Archive for the 'Fruit' Category

Grape tomatoes redeem themselves

I just want to report, for the record, that I’m over the whole it’s-too-cold-to-eat-tomatoes thing. This week’s diet has included caprese salad (including for breakfast, and don’t you dare judge me, because you would have done it too if you’d thought of it first…), some amazing roasted gazpacho that I might have to write up at some point, my first BLTs of the season, and yellow Sungold and red grape tomatoes eaten like candy out of bowls on my kitchen counter.

Have I ever mentioned on this blog how much I hate grape tomatoes? I have, for years, hated them with a passion after eating, once too often, the Bad Grape Tomato. You know what I’m talking about: the one that looks OK as it’s going into your mouth, but that is rotten and bitter and grassy in a Very Bad Way? Yeah, so I started boycotting those at the store years ago.

And then I stumbled on them at the Civic Center Farmer’s Market on Sunday afternoon and bought some, purportedly to slow-roast them.

But instead, I can’t stop eating them. It turns out that even grape tomatoes, which I have long thought of as a grocery store-industrial standard to be avoided, are redeemed by eating them just after they’ve been picked.

You’d think I’d have all this figured out by now. Apparently not.

Debunking my personal plumeria myth

Years ago, I lived with a roommate who was addicted to Bath and Body Works shower gels and moisturizers. Her scent of choice? Plumeria, which I eschewed in favor of Sun-Ripened Raspberry or Warm Vanilla Sugar (so many mornings of seeing that B&BW label in the shower finally wore off on me). Even then, my priority was all things edible. Or, at least, edibly scented.

In the echo chamber of my head, I pronounced the name of the flower like a fast food place that specialized in stone fruit. Not a taqueria, but a PLUM-ehr-EE-ah. I persisted in this belief that the scent had something to do with plums, even though the flowers on the label gave no indication of that whatsoever.

Plumeria blossoms, Hanalei

Plumeria blossoms, Hanalei

Then, a few weeks ago, I ended up on vacation on Kaua’i with The Mint Killer and her family. On the way out of Lihue, The Mint Killer pointed at a line of trees with white blossoms and said, “Plum-AIR-ee-ah. That’s my favorite.”

It had been more than 10 years since I pondered the mysteries of my roommate’s fast food stone fruit body wash, but suddenly it was as if the clouds over Hanalei Bay had broken and a rainbow had appeared.

“OH!” I said. “Plum-AIR-ee-ah. I always thought Bath and Body Works made up that fragrance.”

The Mint Killer gave me the oddest of looks, the kind of look that says, up until now, you have demonstrated most of a grasp on smart, even when it comes to plants, but now I’m not so sure.

But I say this: if a stone fruit fast food place opens in your neighborhood, you will be the first to know how to pronounce its name. So there.

This summer, I will buy tomatoes

Tomatoes are OK with meAs one might expect by taking a look at this blog’s header graphic, I’ve been getting quite a bit of email about the tomato recall. I have been reading the stories, the analyses on various listserves and blogs, and the lists of precautionary measures.

I’m going to be honest with you. Banning spinach is one thing entirely. But tomatoes? Them’s fighting words.

The reality is this: the tomatoes that have been banned are the ones that, to be quite blunt about it, suck. Not that the ones on the “OK” list are all that great. I have bitten into more nasty-foul grape tomatoes from the grocery store than I care to count, and finally stopped buying them because I was so tired of the pop-bite-spit-into-trash-can routine I’d mastered in my office at lunchtime. There are amazing tomatoes and there are bad tomatoes, and life is too short for bad tomatoes.

But what I fear is the backlash against the good stuff. What’s going to happen this summer, when tomato season in the U.S. peaks, and people go to their local farmer’s markets and turn up their nose at the selection of Brandywines and Juliets? Because, to be honest, while I feel terrible for the 167 people (and probably more who have yet gone unrecognized) who have suffered from salmonella because they ate a bad tomato, I’d bet good money on the fact that they ate a bland, pale-red slice not worthy of the name TOMATO.

This is the worst unkindness of all, really. I’m a risky eater. I will eat street food in places that no one would recommend the eating of street food. I have most certainly eaten meat that was probably not in the pork-beef-chicken-lamb continuum, but it was highly spiced, so I couldn’t tell the difference anyway. I used to brush my teeth with the tap water in Nigeria (and yes, I realize I put myself at great health risk, but I was 11 and petulant and trust me, my father punished me well enough on the day he figured out I had been doing that, so there’s no need to yell at me now).

I have also suffered from food poisoning so bad I thought I would die. (It had nothing to do with Nigerian water. In fact, the only place I’ve gotten food poisoning? The U.S. of A.) Like I said before, I don’t wish that on anyone.

But it seems to me that by banning salsa at Baja Fresh, all anyone’s doing is raising the panic level. Instead, why don’t we take a look at the root causes of why salmonella, which used to be in the purview of chickens and eggs, has now crossed the road to crawl into the body of a tomato? Whether the problem is spinach, or tomatoes, or Jack in the Box burgers, maybe the problem here is not a particular ingredient or food item, but a sign of a larger, more fundamental weakness in our food system.

As for me, I’m going to continue eating tomatoes the way I have for at least the past few years: purchased from regional farmers (since I’m not currently harboring any plants of my own). Local, preferably heirloom, tomatoes. As far as I’m concerned, the pleasure of that first, ripe, summer tomato will far outweigh the miniscule risk that it might make me sick.

Green Thumb Sunday: Peaches, Old Oakland Farmer’s Market

Peaches, Old Oakland Farmer\'s Market

Gardeners, plant and nature lovers can join in Green Thumb Sunday every week. Visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Growing a Valentine strawberry

Valentine Grow Kit

Although Valentine’s Day has come and gone, it seems appropriate to tell you about a littleDirt disc indoor plant experiment I have going on right now. At Christmas, my former roommate Susan, who has managed to locate the world’s greatest gardening gifts ever since I started this blog, sent me a terrific gift that I will unveil to you patient blog readers when the season for actual gardening comes around.

But in the meantime, there was a smaller, more immediate part of the Christmas gift: A small “Valentine” kit, with a teeny-tiny pot, little strawberry seeds and the growing medium to plant them in.

I haven’t had much luck with strawberry The enlarged pelletplants outdoors, but thought it would be cool to try the kit indoors just to see what will happen. Susan and I coordinated by email: we would both plant our kits on January 21, mine here in Iowa on my chilly windowsill, and hers at her new house.

The growing medium arrives as a flat disc that requires a little water to expand out to a thick cylinder. It’s sort of like sea monkey dirt: you add water and the fun Valentine potbegins.

I planted the seeds and put my pot up on the kitchen sill, and but for a couple of days, have managed to remember to open the shade so the thing has some sunlight. It’s watery, often-snowy sunlight, but it still has to be healthier than the gloom in my kitchen without the shift in shades.

So far, nothing has broken the surface of the dirt, and I’m trying to take a lesson from the aloe and not water it every single day. We’ll see how it goes—even if I don’t end up with a ripe strawberry, it would be nice to see something green rise up from the dirt.

Pear salad with honey-cranberry drizzle

Thanksgiving feastOur family Thanksgiving menu is a little bit of a moving target. Turkey? Check. Stuffing? Check. Cranberry sauce? Check.

But sometimes the sweet potatoes show up roasted, sometimes mashed, sometimes in a pie. Some years, mashed potatoes make an appearance, other years, we save them for another meal. This year, steamed broccoli made the menu.

Yes, steamed broccoli. Come on…don’t you think “steamed broccoli” whenever you think “pilgrim hat?”

We generally have some manner of salad, and this year, Mom mentioned a pear salad in the days leading up to the feasting. However, at a critical moment just before our guests were to arrive, she arranged some romaine leaves on five plates and handed me three washed pears. “Here you go,” she said. “You’re in charge of the salad.”

The moment of truth upon me, I took a look at what I had to work with: one red pear, two yellow pears. Some pecans. Dried cranberries.

I set to work, slicing the pears thinly and arranging them on the plate in the world’s most OCD manner. As it turned out, I needed the whole red pear, and 1.2 yellow pears to accomplish an even number of slices on each plate.

That left me with .8 yellow pear. What do you do with that? It’s not like you can eat it, not when you’re faced with the impending groaning sideboard. And then, inspiration hit. I diced the last .8 pear, mixed that diced pear with dried cranberries, and topped the slices with the mixture. I added crumbled pecans on top, and then had to decide how to finish the dish.

Had I had blue cheese, this is where I would have crumbled some of that, too, and called it a salad. But Mom had just purged the refrigerator of blue cheese, and while she did have some blue cheese dressing in the refrigerator door, it was good that we checked the expiration date: it turned out to be June, and that left me back at the drawing board. It needed a finishing touch, and if it wasn’t to be cheese-related, then I was going to have to improvise an actual dressing.

“I have honey mustard dressing,” she said, but that didn’t jibe with my developing salad fantasy.

“Do you have honey?” I asked.

She did.

“Cranberry juice?”

Also a yes.

And thus was born a slightly sweet, fruit-appropriate, yet Thanksgivingesque dressing for the pear salad. Drizzled overtop, it was delicious, and would also make a nice addition to the table any time you have pears at perfect, sliceable stage of ripeness.

Pear salad with honey-cranberry drizzle
Pear salad (Serves 5)

Enough romaine leaves to line 5 plates
3 pears (preferably different colors, for contrast)
1/3 c. dried cranberries
¼ c. pecan halves
1 ½ Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp cranberry juice

  1. Line the plates with the romaine leaves.
  2. Slice the pears thinly, reserving approximately ¾ of one pear. Arrange the slices evenly on the lettuce leaves.
  3. Dice the remaining pear and mix it with the cranberries. Divide the mixture evenly between the five plates, mounding it in the center of the sliced pears.
  4. Crumble the pecan halves and divide them evenly between the five plates, sprinkling them over the mound of diced pears and dried cranberries.
  5. Whisk together the honey and cranberry juice (adjusting the amount of cranberry juice depending on how thin your honey is – you want this to be a mixture that can be drizzled) and drizzle a small amount over each salad.
  6. Serve immediately.

This is my contribution for Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted this week by Truffle of What’s On My Plate. Stop by later in the weekend for the full round-up of recipes and other herb, veggie and fruit goodness!

No shortage of apples in Pennsylvania

Hollabaugh visit montageOne of the things that surprised me when I moved to Iowa — and oh, there were plenty of things that surprised me — was how many apple orchards there are around here.

My parents live in Adams County, Pennsylvania, home to apple orchards that dot the landscape as you drive down country roads, and that’s where I have become most accustomed to the apple trees, with their blossoms and heavy fruit. Iowa wasn’t where I expected to find apples.

This year wasn’t so great for Iowa apple farmers. We had weird, warm weather early, which made the buds blossom on the trees, followed by a hard freeze. Parts of the state escaped apple blossom trauma, but around Iowa City, things weren’t great for local farmers.

Pennyslvania escaped Iowa’s anti-apple weather. In Pennsylvania this year, there appeared to be no shortage of apples.

In October, I visited my parents for the weekend, and Mom and I made a trip to Hollabaugh Bros. Fruit Farm and Market, a sprawling barn that features apples, pears, and other locally-grown produce, along with more locally-produced jams, jellies and other goods than you can imagine. On Fall weekends, the place is packed, crawling with area residents (and the occasional, camera-lugging out-of-town guest) who fill bags of varying sizes to the brim with bulk apples, then stagger to their cars, visions of crisps and crumbles and pies dancing in their heads.

This time around, a Japanese man lamented the lack of Asian pears. Adams County might not have lost their apples, but it was, apparently, not a good year for Asian pear production, and they were running at a hefty price while we were there. But there were local persimmons, lined up like little pillows of sweetness, and at least a dozen varieties of apples and pears, including Bosc pears, banana apples, and the trend-eriffic Honeycrisp.

I had plenty of time for photography, since a 10-pound bag of apples does not make for a non-awkward carry-on item, but I have to admit I was a bit wistful not to be filling up my bag with varieties perfect for eating and cooking. Back when I lived in D.C., it didn’t seem like Fall if I didn’t make a pilgrimage up to see my parents and hit Hollabaugh’s, always buying more than I could comfortably eat. This time, I had to leave with just the images. After all, they’re much easier to take on the plane.

And, sometimes, much more amusing.

Mom and I get on the bus

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Kay Hollabaugh for stopping in the middle of her busy day to take this picture of me and my Mom. Kay said, “I don’t know about that bus driver…”


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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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