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
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
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
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
Filed under Food, Recipes
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