Photo: Ryan Jacobs
Carnival, spaghetti, banana, acorn, turban? What are we talking about? The many wonderful varieties of winter squash, of course! Packed with the antioxidant beta-carotene, as well as vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, dishes featuring the sweet, moist, nutty flavor of winter squash are a tasty addition to all your holiday menus. So whether it’s butternut or buttercup, be sure to enjoy Mary Sue and Susan’s favorite winter squash recipes.
- A winter squash with deep color and a dull rind is your best bet for a fully ripe, flavorful squash. A shiny rind means a squash was picked too early.
- Overgrown? No way! The longer a winter squash grows, the sweeter it becomes.
- Winter squash should be heavy for its size with a smooth, dry rind, free of soft spots or cracks.
- If stored in a cool (but not cold), dry place, winter squash will keep for up to three months.
Harvest time means a bounty of fresh, sweet corn. One of the most versatile and widely used crops in the world, corn can still be a mystery when it comes to finding some that actually does taste fresh and sweet. So lend us an ear as we peel back the husks and reveal the secrets of corn.
How to Choose
Freshness is everything! Within 24 hours of being picked, almost 50% of the sugars in sweet corn have been converted to starch. Keeping corn cold is the best way to slow down the sugar to starch conversion, so avoid corn that is piled high in unrefrigerated bins. At the grocery store, or better yet, the farmers’ market, look for refrigerated or iced corn with husks that are moist, bright green, and tight. Be sure to pull back the husks slightly and check for plump kernels that release a cloudy liquid when pressed with your fingernail. If the corn is overripe, the kernels will be tough and doughy.
Plain and simple, sweet corn is best eaten the same day it is purchased. If you must buy ahead, parboil the corn for a minute or two in unsalted water (salt toughens corn), then refrigerate for up to three days before finishing the cooking process.
Types of Corn
Flint corn, also known as Indian corn, comes in a wide range of colors from white to red and has a hard outer shell and firm kernels. Popcorn is a type of flint corn. When it’s heated, the moisture inside turns to steam and the pressure created causes the popcorn to explode, turning the fluffy, white starch inside out.
Flour corn is primarily white, but does come in other colors such as blue. Flour corn has a soft, starch-filled kernel that’s easy to grind and is mainly used for baked goods.
Sweet corn is commonly sold at grocery stores and is eaten freshly cooked, frozen, or canned. It is specifically bred to increase sugar content and contains anywhere from 8% to 24% sugar, compared to 4% in other types of corn. It comes in 3 varieties: yellow, white, and bicolor (yellow and white). Baby corn is a tiny ear of sweet corn, picked very young while the cob is still soft, and eaten whole. Corn nuts are made from sweet corn that’s been left to dry on the plant and then fried in oil, causing kernels to expand to double their original size.
Time to Eat
With the secrets of corn revealed, it’s time to savor its wonderful flavor in some of Mary Sue and Susan’s favorite fresh corn recipes.
Savor a bite of sweet, juicy plum and go plum crazy for the flavor of summer! With more than 200 varieties grown around the world, plums are an international favorite, but what lies beneath that beautiful skin? Turns out as well as being low in fat and calories, plums are an excellent source of vitamin A, C, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, and of course, fiber.
Plums vs. Prunes: Image Matters
The word “prune” refers to both a variety of fruit as well as a dried plum. In France, prunes are a delicacy soaked in Armagnac and served as a traditional accompaniment to foie gras. But in the United States, prunes do not hold the same prestige. Because of the pervasive image of prunes being used as a digestive aid for the elderly, prune promoters kicked off a public relations campaign in 2001 to market their product as “dried plums”. They even won federal approval to officially change the name in the hopes of attracting younger customers. Funny thing, those that ate prunes all along despite their negative image may get the last laugh. The fibrous prune is rich in antioxidants that may actually slow the aging process.
21st Century Plums: The Hybrids at the Market
A bit confused after a recent trip to the farmers’ market or grocery store? Wondering what the heck is a pluot or an aprium? With plums as the key component in some of the latest fruit hybrids, all sorts of exotic creations are popping up. And best of all, these hybrids are created without the aid of genetic engineering, but instead with methods like cross pollination by hand.
Pluot – With a 75% plum and 25% apricot parentage, its exterior closely resembles the plum. There are at least 8 common varieties of pluot, including those with red, yellow, and even polka dot skin. Pluots are noted for their sweetness and intense flavor.
Plumcot – Approximately 50% plum and 50% apricot. Created by intertwining the roots of a plum and apricot tree during the earliest growing stages. Although they look more like apricots, they have an unmistakable plum flavor.
Aprium – With parentage of 2/3 apricot and 1/3 plum, it more closely resembles an apricot but has a distinctive plum finish. Its exterior looks like an apricot to some extent, but is mostly smooth like a plum, making it easier to pack and ship.
Tri-Lite – A peach plum hybrid with a mild, classic flavor and a pleasant plum aftertaste. It is particularly good for canning.
Nectaplum – 50% nectarine and 50% plum. The nectaplum has juicy, melt-in-your-mouth flesh with a hint of spice.
Peacotum – Coming in 2008. With the yellow flesh of a peach, the texture and juiciness of a plum, and the velvety overcoat of an apricot, the peacotum tastes more like fruit punch than any of its parent breeds and is the first three-fruit hybrid headed for mass market.
Cooking with Plums
With all the wonderful varieties of plums and plum hybrids to choose from, it’s time to cook up a few of Mary Sue and Susan’s plum favorites.
The sweet, juicy mango is one of the world’s most popular fruits. It’s packed with beta-carotene and vitamin C and has a wonderfully unique peachy-piney flavor. Ripe mangoes will yield to slight pressure and show a rich blush of yellow-orange and red, but a touch of green is okay too. Although mangoes can be a bit of a chore to prep for eating, it’s definitely worth the effort, especially with the recent arrival of the Oxo Good Grips Mango Splitter. Mary Sue and Susan have rounded up a collection of recipes showcasing the magnificent mango in both savory and sweet dishes and drinks.