A plum or gage is a stone fruit tree in the genus Prunus, subgenus Prunus. The subgenus is distinguished from other subgenera (peaches, cherries, bird cherries, etc) in the shoots having a terminal bud and the side buds solitary (not clustered), the flowers being grouped 1-5 together on short stems, and the fruit having a groove running down one side, and a smooth stone.
The fruit may have a dusty-white coating that is easily rubbed off — this is an epicuticular wax coating on mature plum fruit gives them a glaucous appearance.
Plum fruit tastes sweet and/or tart; the skin may be particularly tart. It is juicy and can be eaten fresh or used in jam-making or other recipes. Plum juice can be fermented into plum wine; when distilled, this produces a brandy known in Eastern Europe as Slivovitz, Rakia, Tzuica or Palinka. Dried plums are also known simply as prunes, as if ‘prune’ signified merely a dried plum – however, prunes are a distinct type of plum, and may have predated the fruits that we know more commonly as plums. Prunes are also sweet and juicy and contain several antioxidants. Plums and prunes are known for their laxative effect. This effect has been attributed to various compounds present in the fruits, such as dietary fiber, sorbitol, and isatin. Prunes and prune juice are often used to help regulate the functioning of the digestive system.
As with many other members of the rose family, plum seeds contain cyanogenetic glycosides, including amygdalin. These substances are capable of decomposing into a sugar molecule and hydrogen cyanide gas. While plum seeds are not the most toxic within the rose family, that dubious honor going to the bitter almond, large doses of these chemicals from any source are hazardous to human health.
Dried prune marketers in the United States have, in recent years, begun marketing their product as “dried plums.” This is due to “prune” having negative connotations connected with elderly people suffering from constipation.
Various flavors of dried plum are available at Chinese grocers and specialty stores worldwide. They tend to be much drier than the standard prune. Cream, Ginsing, Spicy, and Salty are among the common varieties. Licorice is generally used to intensify the flavor of these plums and is used to make salty plum drinks and toppings for Shaved Ice or bobbing.
Pickled plums are another type of preserve available in Asia and international specialty stores. The Japanese variety, called umeboshi, is often used for rice balls, called “Onigiri” or “Omusubi.” The ume, from which umeboshi are made, is however more closely related to the apricot than to the plum.
Prune kernel oil is made from the fleshy inner part of the pit of the plum.
Plums come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Some are much firmer-fleshed than others and some have yellow, white, green or red flesh, with equally varying skin color.
Asparagus officinal is a flowering plant species in the genus Asparagus from which the vegetable known as asparagus is obtained. It is native to most of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia. It is now also widely cultivated as a vegetable crop.
Only the young shoots of asparagus are eaten.
Asparagus is low in calories, contains no cholesterol, and is very low in sodium. It is a good source of folic acid, potassium, dietary fiber, and rutin. The amino acid asparagine gets its name from asparagus, the asparagus plant being rich in this compound.
The shoots are prepared and served in a number of ways around the world. In Asian-style cooking, asparagus is often stir-fried. Cantonese restaurants in the United States often serve asparagus stir-fried with chicken, shrimp, or beef, also wrapped in bacon. Asparagus may also be quickly grilled over charcoal or hardwood embers. It is also used as an ingredient in some stews and soups. In the French style, it is often boiled or steamed and served with hollandaise sauce, melted butter or olive oil, Parmesan cheese or mayonnaise. It may even be used in a dessert. The best asparagus tends to be early growth (meaning first of the season) and is often simply steamed and served along with melted butter. Tall, narrow asparagus cooking pots allow the shoots to be steamed gently, their tips staying out of the water.
Asparagus can also be pickled and stored for several years. Some brands may label them as “marinated” which means the same thing.
The bottom portion of asparagus often contains sand and dirt and as such thorough cleaning is generally advised in cooking asparagus.
Green asparagus is eaten worldwide, though the availability of imports throughout the year has made it less of a delicacy than it once was. However, in the UK, due to the short growing season and demand for local produce, asparagus commands a premium and the “asparagus season is a highlight of the foodie calendar.” In continental northern Europe, there is also a strong seasonal following for local white asparagus, nicknamed “white gold”.
Second century physician, Galen, described asparagus as “cleansing and healing.”
Nutrition studies have shown that asparagus is a low-calorie source of folate and potassium. Its stalks are high in antioxidants. “Asparagus provides essential nutrients: six spears contain some 135 micrograms (mcg) of folate, almost half the adult RDI (recommended daily intake), 545 mcg of beta carotene, and 20 milligrams of potassium,” notes an article which appeared in ‘Reader’s Digest.’ Research suggests folate is key in taming homocysteine, a substance implicated in heart disease.
Folate is also critical for pregnant mothers, since it protects against neural tube defects in babies. Several studies indicate that getting plenty of potassium may reduce the loss of calcium from the body.
Particularly green asparagus is a good source of vitamin C, packing in six times more than those found in citrus fruits.
Vitamin C helps the body produce and maintain collagen. Considered a wonder protein, collagen helps hold together all the cells and tissues of the body.
“Asparagus has long been recognized for its medicinal properties,” wrote D. Onstad, author of ‘Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers and Lovers of Natural Foods.’
“Asparagus contains substances that act as a diuretic, neutralize ammonia that makes us tired, and protect small blood vessels from rupturing. Its fiber content makes it a laxative too.”