Hunting. Fig Hunting.

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Some have said that “when we rescue…fruit, we also save our memories and our souls”. This intro hook was borrowed from an episode of David Suzuki’s “The Nature of Things” that was titled “Fruit Hunters”.

I, too, have become a fruit hunter. I cannot say that it was a path I chose. Nor will I say the path chose me. Yet, I find myself shrouded in darkness with my steel and my faith as my only company. Also music. I listen to Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. That, I suppose, keeps me company. So, the music, the steel, and my faith. And again I hunt. Oh, how I hunt.

Catch the Rainbow. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rQxI3-xSeg It sounds like “Taste the Rainbow”, the slogan for Skittles. Skittles do not belong to a fruit group, as a nutrition test recently asked. Hence, I connect the music to the fruit. It’s always about the fruit.

The ripest hunting comes when the prey least expects it. My prey is housed in a jail so large that it does not know it. The jail is St. Lawrence Market, whose first permanent version was constructed in 1803. I learn this from http://www.stlawrencemarket.com/history The website helps me hunt the fruit. I chose this building for its rich municipal history and for its proximity to the school that has taught me how to hunt fruit.

In 1845, City Council began meeting in the St. Lawrence market building. Even then, sunburnt and jowly people jostled for “SUBWAYS, SUBWAYS, SUBWAYS”. The building had been built of brick and yet, it burned down in 1849. Fast forward to 2014. I am hunting fruit.

St. Lawrence Market, jail to my fig prey.

I was quiet in my fruit hunting. I selected a solitary fruit. A fruit not bound to others. A fruit whose weakness I could prey upon, and separate it from its confreres. I chose a single fig. A single, waxy green and brown fig. The only reason that guided my choice was this: I recently had a fig balsamic vinegar. It was delicious. I wanted to taste the fig itself, and I had never had it before.

A hunter must know his prey. The following two paragraphs include information provided to me by the California Rare Fruit Growers at http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/fig.html

They seek to preserve rare fruit, but I seek to hunt.

Figs, my prey, are known in English as “figs”. A singular fig is called a “fig”. In French: “Figue”, in German “Feige”, in Italian “Fico”. Spanish was left behind. A fig is “Higo” is Spanish.

The fig was first grown in western Asia, and figs have been found at Mediterranean archeological sites dating more than 7,000 years ago. The fig is related to Cluster Fig and the Sycomore Fig.  The Encylopedia of Life classifies the fig in Family Moraceae, truly a noble lineage. To non-Latinists, this is the mulberry family.  http://eol.org/pages/60627/overview

At St. Lawrence Market, figs were sold at $1.29 CAD each. But what is the growing season, you ask? I shall tell you: September to March, and fig pollination is carried out by wasps. http://eol.org/pages/60627/overview But we can grow figs all year round, which is necessary to maintain the health of wasp species that pollinate the fig.

Figs are best suited to dry, warm climates, like the Mediterranean, (http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/fig.html) which, as a bonus, means “centre of the Earth”. The figs are centre of the universe, however.

The fig itself has green-brown skin that is quite smooth. There is some stickiness to it as well, and a dull waxy sheen. Its camouflage was insufficient for the likes of me. Its flesh: chewy. Its seeds: crunchy. My teeth are strong.

When my strong teeth break into a fig, what do I taste? Notes of raisin with honey or slightly burnt sugar.  Its smell is a milder form of these flavours, combined with slightly under-ripe banana.

No one needs to cook this fruit. It submits to the tooth readily when handled with an assured grip.

This guy can eat figs without cooking them. You can too.

But if I HAD to cook it for some reason, I would find a way. Because of the softness of the fig texture I would recommend either cooking it at low temperatures for a relatively longer period of time (to soften it or give it a glaze without having the structure break down too much) or cook it at a high temperature for a very short period of time, searing some lines into it for visual appear, and bringing out its natural sweetness through caramelization of its sugars.

As an example of low temperature cooking, poach the fig in spiced syrup. An open-ended recipe (but one that allows for some trial and error) is found under “fig compote” at the bottom of: http://www.finecooking.com/articles/in-season-fresh-summer-figs.aspx

But to cook a recipe, you must first hunt the fruit.
In the words of Commander Bill Adama, “Good hunting.”

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The Spice Girls: A Culinary Backstory and Other Clickbait

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In the mid-1990s, the Spice Girls swept the hearts of children around the world.  Less known is the fact that they formed in a kitchen in London, under the touring name of “Bouquet Garni”.

Although the girls eventually doffed their culinary-inspired nicknames for more marketable ones, Gerri Halliwell’s remained: “Ginger Spice”.

But this is not the only story of culinary experiences influencing the development of music. Note the famous American composer, Samuel Barber (1910 – 1981). Barber, who was based in New York City, made ends meet by bussing tables at the Bar and Grill Room of Maxl’s. Barber’s magnum opus, “Adagio for Strings” was based on a few notes that Barber hummed to himself as he heard a call for “al dente on the string beans”. 

Finally, many people are unaware that Canadian rock gods, Rush,  also have a culinary connection. Guitarist Alex Lifeson, owns a bar in Toronto, and early experiments with a red bruschetta dish led to this hit from “Moving Pictures”.

Flavour, Taste and Sensory Evaluation

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The new food that I tried was a Castello Danish blue cheese, and I included it in a double baked potato, whose recipe I received on the weekend.

Blue cheese has a bad rap, of course. Its smell is too pungent. The taste is too much like a soppy, wet athletic sock. The ripples of distinctive blue mold in the cheese are… MOLD, which is gross. The list goes on.

I enjoyed the cheese, but only in small portions. This is also how I enjoy novelty music from the 1950s and Rex Murphy. It (the cheese) had a mellow saltiness and astringency, that seemed to increase as the portion lingered on my tongue. The cheese had a hint of sweetness, but only at the very beginning.

The smell was less impressive, and was restricted to a salty and musky odour, combined with what I can only label “mold”. The semi-soft cheese was pliable, and would not crumble well when I tried to combine it with the double baked potato mixture.

The blue is, of course, the unique and identifying aspect of the cheese in many people’s eyes. Up close, though, it’s a fairly unappetizing sight: hairy and flaky blue, caked onto indentations within the offwhite cheese.

Beyond its appearance, the musky nature of the cheese stands apart from many other cheeses that I’ve had. Its soft texture clearly lends itself to pureed salads dressings.

One thing that I learned–though on reflection, it should not have surprised me–was the manner in which my taste experience changed when I combined the cheese with the double baked potato.

The potato recipe called for baked whole russets, which were then cut open, scooped out, and mashed with crumbled blue cheese, butter, sour cream, and caramelized onion. The mixture was then portioned into the russet skins, and baked again.

The sweetness of the onions, once they had caramelized, accented the hint of sweetness in the blue cheese (the hint that had been close to imperceptible when I tasted it on its own). The astringent nature of the cheese was masked when combined with these other ingredients, and made the blue cheese far more appealing. I would certainly eat it again.

My youngest brother, who “hates blue cheese” was good enough to try the potatoes, and expressed his approval. My other brother, however, did not enjoy the dish even though he enjoys blue cheese on its own.

The wonder of combining and cooking ingredients, ladies and gentlemen! I’m interested to further investigate the effects of multiple ingredients on one’s perception of the component parts.

In future, I may try an experiment like this with flavours that I enjoy less (salty, ocean-based flavours). For example, I remember walking the shores of the Bay of Fundy, disgusted with the smell of the abandoned dulse (seaweed) littering the sandy floor. But that’s for next time.