What about ethylene?

Any time the subject of fruit ripening comes up there are always at least a couple of emails about the evils of ethylene, which is the stuff that commercial fruit distributors sometimes use to “gas” fruits like tomatoes to ripen them before they get to the grocery store bins. I’m not saying I favor that practice (though in truth I don’t know what the alternative is, since ripe fruit would turn to mush after a few hours bouncing around in a truck) but the truth is there’s nothing harmful or “noxious” about ethylene gas. It is an entirely benign — dare I say natural — compound.

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Should you refrigerate a peach?

Definitely not, reader Sally. Refrigeration makes peach flesh mealy. Why? Mainly because cold temperatures inhibit the degradation of pectin in the fruit. Most of us think of fruit pectin as a thickener. However its purpose in nature is rather different. Essentially, it’s the glue that holds fruit cells together. Lots of pectin keeps the rows of cells in the fruit’s flesh strong and rigid, which helps keep the flesh in its entirely to stay firm. …

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Reader Missy asks what the difference is between freestone and clingstone peaches. That’s an excellent question, Missy. As the names imply, the fundamental difference between the two is the degree to which the pit (stone) clings to the flesh of the peach. Freestone pits all but fall out of the fruit while clingstone pits have to be cut out. Generally speaking, freestones are better for simple eating since the flesh tends to be very tender and juicy. Clingstones as a rule have firmer flesh and that makes them better for canning, drying and pie making since the flesh doesn’t break down as much when it’s heated or stored for a long period of time. Still because they can be such a hassle to process at home, most home cooks tend to avoid clingstones even for pies or home canning projects. Industrial canners have special equipment for removing the pits….

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Prunus Persica

As fruits go, the peach has one of the more interesting histories. Its genus, prunus is classified within the rose family, and includes other stone fruit (or drupe)-producing trees like the cherry, plum and apricot.

Peach trees have Persica in their name primarily because early Westerners, starting with the Greeks, believed them to be Persian in origin. In fact they originated in China where they were cultivated at least as far back as 10,000 BC. Peaches grow easily from seeds, and that made them easily portable for the traders that moved them along the Silk Road from China westward into Kashmir and ultimately into what is now modern day Iran (where they thrived). That was in about about 2,000 BC. …

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What’s “Short” About “Shortening”?

Hope everyone had a delightful 3-day Labor Day weekend! I returned this morning to find this very interesting question from reader Q in my box. Speaking for myself, Q, I’ve never heard a satisfactory explanation. The one you hear the most is that shortening was given that name because it “shortens gluten strands”. As a technical matter that’s true, however the problem is that terms like shortening and “shortbread” (which is high in shortening, i.e. fat) have been used for hundreds of years, well before anyone ever knew what a gluten strand was.

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The French once called Bavarian cream “fromage Bavarois”? What on Earth does Bavarian cream have to do with cheese? The answer is nothing. The word “fromage”, as I understand it, refers as much to a process as it does to a specific food. Classically, “fromage” is something which is “made in a form.” We anglophones can see the relationship a little more clearly in the Italian word for cheese: formaggio. A loose translation of the Old French “fromage Bavarois” might be a “Bavarian cream in a form.”

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Keepin’ Away Them Haints

Well the painters are finishing up today, it’s going to feel great to have my lawn back after nearly two weeks of dancing around drop cloths and ladders. Among the finishing touches are the front and back porch ceilings. The color picker for the painting company we’re using asked if, instead of the grey-green we’re using for the main body of the house, if we wouldn’t prefer a nice “haint” blue for the porch ceilings. What the heck is a “haint”? Turns out the blue is a Southern thing, a traditional hex supposed to keep evils spirits (“haunts”) out of your house. Explanations vary as to …

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So then is Bavarian cream actually Bavarian?

Nice follow-up question, Robin! The answer is no. Probably not. Maybe not. It’s hard to say, for the origin of Bavarian cream is murky. Some food historians say that Bavarian cream — classically known as fromage Bavarois — was brought to France by a French chef who’d worked in Bavaria, but there’s no evidence for that.

Auguste Escoffier claimed that “bavarois” was actually a Russian invention that should by all rights be called “Muscovite”, yet no one is entirely sure whether Escoffier was talking about a pastry filling or a drink, a concoction of hot tea, milk, egg yolks, sugar and Kirsch that went by the same name. …

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Fruit Mousse = Bavarian Cream?

Reader Robin writes:

If this cake is a type of “Bavarois” which means “Bavarian” obviously, does that mean that fruit mousse is a Bavarian cream?

That’s exactly what it means, Robin. The world of Bavarian creams is broad and diverse. There are dozens of crème anglaise Bavarians, eggless gelatin-thickened fruit Bavarians, non-dairy Bavarians lightened with meringue instead of whipped cream, the list goes on and on. I’ve only made a couple of them on the blog so far, but then life is long. I’ll get to them eventually.

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Oh yes, she’s quite the laugh riot.

Reader Elle writes:

I’ve heard it said that Joconde cake gets its name from the Mona Lisa, but if that’s true…how?

That’s an interesting story, Elle. It may or may not be true, but that won’t stop me from telling it. It goes like this: the portrait of the Mona Lisa was commissioned by a fellow by the name of Francesco di Bartholommeo di Zanobi del Giocondo, a wealthy silk merchant who had way too many names, but who nevertheless lived in Florence around the turn of the Sixteenth Century. He commissioned the painting — a portrait of his wife, a commoner by the name of Lisa Gherardini — to commemorate the birth of their second son, Andrea….

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