We’re not talking technology here, rather that red, round, pomaceous relative of the rose, inaccurately reputed to be the original temptation accountable for the loss of Paradise. It’s true. Translations delved into reveal that biblical allusions refer only to a “fruit”. Poetic license and careless storytelling seem to be responsible for centuries of potential libel. The bible does however, record the lovesickness of the young woman asking for the comfort of apples in the Song of Solomon.
The apple tree, its fruit, its legends, myths and tall tales are woven throughout American, Arabian, Breton, Chinese, English, German, Greek, Irish, Kazakhstani, Norse, Roman and Scandinavian folklore. Western cultural references and images include: an apple a day, golden apples of the sun, apple polishers, forbidden fruit, upset carts, apple blossom time, apples and oranges, one bad apple, Adam’s apple, William Tell and as American as apple pie. Apple Annie’s shiny apple in A Pocket Full of Miracles hilariously produced good fortune. The beautiful but evil Queen, stepmother of Sleeping Beauty, concocted a poison apple that sent her stepdaughter into a coma of a hundred years.
The apple tree has led a long and nomadic life. A Kazakhstani folk tale tells of a young man entrusted with gold to buy seeds for a great garden. His compassion compelled him to purchase the freedom of miserably treated exotic birds. In gratitude, they dug a hole and planted an exquisite garden with an apple orchard. All apple varieties can trace their ancestry to the great grandames of Kazakhstan.
Apple seedlings made their way from Kazakhstan south into the fertile plain between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers where they then hitched a ride with trade caravans east and westward bound. The apple made a blushing appearance in Homer’s Odyssey. A 6th C BC Chinese diplomat recorded propagation of apple trees through grafting and, despite the charming tales of the American itinerant preacher, Johnny Appleseed, today most apple propagation is achieved through grafting.
The air in these parts has turned as crisp and enticing as the apples. There may be wood smoke in the air in the not too distant future. Sometimes I feel so sorry for people who live in single season places. Oh surely they tout their own environment. For me the seasonal changes, their anticipation and fulfillment are a comfort. Along with the apples. Normandy is a region in which apples play a very influential part in the cuisine, Calvados, apple custards and torts and ciders. Today we’ve got an updated take on a famous dish called Chicken Normandy. The website has many apple recipes, everything from Apple Soup and Apple Cheddar Cheese Pie to Apple Maple Bread Pudding and Sweet Potato Apple Gratin, scroll through and see what tickles your fancy.
Fine words may butter no parsnips, but writers have more options. The English writer and poet, D. H. Lawrence pushed the envelope of his day and homeland with his explorations of human instincts, vitality, spontaneity and sexuality. In a few strokes he elevated the deeply-rooted parsnip into literary history with his charming 1921 description of Sicilians, saying, “They pour themselves one over the other like so much melted butter over parsnips ….smile(d) with sunny melting tenderness into each other’s faces”.
A while ago, we were wondering what the Europeans ate before they arrived on our western shores and exported tomatoes, potatoes, corn, squash, chocolate, turkeys and other comestibles to their homelands. Parsnips seems to be at least one of the answers. This cream-colored root is thought to be native to Eurasia, a mere 21 million square miles of planet. It is cousin to the carrot, celery, celeriac and parsley.
Roman Emperor Tiberius thought enough of parsnips to accept them as payment of taxes. Too bad the current governing tax collectors do not value this sweet root to that extent. Until cane sugar was commercially imported from the west, the parsnip was Europe’s principle sweetener. Consequently, this was a vegetable that appeared on most tables in the form of dessert. Post commercially available cane sugar, the parsnip was relegated to near obscurity as a vegetable side dish. At some point, the parsnip fell off the Italian family table, perhaps they didn’t think they could have their parsnips and eat them too. Today Italian parsnips are used as primary feed for those choice and coddled pigs bred to become the famous Parma ham. The French and British colonists brought the parsnip to North America, where it was popular until supplanted, inexplicably, by the blander potato.
To quote at least a dozen folks, all things are cyclical and the parsnip is once again enjoying its own renaissance. Good for us. We have talked in this space before about the parsnip and provided recipes such as Baked Parsnip Fries, Parsnip Spiced Cake with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting, Caramelized Parsnips, Creamy Parsnip and Leek Soup, all of which are on the market website. Today we’re offering Spicy English Curry Soup, which is an easy way to provide a rich but simple meal. It has become a favorite in our household.
Mushrooms are the stuff of legend, mystery and magic. Naturally occurring arcs or rings of mushrooms, usually in a forested area, are thought to be gateways into the kingdoms of fairies and elves. These phenomena are reputed to vanish after only five midnights wherever they have bloomed, sometimes leaving a shadow of themselves in the surrounding growth. It is said that if a fairy or an elf can entice a human into their ring, he is whisked off never to tread the real world again.
While the virtues of magic mushroom, Psilocybin, were highly touted in the 60s, ancient advocates were painting them as elements of religious rites in the art caves of Tassili, Algeria up to 9,000 years ago. Aztecs served the psychedelic mushroom at coronation ceremonies and pre-historic Spanish rock art depicted their use long before Spain was Spain. As usual, there is nothing new under the sun.
Except possibly the imagination of humans when naming things in the world. In the case of mushrooms for instance: puff balls, lion’s mane, hen-of-the-woods, toadstools and oysters, clearly someone was having a good time. Though the mushroom is known in some quarters as the meat of the vegetable world, it is neither flesh nor vegetable at all. Like its cousin, the much-revered truffle, it is a fungus. The dense, substantial texture and flavor of the mushroom is unique, even before you consider the differences between the varieties. One of the world’s more extraordinary confluences of taste and timing must be that of Italy’s Piemonte region during truffle season, grape harvest and porcini mushroom season which occurs each September and October.
Delicious, intoxicating and sometimes toxic, it is important to know your mushrooms. Fortunately, most mushrooms sold in today’s farmers’ markets and grocery stores are cultivated rather than foraged. There is no single distinguishing trait that identifies the toxic mushroom. Yet a 1st C Roman woman was famous as a professional poisoner. Locusta was believed to have provided Agrippina the Younger, the fourth wife of Claudius, with poisoned mushrooms enabling her to remove her mushroom-loving husband from power.
But let’s get serious, it’s really all about getting mushrooms to the table. We have several mushroom growers at our market with plenty of interesting varieties. In previous newsletters we’ve offered recipes for Grilled Shitake Mushrooms, Mushroom Crepes, Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches with Aioli and Sautéed Lion’s Mane, to cite a few. Check these and others out on the website http://www.litchfieldfarmersmarket.org/.