of Ohio.  This member of the "nightshade family" originated in Mexico and spread around the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas.  Today tomatoes are grown and eaten around the world.

The tomato is botanically a fruit, actually a berry, but is considered a vegetable for culinary purposes due to its savory flavor.   There are around 7500 tomato varieties grown for various purposes.   Tomatoes are often grown in greenhouses in cooler climates.  They are also grown hydroponically using nutrient solutions in water without soil.  Tomatoes are often  picked unripe (green) and ripened in storage with the hydrocarbon gas ethylene which acts as a molecular cue to start the ripening process.  "Tomatoes on the vine": are a variety that are ripened still connected to a piece of vine.  They tend to have more flavor than artificially ripened tomatoes.

Here are the major categories of tomatoes we see today:

* "Slicing" or "globe" tomatoes are the usual tomatoes of commerce.
* Beefsteak tomatoes are large and often used for sandwiches and other applications.
* Oxheart tomatoes range in size up to Beefsteak, but are shaped like strawberries.
*  Plum tomatoes are bred with a higher solids content and are used for sauces and paste.
* Pear tomatoes are obviously pear shaped and used for a richer gourmet paste.
* Cherry tomatoes are small and round often sweet and generally eaten whole in salads
* Grape tomatoes are  a small oblong variation on plum tomatoes used in salads.
* Campari tomatoes are sweet and juicy with low acidity, and lack of mealiness.  They're bigger than a cherry tomato, but smaller than a plum tomato.

When I was growing up, my grandfather would send home over-ripe tomatoes to my grandmother to make tomato sauce for pasta.  She would cook the tomatoes and then put them through this cone shaped strainer using a wooden pestle.  That way she got the meat of the tomatoes without the skins.  She would also use the strainer to make cranberry sauce around the holidays. 

Tomatoes are believed to benefit the heart among other organs.  They contain lycopene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants.  Some studies found lycopene can prevent prostate cancer, however, other studies refute this claim.  Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamins C, A, K, and beta-carotene. 

Tomatoes are used raw in salads and processed in ketchup or tomato soup.  Unripe green tomatoes can be breaded and fried, used to make salsa, or pickled.  Tomato juice is sold as a drink.  Tomatoes are used extensively in Mediterranean cooking most commonly in pasta sauces.

Choose tomatoes that are heavy for their size with rich color that are well shaped with smooth skin and no wrinkles, cracks, bruises, or soft spots.  Ripe tomatoes will yield to slight pressure and will have a noticeable sweet fragrance.   Keep unwashed tomatoes at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.  It is not recommended to refrigerate tomatoes as this can harm the flavor.   Unripe tomatoes can be kept in a paper bag until ripening.

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

 

Simple but good: 


Tomato Salad:

2 medium size tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and black pepper to taste
sliced crusty bread

Wash and pat dry tomatoes. Cut into wedges and mix with other ingredients.  Stir to coat tomatoes.   Enjoy tomatoes with pieces of bread dipped into the juice.