Monthly Archives: October 2011

Pimientos from the October garden.

Have you ever seen a fresh pimiento pepper for sale in the grocery store? No? That’s why, if you have a garden, you should consider growing them yourself. The little jars of diced pimientos that are the only experience most people have of them — sorry, but they are not to be compared to the fruits you can expect to harvest from your back yard.

I went around the garden this afternoon snapping pictures of the prettiest things, including the peppers.

What first caught my eye was the way the color of the Mexican Sage coordinated so nicely with the Red Russian Kale. Some parsley is peeking up at the bottom.

Arugula (with the white flower) is a real self-starter and has come back up through the basil, and the nasturtiums are still going strong.

But about those pimientos: It was about 30 years ago I encountered a fellow gardener’s planting of them, on a sunny hillside growing alongside beans and tomatoes and other more common things. Ellie said, “Pimientos are marvelous; they are good with everything. We just love them!” It was at a time in my life when I was very suggestible regarding any homemaking idea, and the garden was a big part of my homemaking.

Since then, I don’t think a year has gone by that we didn’t grown some pimientos, though one time we ended up with plants that had an odd shape and slightly different flavor. That’s when we learned that there are different varieties called pimiento. But the shape of the fruits in my photos here is what we think of as standard.

Pimientos have a richer taste than the standard sweet red bell pepper that the supermarkets carry, and the wall of the fruit is probably twice as thick. For 20+ years I would mostly serve them sautéed with mushrooms and/or onions and garlic as a vegetable dish. The skins would often slide off before I got the skillet to the table, in which case sometimes I’d sometimes manage to remove some of them. Mostly the skins got eaten.


But now that I have a gas range I can easily turn them around on the stove with tongs while they hiss and sputter, and have fire-roasted peppers. (I also did this with poblano peppers this summer.) After they are blackened all over, you stick them in a bowl or something with a lid — I tried a plastic bag but the peppers were so hot they melted holes in the bag — and let them sweat a few minutes until the skins rub off easily under water.

Meanwhile, the house starts to smell like a Mexican restaurant!

Once they are bare and thick slabs of sweet flesh, it is so easy to chop some up into soups or stews or salads. Lay a pepper on top of bread and cheese, or just bread…or feel really indulgent eating one all by itself. I freeze some flattened between waxed paper to use all year long.

Apples I Have Known – in a book

Janet blogged recently about an apple-picking expedition, with photos that reminded me of excursions to the apple orchard that has been our family’s favorite vender for decades. We didn’t make it out there this year — yet.

The number of munching, saucing and pie-baking kids and grandkids that we had around here at times could consume quite a few bags and boxes of fruit during apple season, and our grower friend featured almost 30 varieties of apples, which kept his barn open to customers for a deliciously long time.

My daughter whom I call by the name of a favorite apple gave me a small book that is fun to peruse when the apple farm closes, or when there isn’t enough demand for fresh fruit in the house. It is all about various kinds of apples, with bright watercolors of those featured. Some old varieties, some newer.

Above is the Cortland that Janet is enjoying. If you want to read the text in any photo just click on the picture to enlarge it.

The Arkansas Black is one of that large selection on the local apple farm, and I have cooked with it many times.

Another friend and neighbor grew an orchard full of Criterions and sold gallons of the fresh juice out of his barn. Our older kids helped on the ranch, thinning the crop and such like, and no doubt these extra sweet and crisp fruits contributed to their good health.

Jonathans were a favorite of my father, as I discovered late in his life when I was given a boxful of runts. Late in the mountain season I sat in his cabin cutting up the fruit for applesauce, and he ate a dozen while youthful memories flooded his head.

And the Gravenstein — it’s got such a tang that as I write about it I start salivating. Its season is short, but there are plenty of orchards in our part of the country, and it adds the most appley flavor to whatever you cook with it. I have made many a curried apple turkey loaf with Gravenstein sauce.

I like the pictures of all the odd apples that I’ve never encountered, especially the sort of ugly knobby ones, or those with russeting or bumps, or elliptical shapes.

But my favorite apple of all, and naturally the best-for-me entry in this book, is one that was more available in stores when I first learned to bake pies. After using the same apples for many years, I have to admit that only Pippins make a pie that with my whole being I can rejoice in as Apple Pie. To prove my love, I am feeling a need to make a trip to Our Orchard this week and get a boxful.

Swan Lake stories

I really got into the Swan Lake story last Spring. It all started with an recommendation, from which I learned that Mark Helprin had written a book-length adaptation of the tale that was most famously told by Tchaikovsky’s ballet. There were surprisingly few reader reviews of his book given that they were nearly all gushingly positive, some saying it was the best book they had ever read.

I’ve long been curious about Helprin and the many books he’s written. Some of my family and friends have read his novels, stories, and non-fiction pieces. I had a feeling that I should appreciate him more than I did, and I planned to try again to read his fiction. I was sure his Swan Lake would be good, and I nearly ordered it without previewing it. But then I saw that it was first of a trilogy, and people were less thrilled with the sequels, so I got it from the library instead to see for myself before investing on behalf of a grandchild.

While I was at it, I borrowed three other juvenile versions of the story, so I would have something to compare with. On the first day of Lent I read all four of the books — I know, it was an odd thing to do that day — and scratched out some thoughts. After returning the books to the library in the interest of focusing on more appropriate matters, I forgot all about the subject, until today, when I decided I should gather everything up finally.

Helprin’s version (©1989) would have to be counted my least favorite of the four. It’s the length of a short novel, and his story is fleshed out with several characters who don’t appear in the more common tellings. It’s the most changed, interesting and complex story, but maybe too complicated. The story’s flow is interrupted with goofy details and sidetracks that detract from the moral weight. The narrator’s voice is not that of a believable old man, not that of the man who has enough wits about him accomplish what he does. Yet he’s supposedly a sage.

I also did not like the loose morals of the characters, who literally “shack up” together and have a child, who figures in the politics of the realm in the sequels, as I understand. The prince never does behave in a very noble fashion that I can see. And what’s the good of a fairy tale if the prince is at best only a foolish boy?

I’m really not competent to even know what it is about Helprin’s fictional style that puts me off. Probably it’s only a personal preference or lack of foundation that makes it hard for me to enjoy him. But I think that I’m through trying.

My next-least favorite of the bunch of Swan Lake tales that I read was Swan Lake, retold by Anthea Bell, illustrated by Chihiro Iwasaki (©1984). I liked the watercolors, but there weren’t enough pictures of swans for my taste. And the story line was thin.

Swan Lake, adapted and illustrated by Donna Diamond (©1980) was second-best of my stack. It was thorough story-telling, including more motives and complications, with nice black and white, dreamy paintings.

My favorite was Swan Lake, retold and illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger (©2002). The illustrations were pleasing to me, and after mentioning several versions of the ending, the author makes it into a happily-ever-after story.

After all my literary wanderings, I’m left wondering if perhaps this tale is best told through a ballet performance. I know that even in that form there have been widely divergent versions of the story, but I can’t help thinking that the rich visual and musical elements would make the whole experience more satisfying than did any of these books.

Candy: Fake, Fruity, or Drunken?

Fruit snacks are yummy treats. The Candy Professor thinks so, too, but she writes in The Atlantic about how the idea that they may legitimately be touted as something other than candy is under question in court. In her blog this week the professor, Samira Kawash, also treats the semiotics of candy:

“Candy as simulacrum cuts loose from the chain of origins and descent. It’s fake, and unashamed of its fakeness and therefore not in need of connecting itself to some legitimating narrative of ancestry and origin.

“So candy as fake food is more true than food that disguises its fakery. Candy, perfect post-modern food.”

And she does her own experiment to find out if gummy bears can really soak up vodka without dissolving in it.

I’ve always enjoyed this woman’s blog, but never more than this week, because I love science experiments using food, even junk food. I do like many forms of candy, but I mostly try to feed myself and my family truly nutritious food, which doesn’t include sweets. I haven’t indulged in any fruit snacks lately, but I wonder if the food police will require their being shelved with the jelly beans in the future?

By the way, candy is a topic of conversation I sometimes fall back on when talking with my grandchildren, most of whom will become engaged on some level at the mention of it. Now I have even more threads of talk with which to lead them on.

At the same time, these latest discussions are getting tangled in my mind. Are fruit snacks real? Are drunken gummies liquor or fusion cuisine? I hope I am right in this at least, that the philosophers are telling me that my sweet tooth is merely a healthy preference for honest food.