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Archive for Fruits, Nuts & Seeds

TIP OF THE DAY: Strawberry Wreath

No matter how many pies, cakes and cookie platters were served at Christmas dinner, our mom always put out one more dessert: fresh fruit salad.

It always had takers, from calorie counters to healthy eaters to people avoiding lactose, gluten, refined sugar, whatever, to people who were too full to eat something rich.

But as much as we treasure memories of mom sectioning all types of citrus for her fruit salad, this strawberry wreath is an even better idea.

Buy four or more pints of strawberries with fresh green crowns (your grocer may have jumbo value packages). Wash and pat dry, leaving the crowns intact. If the crowns are dried out, remove them and accent the berries with some green grapes instead.

Lay the berries out in a wreath shape on a tray or cutting board. Cover with plastic wrap to keep in the moisture until you’re ready to serve the wreath.

Provide a low-calorie yogurt dip, such as:

  • Nonfat plain Greek yogurt sweetened with agave and a pinch of cinnamon
  • Siggi’s Icelandic Style Strained Nonfat Vanilla Yogurt*

    Strawberry Wreath

    This is the easiest Christmas fruit dessert. Photo courtesy California Strawberries.

  • Dannon Oikos Nonfat Yogurt in Strawberry or Strawberry Banana

    Strawberry Heart

    For Valentine’s Day, make a strawberry
    heart. Photo courtesy


    You’ll get oohs and aahs plus voices of appreciation.

    If the berries aren’t sweet enough, provide a bowl of sugar and noncaloric sweetener, or a squeeze bottle of agave or honey.

    We actually sprinkle Splenda over the berries before plating them, which solves the problem. But not everyone likes the idea of artificial sweetener.

    We wish you a berry happy holiday!
    *You can use any vanilla yogurt, but Siggi’s is one of the lowest sugar vanilla yogurts on the market.




    TIP OF THE DAY: Winter’s Seasonal Fruit, Citrus

    While many delightful fruits have gone “on hiatus” until next summer, winter is not without its comforts: citrus fruits. Get your fill of the winter citrus bounty, and especially seek out varieties you haven’t had before.

    All of the following are different species in the Citrus genus: order Sapindales, family Rutaceae.

    A good blood orange is our favorite citrus. Named for their deep pink or red-streaked flesh, blood oranges are smaller than other oranges and have slightly rougher skin. The skin often has a red blush.

    Once a rare European import, blood oranges from California are now in abundant supply in the U.S. from December through March. If you keep trying them, you may find the simply celestial ones with luscious, raspberry-orange-flavored flesh*. They are a variety of conventional orange, Citrus × sinensis. Here’s more about blood oranges.

    *Today, too much fruit is grown to look great on the shelf, to be durable for transport, to eliminate bothersome seeds, and just about every reason other than natural sweetness and deep flavor. The terroir—soil and microclimate—of the orchard also has a big impact on flavor.


    Another citrus delight (when you get a good one), Cara Cara oranges are worth seeking out. A variety of navel orange, it has rosy pink, juicy, sweet flesh and low acidity. The taste is sweet with undertones of cherry.

    The variety was discovered in 1976 as a mutation at the Hacienda de Cara Cara in Valencia, Venezuela. They are also a variety of conventional orange, Citrus × sinensis. Here’s more about Cara Cara Oranges.

    Grapefruits, Citrus × paradisi, have been a seasonal staple in the East since the 1920s, when winter visitors to sunny Florida drove back with carloads of them for friends and family, along with oranges and jars of orange and grapefruit marmalade. Eventually, growers began shipping commercially to the north and then nationwide.

    While is was most commonly served at breakfast, halved and usually topped with honey or sugar, it is now used in many recipes, including our favorite, grapefruit sorbet.

    Pommelos/pummelos are a different fruit, Citrus maxima, also known Citrus grandis. They have a much thicker peel. a green-tinged skin and a slightly drier texture. They can be substituted for grapefruit in any recipe.


    Blood Oranges

    Cara Cara Oranges

    Ruby Red Grapefruit

    Similar colors, very different flavors! TOP PHOTO: Blood Oranges from MIDDLE PHOTO: Cara Cara Oranges from Whiteflower Farm. BOTTOM PHOTO: Ruby Red Grapefrut from Good Eggs | San Francisco.


    These wee fruits, looking like teeny oval oranges, are C. japonica, although the name comes from the Chinese gam gwat, meaning golden tangerine. (C. is the abbreviation for Citrus; in taxonomy, to shorten the genus and species, the genus is usually designated by the first letter of its name.)

    You eat them skin and all (except for the seeds), but some varieties can be tart. Halve them and toss them into green salads and fruit salads, chicken and shrimp salads.



    Mandarin Orange

    Ugli Fruit

    TOP PHOTO: Kumquats from Good Eggs |
    San Francisco. MIDDLE PHOTO: Mandarins
    are easy to peel. Photo courtesy Noble Juice.
    BOTTOM PHOTO: Ugli Fruit from Melissa’s. Following careful breeding, these are less ugly—less lumpy and less green—than earlier ugli fruits.



    First note that it’s “mandarin,” not a “mandarin orange” or “satsuma orange”; the two are separate genuses (more about that below).

    There are many varieties of mandarins, Citrus reticulata, bred the world over. In the U.S. it’s easy to find clementines, satsumas, tangerines and tangelos. They are relatively similar size and appearance (as well as calories—50—and nutrition), and the lay person can confuse them.

  • Clementines are seedless and sweeter than tangerines and tangelos. They’re the most commonly grown mandarin in the world, with a thinner skin and a hint of apricot flavor. They are named after Father Clément, a priest who began cultivating them in Algeria around 1900, crossing a mandarin with an orange. Spain and Morocco are the biggest exporters.
  • Satsumas are mostly seedless, and tend to have more juice and less pulp between their membranes. This makes them the softest and most prone to shipping damage, which is why they can be less available than other varieties. They are usually the variety sold in cans as mandarin oranges. Satsuma was a former province of Japan.
  • Tangerines have seeds and are less sweet than the others. Tangerines came to Europe by way of North Africa in the 1800s. They were exported through the port of Tangier in Morocco, hence the name. Different varieties were exported, generically called tangerines. In earlier times, all mandarins in the U.S. were “tangerines.”
  • Tangelos are a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine. They’re especially juicy and lack grapefruit’s acidity. Minneolas and Orlandos are types of tangelos. The Minneola, which has a distinctive knob at one end, are also marketed under the brand name Honeybells.
  • Ugli Fruit (C. reticulata × paradisi) is a type of tangelo cross between a tangerine, a grapefruit and an orange. It looks like a lumpy, ugly grapefruit. Here’s more about it, also sold as Uniq Fruit.

    There are three basic citrus types—citron, mandarin and pomelo/pummelo—from which all other modern citrus varieties derive via hybrids or backcrosses.


    While they look like small oranges and are often called “mandarin oranges,” mandarins are a separate species that includes the clementine, mineola (red tangelo), murcott (also called honey tangerine), tangelo, temple and satsuma, among others.

  • Oranges are from the order Sapindales, family Rutaceae, genus Citrus and species C. × sinensis The orange is a hybrid cross between a pomelo (Citrus maxima) and a mandarin (Citrus reticulata), with genes that are about 25% pomelo and 75% mandarin.
  • Mandarins are from the order Sapindales, family Rutaceae, genus Citrus and seven different sub-groups (clementines are C. clementina). “Cuties” and “Sweeties” are brand names for clementines.
    More Confusion

    Mandarins are also called loose-skin oranges—a usage which is both unfortunate and confusing given the numerous, highly distinctive differences between the two genuses. According to the experts at U.C. Davis:

  • In the U.S., where the name tangerine first came into common usage, mandarin (or “mandarin orange”) and tangerine are used more or less interchangeably to designate the whole group. Since mandarin is the older and much more widely employed name, its use is clearly preferable.
  • The term “tangerine” was coined for brightly-colored sweet mandarins that were originally shipped out of the port of Tangiers, Morocco to Florida in the late 1800s; the term stuck.
  • Presumably because of the orange-red color of the Dancy variety, which originated in Florida and was introduced in the markets as the Dancy tangerine, horticulturists have tended to restrict the use of the term tangerine to the mandarins of similar deep color. However, this is a usage of convenience only and the tangerines do not comprise a group of natural significance.
    The mandarin probably originated in northeastern India, home of the Indian wild mandarin, Citrus indica Tan. As with all agricultural products, many hybrids followed.

    The mandarin reached the Mediterranean basin in the early 1800s, and arrived in Florida about 1825. Thanks to the University of California Davis for providing this information. You can read more here.

    Then, go out and gather some great citrus fruits.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Cranberry “Mistletoe” Kissing Ball

    You don’t need to buy mistletoe to encourage people at holiday get-togethers to kiss. Instead, substitute this “holiday kissing ball” from Ocean Spray.

    First head to the crafts store, then pick up fresh whole cranberries. You can pick up an extra bag or two for a Valentine Kissing Ball (and if you prefer, a foam heart instead of a ball).



  • 5” styrofoam ball
  • Red acrylic craft paint
  • 24-gauge beading wire
  • Hot glue gun/glue sticks -or- wooden toothpicks
  • 1-2 12-ounce bag(s) Ocean Spray fresh cranberries
  • Optional: shellac spray
  • Trim of choice: ribbon, mistletoe, holly, ivy, bells


    Cranberry Kissing Ball

    A kissing ball, mistletoe optional. Photo courtesy Ocean Spray.

    1. PAINT the foam ball with red craft paint. Set aside to dry.

    2. CUT an 18″ piece of wire and fold it in half. Push the folded wire all the way through the center of the ball, leaving a 1″ wire loop extending at bottom of ball and 3″ of wire extending at top.

    3. ATTACH the cranberries to ball with a hot glue gun or toothpicks, covering the ball completely. Spray with shellac for longevity (otherwise, the berries soften after 5 days or so, and the appearance will diminish). NOTE: The glue gun is a better choice. If you don’t have one, you can pick one up when you buy the foam ball at the crafts store.

    4. TWIST the two wires at top of ball into a simple hook for hanging. Use ribbon to tie the desired holiday trim to wire above and below ball, and hang with a hook.

    5. FIND someone to kiss and guide him/her underneath the ball.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Winter Fruit Compote

    First: What’s a compote?

    A popular medieval European dessert that faded out of style in the mid-20th century, compote (COM-poat), also referred to as poached or stewed fruit, is mix of fruits cooked in a syrup. Although a single fruit can be cooked in the same manner, a variety is more interesting.

    In fact, the name derives from the Latin compositus, mixture. Think of it as a cooked fruit salad. It was once so popular that people of means served it from a stemmed compote dish, designed to show off the fruits (see a photo below).

    The syrup is made from the cooking liquid—typically water or wine—plus sugar and spices.

    The syrup could be seasoned with the cook’s choice of cinnamon, cloves, lemon or orange peel, vanilla or other spices. The cooked fruit could be enhanced with candied fruit, grated coconut, ground almonds and/or raisins.

    In the absence of fresh fruit, compote could be made entirely with dried fruits, plumped in water that was optionally enhanced with kirsch, rum or sweet wine.

    Thus, compote was especially popular in fall and winter, when fresh fruit was limited. Our Nana made it at least once a week during the season.

  • Compote can be served either warm or cold, with or without a dab of whipped cream or mascarpone. Except in Italy, the mascarpone is a modern touch. Nana and the rest of her generation had never heard of it.
  • You can use compote to garnish panna cotta or custard, in an ice cream parfait, even atop plain cake like angel food or pound cakes.
  • You can even serve compote with a cheese course, with or instead of fresh fruit.



    Apple Cherry Compote

    TOP PHOTO: Apple and cherry compote on ice cream. BOTTOM PHOTO: Compote with a cheese course. Photos courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

    This recipe, from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, combines classic seasonal fruits—apples, pears, quince and dried fruits—with modern touches like star anise, another ingredient that wasn’t in American grocery stores in Nana’s time.

    For a holiday version, here’s another recipe: compote with cranberries, oranges and maple syrup.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 cups water or juice
  • 1 cup dry or off dry white or rosé(juice may be substituted)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole star anise*
  • 6 allspice berries
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 to 6 apples, pears or quince (2-3 pounds), peeled and quartered
  • 1/2 cup dried plums, apricots or cranberries
    *If you don’t have star anise and don’t want to buy it, for each star you can substitute: 3/4 teaspoon crushed anise seed, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon anise extract, 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder or 1 tablespoon anise liqueur or other licorice liqueur.

    1. PLACE the first nine ingredients (up to and including the bay leaves) into a pot and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar; then reduce the heat to low and add the fruit.

    2. COVER the pot and simmer, removing the fruit with a slotted spoon as it softens.† Arrange the fruit in a glass bowl. (Nana mixed everything together like fruit salad, although you can layer the fruits if you wish.) Once all the fruit has been removed…

    3. BRING the poaching liquid to a boil and reduce it by half (it takes 5 to 10 minutes). Taste; if necessary add more lemon juice to balance the flavor. Strain the syrup and carefully ladle it over the poached fruit. The cooked fruit will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
    †The fruit should be tender but not mushy. Cooking times vary for different fruits: 10 to 15 minutes for dried fruits, 20 to 30 minutes for pears, 30 to 45 minutes for apples and one hour for quince.


    Compote Dish

    A simple compote dish. They could be quite elaborate: etched crystal, garnished in gold, etc. Photo courtesy Abigails | Amazon.



    No doubt, fruits have been stewed since the invention of clay pots, some 17,000 years ago in China. But the oldest known recipe we have, for a pear and fig kompot, dates to the early Byzantine Empire (330 C.E. to 1453 C.E.). Here’s the recipe for that ancient fruit compote, it’s made with dried fruit, date syrup and pomegranate molasses.

    Compote ultimately made its way to Europe. According to Wikipedia, in late medieval England the compote was served as one of the last courses of a feast. Later, during the Renaissance, it was served chilled at the end of a dinner, e.g., a predecessor of the modern dessert.‡

    Because it was easy to prepare, made from inexpensive ingredients and contained no dairy products, compote became a staple of Jewish households throughout Europe.

    Make it one of your household’s desserts!

    ‡Sugar was little known in Europe until the 12th century or later, when the it was brought back from the Crusades. Even then it was rare and costly; honey or dried fruits were the common sweeteners. In southeast Asia, where sugarcane originated, it has been in use for 1,000 years or so.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Almost Apple Pie (Slow Cooker Apples)

    If an apple a day keeps the doctor away (see below), it stands to reason that an apple dessert helps, too.

    We have two slow-cooker apple recipes for you today. The second is like apple pie filling. Both are classic fall and winter desserts, suitable for weeknights or for company. They can be served warm, at room temperature or chilled.

    While you can prepare both recipes in an oven, a slow cooker with a liner saves you from scrubbing a pan—and leaves the cooked apples juicier, too.

    Both recipes were developed by Reynolds Kitchens.


    Prep time is 20 minutes, slow cooker time is 3 hours. You can make the recipe even healthier by replacing the brown sugar with half as much agave syrup*. While there’s not a lot of refined sugar in the recipe, every little save helps.
    Ingredients For 4 Servings


    Slow Cooker Baked Apples

    “Baked” apples from the slow cooker. Photo courtesy Reynolds Kitchens.

  • 4 medium tart baking apples (such as Braeburn, Granny Smith or Jonathan), cored
  • 1/4 cup regular rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup apple juice
    *Want to cut back on sugar? A better choice than sugar is agave nectar, a low-glycemic natural sweetener from the agave plant. Agave nectar has a glycemic index (GI) of 32, half that of table sugar (GI 60-65). Honey has a GI of 58, pure maple syrup has a GI of 54. Here’s more information on agave.

    1. LINE a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker with a Reynolds Slow Cooker Liner. Place the sliced apples in the liner.

    2. COMBINE the oats, raisins, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon in a small bowl. Spoon the mixture into the centers of the apples, patting down with the back of a spoon or a narrow metal spatula. Mound any remaining oat mixture on top of the apples. Pour apple juice around the apples in the cooker.

    3. COVER and cook for 3 hours on low.

    4. TRANSFER the apples to serving bowls and drizzle with the cooking liquid.


    Slow Cooker Sauteed Apples

    More like apple pie: apple slices slow-cooked
    with cinnamon. Photo courtesy Reynolds



    Prep time is 15 minutes, slow cooker time is 3 hours (low) or 2 hours (high).
    Ingredients For 8 Servings

  • 6 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut in eight wedges
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Optional topping: vanilla ice cream or whipped cream
  • Optional cookies: gingersnap, oatmeal, shortbread or sugar cookies
  • Preparation

    1. LINE a 5-to-6 quart slow cooker with a Reynolds Slow Cooker Liner. Open a slow cooker liner and place it inside a slow cooker bowl. Fit the liner snugly against the bottom and sides of bowl; pull top of the liner over the rim of the bowl.

    2. PLACE the apples in the bowl and drizzle with lemon juice.

    3. MIX the granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the mixture over the apples; stir gently with a rubber spatula to coat the apples. Drizzle with butter.

    4. PLACE the lid on the slow cooker and cook on the low-heat setting for 3 hours or on the high-heat setting for 2 hours, until the apples are done.

    5. CAREFULLY REMOVE the lid to allow the steam to escape. Transfer the apples to serving bowls and top with ice cream or whipped cream; or spoon the apples over a scoop of ice cream. Serve with cookies, if desired.

    6. COOL the slow cooker completely; remove the liner and toss. Do not lift or transport the liner with food inside.

    According to a website that tracks the origins of English phrases, the earliest known print reference dates to Wales in 1866:

    Eat an apple on going to bed, And you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.

    By the turn of the 20th century, a number of variants of the rhyme were in circulation, including the one popular in the U.S.

    Why were apples singled out to keep the doctor away? While they are healthful*, the answer is more complex. In Old English, “apple” was used to describe any round fruit that grew on a tree. Adam and Eve’s forbidden fruit is cited in English as an apple; but the word in the original Hebrew and the subsequent 1611 King James version of the Bible, it simply called “a fruit.”

    Most historians believe that the apple originated in the Dzungarian Alps, a mountain range separating China from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (far away from the Middle East/Garden of Eden). Scholars believe that the fruit tree in the Middle East, the designated home of the Garden Of Eden, may actually have been a pomegranate.

    *According to and medical resources: Apples contain vitamin C, which aids the immune system, and phenols, which reduce cholesterol. Apples help to reduce tooth decay by killing bacteria that adhere to the teeth. Cornell University researchers believe that the quercetin in apples protects the brain cells against neuro-degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease.



    RECIPE: Make & Bring Sweet & Savory Nut Clusters

    Homemade Nut Clusters

    Sweet and savory nut clusters, with pumpkin
    seeds added for the holidays. Photo courtesy


    If you’ve been invited to Thanksgiving but not asked to contribute, you may still want to bring a gift that isn’t a bottle of wine.

    Something like these Sweet & Savory Nut Clusters from QVC’s chef David Venable can be a gift to the hosts be enjoyed later. Package them in a decorative tin or jar.

    Or, they can be served with after-dinner coffee by those who are too stuffed for pie.

    For any occasion, they can be served with a slice of Gorgonzola as the cheese course, or as a garnish for a green salad along with crumbled Gorgonzola.

    Ingredients For 8-10 Servings

  • 1-1/2 cups raw pecan halves
  • 1 cup whole raw almonds
  • 1-1/2 cups raw walnut halves
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • Optional: Gorgonzola or other blue cheese
  • Optional: green salad with vinaigrette
  • Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 325°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

    2. TOSS the pecans, almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds with the beaten egg white in a large bowl, until coated.

    3. COMBINE the brown sugar, sea salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and rosemary in another bowl and toss with the nuts until evenly coated. Pour in the honey and fold until coated.

    4. SPREAD the mixture out on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until toasted. Serve as desired.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Meyer Lemons

    Meyer Lemons

    A profusion of Meyer lemons at Good Eggs |
    San Francisco.


    You should start seeing Meyer lemons in stores now. The no-pucker lemon’s season is November through March.

    A cross between a true lemon and either a sweet orange or a mandarin, Citrus × meyeri was named for Frank Nicholas Meyer, who brought it back from China in 1908. Meyer worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an “agricultural explorer,” traveling the world to find new foods that might be desirable in America.

    The Chinese had long been growing the lemon variety in pots, as ornamental trees. Meyer lemon trees thus were planted in California yards, and the fruit was enjoyed by the home owners.

    Meyer lemons became a hot food item when they were “rediscovered” by Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in the 1990s. Other chefs and personalities like Martha Stewart began featuring them in recipes; groves were planted and the fruits began to arrive in markets.

    The benefit is yours.


    Meyer lemons are much sweeter and more flavorful than the Bearss and Lisbon varieties commonly found in American grocery stores (here are the different types of lemons). They have much less acid, which is why the juice is sweeter and brighter.

    While they are smaller than the Bearss and Lisbon lemons, they are much juicier with a very thin (and edible) peel, and can even deliver more juice per lemon.

    And their fragrance is beguiling.



    You can buy ornamental dwarf Meyer lemon trees to keep in pots indoors or on the patio. Planted in the ground, they can grow to heights of eight feet. Check out the options at:

    The trees produce lovely white blossoms before they fruit, and have glossy leaves year-round. Consider one for your own home or for gifting.

  • Lemonade without the pucker (and just a bit of sugar required)
  • Cocktails, spritzers and lemon water
  • Cakes, pies and other baked goods
  • Ice cream, sorbet, pudding
  • Marmalade, lemon curd

    Meyer Lemon Tree

    This fragrant tree can grace any home. We’d love to receive one as a gift. Photo courtesy

  • In any recipe that calls for lemon juice and/or peel: chicken, ham, fish and seafood, vegetables, salads, etc.
    Here are 30+ ways we use Meyer lemons, plus a recipe for Meyer Lemon Beurre Blanc. You can also peruse these recipes from

    Perhaps our favorite Meyer lemon recipe:



  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon zest
  • 1 cup Meyer lemon juice

    1. ZEST all the lemons and save the extra (it freezes well). You can add it to salad dressings, baked goods, anything.

    2. BRING the sugar and the water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon juice and zest; stir to combine.

    3. POUR the mixture into the canister of a 1-quart ice cream maker. Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions (approximately 25-30 minutes). Transfer to a freezer container and freeze for 4 hours or longer.

    4. SET the container on the counter to stand for 5 minutes before serving.



    FOOD FUN & RECIPE: Cauliflower Steak

    We admit: We are one of those people who has a double grievance during fall and winter. Not only do we grip daylight hours, but we miss the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables from spring and summer.

    Sure, there are asparagus and tomatoes, honeydews and peaches to be had. But as subscribers to locavore and green philosophies, we don’t buy out-of-season produce shipped from other parts of the world.

    The folks in California are gifted with the best produce variety in the nation. It helps that the growing is so long, as is the growing area: 770 miles long.

    We just heard from Good Eggs, San Francisco’s top quality produce provider, that new fall bounty has arrived:

  • Buttercup squash
  • Baby spinach
  • Artichokes
  • Romanesco, the offspring of cauliflower and broccoli rabe (see the photo below)
  • Mexican Sour Gherkins (they look like tiny watermelons)


    The best fall produce in northern California. Photo courtesy


    On the opposite coast, where we live, we find comfort in colored cauliflower and winter squash. But wherever you live, here’s…


  • Know what’s in season locally. Click your state on this map from Fresh Everyday Produce.
  • Go to farmers markets. Here’s the USDA’s list of farmers markets in the U.S.
  • Patronize stores that have better produce. Our closest supermarket is fine for the dairy and packaged food, but the produce often is wilting so we go elsewhere.
  • Be willing to shop at multiple stores. The specialty supermarket where we buy produce carries an inferior brand of strawberries. We eat lots of strawberries year-round, so we go to yet another store that does carry our brand (Driscolls).
  • Ask the chefs at independent restaurants for advice. They typically have favorite farmers markets and specialty grocers.
  • Recognize that if you live in the northern climes, January and February will be bleak. After the new year, we’ll provide tips on how to cope.

    1. Ask 10 foodies and/or chefs in your area where the best produce can be found. You don’t have to ask them all in one week, of course. But anytime the topic of good food comes up in conversation, ask!

    2. Find a seasonal fruit or vegetable and do something different and exciting with it. To give you a leg up, the next section has a recipe for our latest veggie fancy: cauliflower steaks. You can make them with endless variations of seasonings and sauces, and we’ve included six of our favorite variations.




    TOP PHOTO: Some jewels of fall: colored
    cauliflower. In the front is romanesco, a
    cultivar bred from cauliflower and broccoli rabe (rapini). Photo courtesy BOTTOM PHOTO:
    Cauliflower steak with Italian accents. Photo
    courtesy Here’s the recipe.



    Since the summer, cauliflower steak has been trending at almost every restaurant we go visit, as a vegetarian/vegan/paleo/low-calorie/whatever option. It can also be served on top of your favorite whole grain, as a first course or entrée, or atop a bed of greens as a salad course. It’s especially fun with a purple cauliflower!

    A whole head of cauliflower is sliced into “steaks,” which are variously seasoned and roasted.


  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 large head cauliflower (about 3 pounds)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Garnish: 2 tablespoons fresh parsley or other herb, finely

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

    2. COMBINE the lemon juice and garlic in a small bowl. Set aside momentarily.

    3. REMOVE the leaves and bottom core of a head of cauliflower lengthwise into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Season both sides with salt and pepper to taste and arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with the lemon juice-garlic mixture. Roast 40 minutes or until golden and tender. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

    4. USE the remaining cauliflower pieces in salads raw or pickled, or steam/microwave them for another occasion.

    Turn this spare basic recipe into more flavorful cauliflower steaks. Use your favorite international flavors as seasonings and sauces. For example:

  • Chinese cauliflower steaks: Eliminate the salt, brush steaks with soy sauce instead of lemon juice, top with minced garlic, garnish with fresh chives.
  • Indian cauliflower steaks: Season with ground cumin, coriander and optional curry powder instead of garlic, salt and pepper; garnish with fresh cilantro.
  • Italian cauliflower steaks #1: Use garlic-flavored olive oil and top the cauliflower with minced garlic before roasting. Place cooked steaks atop pesto, or atop marinara sauce seasoned with some oregano. Garnish with sliced black olives.
  • Italian cauliflower steaks #2: Make the basic recipe. After roasting, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan. Return to the oven for another 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
  • Japanese cauliflower steaks: Use 1/2 olive oil, 1/2 toasted sesame oil or wasabi oil, and garnish with toasted sesame seeds, grated fresh ginger and/or fresh chives.
  • Mexican cauliflower steaks: Replace the lemon juice with lime juice. Serve on a bed of black beans or pinto beans and top with warmed salsa. Garnish with cilantro and optional crumbled queso fresco.


    RECIPE: Apple Crisp With Ambrosia Apples

    Contributing Editor Rowann Gilman returned from picking Ambrosia apples in Washington’s Wenatchee Valley, glowing over the food and restaurants there. If you didn’t catch her report on the apples, here it is.

    She brought back an apple crisp recipe that she can’t wait to have again. Since fall is prime apple crisp season, it arrives just in time.

    If you don’t know the difference between a crisp and a cobbler, crumble, betty and other kin, THE NIBBLE has spelled it out below.

    Try this old-fashioned recipe with new-fashioned Ambrosia apples. It’s from Chef David Toal of Ravenous Catering in Cashmere, Washington.

    Ingredients For 6 to 8 Servings

    For The Crumb Topping

  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (do not use quick cooking oats)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup butter, cut into small chunks
    For The Ambrosia Apple Filling

  • 6 to 8 large Ambrosia apples, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Zest from one lemon
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

  • Vanilla ice cream

    Apple Crisp A La Mode

    Ambrosia Apples

    TOP PHOTO: A crisp is has a crumb or streusel topping. The crumbs can be breadcrumbs, breakfast cereal, cookie or graham cracker crumbs, flour or nuts. Photo courtesy Ambrosia Apples. BOTTOM PHOTO: Ambrosia Apples. Photo by Rowann Gilman | THE NIBBLE.


    1. PREHEAT the oven to 375°F. Butter a 13×9-inch baking dish or 6 to 8 individual ramekins and set aside.

    2. COMBINE the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl; toss well to combine. Using a pastry blender or fork, cut the butter into the dry ingredients.

    3. STIR together all of the filling ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix thoroughly to combine. Transfer the filling to the prepared baking dish or ramekins. Top the filling with the crumb topping.

    4. BAKE for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and bubbly around the edges. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

    5. SERVE with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzle some of the juice from the baking dish over top.




    TOP PHOTO: In our book, it isn’t apple crisp
    if it isn’t topped with vanilla ice cream. Photo
    courtesy BOTTOM
    PHOTO: A cobbler has a dropped dough
    topping that bakes up to resemble
    cobblestones (hence, the name). Photo



    Most people use these terms interchangeably. Even Produce Pete called a crisp a cobbler in last week’s episode on NBC. If you really care about food, you’ll care about knowing the differences among pan-baked fruit dishes.

  • BETTY, or brown betty, alternates layers of fruit with layers of buttered bread crumbs. Some modern recipes use graham cracker crumbs.
  • BIRD’S NEST PUDDING is a bit different: A pan of fruit is covered with a batter that bakes into an uneven top with the fruit poking through. It’s served in a bowl topped with heavy cream and spices.
  • BUCKLE, very similar to the French clafoutis (often spelled clafouti in the U.S.), adds fruit, usually berries, to a single layer of batter. When baked, it becomes a cake-like layer studded with berries. It is topped with a crumb layer (streusel), which gives it a buckled appearance. Alternatively, the cake, fruit and crumbs can be made as three separate layers.
  • COBBLER has a pastry top instead of a crumb top. Biscuit pastry is dropped from a spoon, the result resembling cobblestones.
  • CRISP is a deep-dish baked fruit dessert made with a crumb or streusel topping. The crumbs can be made with bread crumbs, breakfast cereal, cookie or graham cracker crumbs, flour or nuts.
  • CROW’S NEST PUDDING is another term for bird’s nest pudding. In some recipes, the fruit is cored, the hole filled with sugar, and the fruit wrapped in pastry.
  • CRUMBLE is the British term for crisp.
  • GRUNT is a spoon pie with biscuit dough on top of stewed fruit. Stewed fruit is steamed on top of the stove, not baked in the oven. The recipe was initially an attempt to adapt the English steamed pudding to the primitive cooking equipment available in the Colonies. The term “grunt” was used in Massachusetts, while other New England states called the dish a slump.

  • PANDOWDY or pan dowdy is a spoon pie made with brown sugar or molasses. It has a rolled top biscuit crust that is broken up during baking and pushed down into the fruit to allow the juices to seep up. It is believed that the name refers to its “dowdy” appearance. Sometimes it is made “upside down” with the crust on the bottom, and inverted prior to serving.
  • SLUMP is another word for grunt.
  • SONKER or ZONKER, a North Carolina term for a deep-dish cobbler made of fruit or sweet potato.


    PRODUCT: Ambrosia Apples


    No one is sure about which apple variety Eve might have plucked from the tree of knowledge, causing all hell to break loose. In the millennia gone by though, the rest of us have gone from fig leaf to overalls trying to re-create the paradigm of that luscious, lascivious fruit.

    Leave it to a maverick bee. Rather than head for the usual haunts, this one took a tour of British Columbia, picking up some pollen from this apple blossom and leaving it on that apple blossom en route.

    One day, a lucky apple grower noticed a stranger in his orchard: an apple that didn’t look like the others. Without so much as a snake to tempt him, he bit. Ahhh. Ambrosia!

    Indeed, Ambrosia is the recently coveted variety of apple that Washington State apple growers have been perfecting for several years, and now it’s freshly harvested and making its way to markets far and wide, including yours.

    What has made Ambrosia sprint to the top 10 varieties of apple sold in 2015? It has everything going for it:

  • It’s thin-skinned, crisp as a potato chip, honey-sweet, and so juicy that you’ll have to lick your fingers now and then.
  • It’s shapely and has a blemish-free, enviably blushed complexion.
  • It cooks and bakes up beautifully, although eating one out of hand is enthusiastically recommended.
  • Add the just-100 calories per apple factor and Ambrosia truly takes away the cake for health-savvy snackers craving something sweet.
    A visit to Washington State’s McDougall & Sons, the family-owned and operated orchard that is currently the exclusive grower of Ambrosia apples in the U.S., reveals the intensely detailed hand labor required to produce such perfection.


    Ambrosia Apple Tree

    Apple Bath

    TOP PHOTO: Like the Garden of Eden: a tree brimming with Ambrosia apples. Photo courtesy BOTTOM PHOTO: After picking, apples are sorted and get a bath prior to packing and shipping. Photo by Rowann Gilman | THE NIBBLE.

    From root stock to loading dock, every apple is hand-picked, graded, sorted and even x-rayed for imperfections so that each one that reaches you is Garden of Eden-worthy.

    The process takes an entire year, after which the fruit is cold-stored for shipping to markets from September through July. Ambrosia are harvested with an ideal sugar/starch balance in mind rather than color as other apples are, and because of that you can always spot Ambrosia in a crowd: The pretty patterns arrayed around their stems and cheeks are creamy yellow where leaves have shaded them from the sun.

    GENERAL TIP: Select apples that have stems intact. The stem acts as a “cork,” making sure moisture and flavor do not dissipate.

    To become an Ambrosian, just look for the label in the photo below.

    Discover more at

    —Rowann Gilman


    Ambrosia Apples


    TOP PHOTO: Fresh off the tree. BOTTOM
    PHOTO: Look for the label. Photos courtesy
    Ambrosia Apples.



    Apples seem like the universal European fruit. But they first grew wild in the Tien Shan mountains of Kazakhstan, in Central Asia, millions of years ago.

    Those early apples were likely smaller and more sour than modern apples—more like crabapples.

    By about 6500 B.C.E., travelers were carrying cultivated apple seeds west, to West Asia, and east to China. Charred remains of apples have been found at a Stone Age village in Switzerland. (The Stone Aged spanned 6000 B.C.E to 2000 B.C.E.) [Source]

    The Greeks grew several varieties of apples by the third century B.C.E.; the ancient Romans also grew and loved the fruit.

    Around 100 C.E., the Roman Legions brought apples with them as they advanced north through Europe. Gaul (ancient France) became a fertile region for apple cultivation. Brittania (England) also grew the Roman-brought apples. Centuries later, following the Norman conquest in 1066, new varieties of apple from France were introduced to England.

    Apples were a boon to Europeans. They ripened just as it was getting cold and they could keep all winter, a valuable food source when nothing else was growing. Apples were also sliced, dried and stored. And bitter varieties were pressed to make cider.

    Apples arrived in the New World in 1607, with the Jamestown settlers. The seeds and cuttings they brought from Europe were not all suited for cultivation in Virginia, but they began to mutate to new varieties of American apples.

    Many of these apples were fairly bitter—not hand fruit, but important for making cider, which was more valuable than hand fruit or cooking fruit.

    Most colonists grew their own apples. Due to unhealthy water supplies, most people, including children, drank beer or hard cider instead of water (the same was true in Europe).

    Apples were being grown in Massachusetts as early as 1630. Mutation was continually creating new breeds. The McIntosh mutation was discovered in 1796 (by a farmer named John McIntosh).

    Sweet apples for eating were grown as well (and today they’re grown in every state). Thomas Jefferson had a part in the development of the Fuji apple.

    As the story goes, the French minister to the United States gave Jefferson a gift of apple cuttings; Jefferson donated them to a Virginia nursery which cultivated them as the “Ralls Genet.” In 1939, Japanese apple breeders crossed the genes from the Red Delicious apple with the Ralls Genet, resulting in the now-ubiquitous Fuji apple. [Source]



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