Tag Archives: fruit

Hungarian Sour Cherry Soup

As noted in the previous post, sour cherries are most commonly cooked and usually sweetened. That is the case in pies and jams, but it is also true of meggyleves, a wonderful sour cherry soup from Hungary.

While this soup is enjoyed through the summer months, because sour cherries are the earliest of the spring fruits, this soup is often associated with spring festivals and, among Hungary’s Jewish community, is a favorite for Shavuot. This soup has a wonderful, sweet-tart flavor. Served cold, it makes a refreshing first course on a warm day. Enjoy.

Meggyleves

Hungarian Sour Cherry Soup

6 cups water

zest of 1/2 lemon

1 stick cinnamon

1 lb. sour cherries, pitted (see note)

3/4 cup sugar

3 Tsp. flour

1 cup sour cream

1/2 tsp. salt

Put water, lemon zest, and cinnamon stick in a large pot and bring to the boil. Add cherries and sugar, stir, and simmer for 10–20 minutes, or until cherries are tender. Remove cinnamon stick. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, and sour cream, and beat until smooth. Ladle about a cup of the hot cherry liquid into the sour cream mixture, and stir vigorously to combine. Then pour the sour cream mixture into the soup pot and stir well to combine with cherry soup. Simmer for an additional 5 or 6 minutes, until the soup begins to thicken. Cover the soup. Let it cool for a while before putting it in the refrigerator, then chill, still covered, until chilled through. (Soup will discover a “skin” if you don’t cover the pot.) Serve cold. Serves 6–8.

Notes: While the ideal is to use fresh sour cherries, these are not always available. Frozen is the second choice, and canned is your third option (even though some recipes state “never use canned”). If you don’t have a handy purveyor of sour cherries (and they are by no means ubiquitous), you may have no other choice than canned — and that’s okay. Just make sure you’re getting sour or tart cherries and that the ingredients list reads “cherries, water.” Don’t get anything with sugar, flavoring, other fruit, or syrup, and don’t get sweet cherries. When you drain the canned cherries, save the liquid from the can and use it as part of the water you’re using for the soup—gives you a little flavor boost. You might want to use a few more cherries, too, if you’re not using fresh, and especially if you’re using canned.

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Cherry, Cherry

Taken at face value, Prunus might be assumed to have something to do with prunes. However, in actuality, all stone fruits are members of the Prunus genus.Of course, plums (and future prunes) are members of the genus, but Prunus avium and Prunus cerasus happen to be cherries.

Cherries are unusual among foods in having their point of origin described as an entire hemisphere—the northern one. Since prehistoric times, cherries have grown across Europe, Asia, and North America. It seems that most of the cultivated species came from western Asia and eastern Europe, but there were varieties everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, waiting to be crossbred. Unusual among domesticated plant foods with long histories, the wild precursors of cultivated cherries have not been lost, and in fact have not been abandoned. Wild cherries still enjoy wide popularity.

While the use of wild cherries stretches back through prehistory, the cultivation of cherries is believed to date to about 300 b.c. Our word cherry comes from the Turkish town of Cerasus, seen unchanged in the name of one species of cherry. This reflects the western Asian origin of cherry cultivation—and Turkey is, in fact, still one of the planet’s top producers of cherries. Like several other words (for example, pease and eaves, likely to soon be joined by kudos), the nearest linguistic ancestor of the English word—cherise—sounded too much like it was plural, and in time was “singularized” to cherry.

The Roman Empire being what it was—an absorber of all it liked from wherever it went—it is probably not too surprising that Italy became a major cherry grower during the time of the Empire. Pliny attributes the introduction of cherries in the Empire to the Roman general Lucullus, famous both as a warrior and a gastronome. However, it seems likely that Lucullus probably simply introduced a new species of cultivated cherry when he returned from fighting in Asia Minor. The only uncertainty in that introduction (was Lucullus the first or not) lies in the fact that, while we know that there were cherries being cultivated in Italy by the time of Lucullus (who lived from 117 or 118 b.c. to around 56 b.c.), we also know that cultivation was a relatively new thing in the Mediterranean at this point, as the Greeks wrote only of wild cherries, which they didn’t particularly like. So it could be that what Lucullus introduced was the cultivated cherry.

Cherries favor temperate regions. While they don’t like it too frigid, they won’t bloom at all without a cold winter. And for some species of cherry, it’s all about blooming. Almost none of the ornamental species favored in Asia, and most particularly Japan, bear fruit, or if they do bear fruit, it is inedible. They are grown entirely for their beautiful flowers. It is from among these purely decorative Japanese species that Washington, D. C. got its famous blossoming cherries (and, unfortunately, it was from this same gift from Japan’s government that the Oriental fruit moth was introduced into the U.S.).

While there are many species of cherry, there are two main species that are grown for their fruit: sweet cherries (Prunus avium) and sour cherries (Prunus cerasus). In addition to there being two species that are commonly cultivated, there are also many varieties. Among sweet cherries, the Bing cherry is the most popular variety in the U.S., though the yellow-red Rainier cherry has been gaining traction in the marketplace in recent years. (But if you want to search, there are still many more sweet cherries to try—or to grow, if you have the space and the climate.)

In addition, there are cherries known as dukes, which are crosses between sweet and sour cherries. (The Germans call dukes Bastardkirschen.) Sweet cherries are heart-shaped, range in color from purplish black to red to golden, and include all the common eating cherries.

Sour cherries are smaller, softer, and more spherical than sweet cherries. They are also known as tart cherries, cooking cherries, and pie cherries. About 75 percent of all sour cherries are grown in Michigan.

While some people do enjoy eating sour cherries fresh, most people agree that they benefit from cooking, usually with sugar. But they are wonderfully flavorful in a wide range of applications—and if you’re eating any pastry with cherries, it will most certainly be sour cherries that you’re enjoying.

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Raspberries

I can remember when, as a child at summer camp in northern Wisconsin, I made the astonishing discovery that there were plants throughout the forests with fruit on them. Even though my family was keen on buying from local farmers, you had to drive to the farm, and you had to pay someone for the fruit (which was, by the way, already picked—not much charm in that for a child). But there I was, surrounded by fruit just waiting to be plucked from a gracefully arching branch. I could eat it any time I wanted—and it was free. This made me almost giddy with delight. While there were a few incredibly sweet wild blueberries, the most abundant fruit was raspberries.

Raspberries may not be what you think. Of course, the appearance of the word “berry” in the name might seem like justification for believing that these are, in fact, berries, but they’re not. They’re drupes–stone fruits, like cherries, peaches, and plums. Or, to be more precise, little drupelets, because each tiny globe in the cluster that comprises a single “berry” is a separate fruit with a tiny little stone in the center. (In case you ever wondered why those “seeds” were so hard, now you know.) Like all the other stone fruits, raspberries are members of the rose family. Continue reading

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Hot Dates

Date Seller, Morocco

Dates are a staple food in many desert lands, and this dried fruit seller in Meknes, Morocco, offers many different varieties, along with a few figs.

While a coconut palm may be the quintessential image of hot, humid, tropical landscapes, the inescapable image in hot, dry, desert landscapes is the date palm. (Have you ever seen a picture of a desert oasis that didn’t include a date palm?) In arid parts of the Old World, the fruit of the date palm is sufficiently important to actually be categorized as a staple. Desert Arabs often have little else to eat besides milk and dried dates.

Dates most likely originated in the region around the Persian Gulf, probably in or near Iraq. In Iraq’s Shanidar Cave, archaeologists have found discarded stones of wild dates that go back as much as 50,000 years. Continue reading

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Orange You Glad

Oranges

 Oranges in an outdoor market in Mexico.

The room that surprised me most at London’s Hampton Court Palace, the first time I visited, was the orangery. I expected a lot of things in a palace, but not agriculture. The orangery at Hampton Court is a wonderful, bright room with high ceilings and high, arched windows that can be opened out onto a patio. The room was lined with rows of small, healthy, carefully trimmed orange trees in beautiful, large, porcelain pots.

A few years later, I visited Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia. I had seen pictures, so I knew what the main buildings would look like, but I was surprised to find, tucked behind some of the fabulous gardens, a magnificent orangery.

This was beginning to look like a trend.

The era of growing oranges indoors was, in fact, only one small segment of the long history of oranges, but the immense cost to which people went to construct these buildings hints at the astonishing popularity of the fruit. While there have been times when their fame was due almost as much to their scarcity as to their taste, abundance has only served to make oranges more popular. Today, oranges are considered to be one of the five or six most important fruits in the world. Continue reading

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Malaysian Baked Bananas

Now that I’ve given you the history of bananas, and you know how intriguing they are, I thought I’d share a recipe with you, so that you have something to do with your bananas besides just slicing them on your cereal or eating them plain.

Malaysian baked bananas are wonderfully flavorful. It’s a really easy recipe, which is good, because once you taste it, you’ll probably want to have it often. I know I do. The flavor is richly exotic and just a bit tangy, thanks to the lime juice and ginger. Enjoy.

Malaysian Baked Bananas
4 Tbs. butter
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2-1/2 Tbs. lime juice
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
6 ripe bananas

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cream the butter and sugar together until they are pale and soft. Beat in the cloves, lime juice, and ginger.

Lightly grease the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold all the bananas. Cut the bananas in half crossways at the center, then slice halves in half lengthwise. Lay the bananas in the greased backing dish. Stir the butter mixture one more time then spread it over the bananas. Put the dish in the center of the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and the bananas are cooked through and tender. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Note: The lime juice will not completely incorporate into the butter, but that doesn’t matter. Come close, and just spread them together over the bananas. Also, nothing spreads easily over bananas, because bananas are slippery, and things tend to slide over the surface. Dotting and flattening the mixture over the bananas in a close approximation of spreading is adequate.

© 2008 Cynthia Clampitt

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Have a Banana

 

Bananas-Mexico

Bananas—niños and red—in a market in Mexico.

Touring a banana plantation in Western Australia about 20 years ago, I learned something that surprised me. Bananas do not grow on trees. They grow on tall herbs. In fact, the banana plant is the world’s largest herb. It’s mostly water held together with a bit of greenery. However, though bananas are herbs, many of their distant relatives are spices, including ginger, turmeric, and cardamom.

Another thing that might seem surprising, especially if you’re reading this in some cold, northern clime where bananas aren’t growing in your backyard, is that bananas, including plantains, are considered a staple food on the world stage. (Bananas are one of the two world’s staples—the other is coconut—that are not cereals or roots.)

The bananas we find in our grocery stores are hybrids—and, indeed, this is true of the hundreds of varieties of bananas found in markets worldwide. In the wild, bananas are full of seeds and not terribly appetizing. Most cultivated bananas today are descended from a hybrid created eons ago using an edible (though not ideal) wild banana known as the “monkey banana,” which still grows in the Malaysian/Indonesian region, and another wild species, this one inedible. Because of the relative unpleasantness of wild bananas, it seems likely that this crossbreeding took place fairly early in human history. Continue reading

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