Daily Archives: September 20, 2009

Fruit Of The Week APRICOT

Ayesha's Kitchen

Ayesha's Kitchen

The Apricot (Prunus armeniaca, “Armenian plum” in Latin, syn. Armeniaca vulgaris Lam., Armenian: Ծիրան “Tsiran”) is a species of Prunus, classified with the plum in the subgenus Prunus. The native range is somewhat uncertain due to its extensive prehistoric cultivation, but most likely is India.

Description

It is a small tree, 8–12 m tall, with a trunk up to 40 cm diameter and a dense, spreading canopy. The leaves are ovate, 5–9 cm long and 4–8 cm wide, with a rounded base, a pointed tip and a finely serrated margin. The flowers are 2–4.5 cm diameter, with five white to pinkish petals; they are produced singly or in pairs in early spring before the leaves. The fruit is a drupe similar to a small peach, 1.5–2.5 cm diameter (larger in some modern cultivars), from yellow to orange, often tinged red on the side most exposed to the sun; its surface is usually pubescent. The single seed is enclosed in a hard stony shell, often called a “stone”, with a grainy, smooth texture except for three ridges running down one side.

Cultivation And Uses

History Of Cultivation: The Apricot was first cultivated in India in about 3000 BC. In Armenia it was known from ancient times – it has been cultivated there so long it is often thought to be native there. An archeological excavation in Armenia found apricot seeds in an Eneolithic-era site. Its introduction to Greece is attributed to Alexander the Great,  and the Roman General Lucullus (106-57 B.C.E.) also exported some trees, cherry, white heart cherry and apricot from Armenia to Europe. Subsequent sources were often much confused over the origin of the species. Loudon (1838) believed it had a wide native range including Armenia, Caucasus, the Himalaya, China and Japan. Nearly all sources presume that because it is named armeniaca, the tree must be native to or have originated in Armenia as the Romans knew it. For example, De Poerderlé asserts: “Cet arbre tire son nom de l’Arménie, province d’Asie, d’où il est originaire et d’où il fut porté en Europe ….” (“this tree takes its name from Armenia, province of Asia, where it is native, and whence it was brought to Europe ….”) There is no scientific evidence to support such a view. Today the cultivars have spread to all parts of the globe with climates that support it.

Apricots have been cultivated in Persia since antiquity, and dried ones were an important commodity on Persian trade routes. Apricots remain an important fruit in modern-day Iran where they are known under the common name of Zard-ālū (Persian: زردالو).

Egyptians usually dry apricot and sweeten it then use it to make a drink called “‘amar al-dīn”.

More recently, English settlers brought the apricot to the English colonies in the New World. Most of modern American production of apricots comes from the seedlings carried to the west coast by Spanish missionaries. Almost all U.S. production is in California, with some in Washington and Utah.

Many apricots are also cultivated in Australia, particularly South Australia where they are commonly grown in the region known as the Riverland and in a small town called Mypolonga in the Lower Murray region of the state. In states other than South Australia apricots are still grown, particularly in Tasmania and western Victoria and southwest New South Wales, but they are less common than in South Australia.

Cultivation

Although often thought of as a “subtropical” fruit, this is actually false – the Apricot is native to a continental climate region with cold winters, although it can grow in Mediterranean climates very well. The tree is slightly more cold-hardy than the peach, tolerating winter temperatures as cold as −30 °C or lower if healthy. The limiting factor in apricot culture is spring frosts: They tend to flower very early, around the time of the vernal equinox even in northern locations like the Great Lakes region, meaning spring frost often kills the flowers. Furthermore, the trees are sensitive to temperature changes during the winter season. In their native China, winters can be very cold, but temperatures tend to be more stable than in Europe and especially North America, where large temperature swings can occur in winter. The trees do need some winter cold (even if minimal) to bear and grow properly and do well in Mediterranean climate locations since spring frosts are less severe but there is some cool winter weather to allow a proper dormancy. The dry climate of these areas is best for good fruit production. Hybridisation with the closely related Prunus sibirica (Siberian Apricot; hardy to −50°C but with less palatable fruit) offers options for breeding more cold-tolerant plants.

Apricot cultivars are most often grafted on plum or peach rootstocks. A cutting of an existing apricot plant provides the fruit characteristics such as flavour, size, etc., but the rootstock provides the growth characteristics of the plant. Apricots and plums can hybridize with each other and produce fruit that are variously called pluots, plumcots, or apriums.

Apricots have a chilling requirement of 300 to 900 chilling units. They are hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8. Some of the more popular cultivars of apricots include Blenheim, Wenatchee Moorpark, Tilton, and Perfection.

There is an old adage that an apricot tree will not grow far from the mother tree. The implication is that apricots are particular about the soil conditions in which they are grown. They prefer a well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. If fertilizer is needed, as indicated by yellow-green leaves, then 1/4 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer should be applied in the second year. Granular fertilizer should be scattered beneath the branches of the tree. An additional 1/4 pound should be applied for every year of age of the tree in early spring, before growth starts. Apricots are self-compatible and do not require pollinizer trees, with the exception of the ‘Moongold’ and ‘Sungold’ cultivars, which can pollinate each other. Apricots are susceptible to numerous bacterial diseases including bacterial canker and blast, bacterial spot and crown gall. They are susceptible to an even longer list of fungal diseases including brown rot, Alternaria spot and fruit rot, and powdery mildew. Other problems for apricots are nematodes and viral diseases, including graft-transmissible problems.

Kernels

Seeds or kernels of the apricot grown in central Asia and around the Mediterranean are so sweet that they may be substituted for almonds. The Italian liqueur Amaretto and amaretti biscotti are flavoured with extract of apricot kernels rather than almonds. Oil pressed from these cultivars has been used as cooking oil.

Medicinal and non – Food Uses

Cyanogenic glycosides (found in most stone fruit seeds, bark, and leaves) are found in high concentration in apricot seeds. Laetrile, a purported alternative treatment for cancer, is extracted from apricot seeds. As early as the year 502, apricot seeds were used to treat tumors, and in the 17th century, apricot oil was used in England against tumors and ulcers. However, in 1980 the National Cancer Institute in the USA described laetrile to be an ineffective cancer treatment.

In Europe, apricots were long considered an aphrodisiac, and were used in this context in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and as an inducer of childbirth, as depicted in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi.

Due to their high fiber to volume ratio, dried apricots are sometimes used to relieve constipation or induce diarrhea. Effects can be felt after eating as few as three.

Research shows that of any food, apricots possess the highest levels and widest variety of carotenoids. Carotenoids are antioxidants that help prevent heart disease, reduce “bad cholesterol” levels, and protect against cancer. In traditional Chinese medicine, apricots are considered helpful in regenerating body fluids, detoxifying, and quenching thirst.

Some claim that the kernels also have healthy properties, including toning the respiratory system and alleviating a cough. However, the tip of the apricot holds a concentrated amount of the chemical laetrile, which can be upsetting to the system. The tips of the seeds should be removed and consumption should be limited to no more than five a day.

Recipes:

Will be Updated Soon.

Vegetable Of The Week LADY FINGER (OKRA)

Ayesha's Kitchen

Ayesha's Kitchen

Okra (pronounced US: /ˈoʊkrə/, UK: /ˈɒkrə/), known by many others names, is a flowering plant in the mallow family (along with such species as cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus), valued for its edible green fruits. Okra’s scientific name is Abelmoschus esculentus; it is occasionally referred to as Hibiscus esculentus L.

The species is an annual or perennial, growing to 2 m tall. The leaves are 10–20 cm long and broad, palmately lobed with 5–7 lobes. The flowers are 4–8 cm diameter, with five white to yellow petals, often with a red or purple spot at the base of each petal. The fruit is a capsule up to 18 cm long, containing numerous seeds.

Etymology, origin and distribution

Okra is native to the Old World tropics (West Africa) and has become established in the wild in some New World tropical areas. It is believed that okra first reached the New World during the days of slave trafficking. Okra is a popular and important food worldwide. Okra is often known as lady’s fingers outside of the United States[1], and gumbo in parts of the United States and English-speaking Caribbean, based on a corruption of the Portuguese word “quingombo,” which is in turn a corruption of the word “quillobo,” the word for the plant in some parts of eastern Africa.

The name “okra” is of West African origin and is cognate with “ọ́kụ̀rụ̀” in Igbo, a language spoken in Nigeria. In various Bantu languages, okra is called “kingombo” or a variant thereof, and this is the origin of its name in Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French. The Arabic “bāmyah” is the basis of the names in Cyprus, the Middle East, the Balkans, Iran, Afghanistan, Greece, North Africa and Russia. In Southern Asia, its name is usually a variant of “bhindi” or “vendi” (வெண்டை in Tamil).”

Okra flower bud and immature seed podThe species apparently originated in the Ethiopian Highlands, though the manner of distribution from there is undocumented. The Egyptians and Moors of the 12th and 13th centuries used the Arab word for the plant, suggesting that it had come from the east. The plant may thus have been taken across the Red Sea or the Bab-el-Mandeb strait to the Arabian Peninsula, rather than north across the Sahara. One of the earliest accounts is by a Spanish Moor who visited Egypt in 1216, who described the plant under cultivation by the locals who ate the tender, young pods with meal.

From Arabia, the plant spread around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and eastward. The lack of a word for okra in the ancient languages of India suggests that it arrived there in the Common Era. The plant was introduced to the Americas by ships plying the Atlantic slave trade by 1658, when its presence was recorded in Brazil. It was further documented in Suriname in 1686.

Okra may have been introduced to southeastern North America in the early 18th century. It was being grown as far north as Philadelphia by 1748. Thomas Jefferson noted that it was well established in Virginia by 1781. It was commonplace throughout the southern United States by 1800 and the first mention of different cultivars was in 1806.

In Vietnam, it is called đậu bắp and is used in sour soup dish.

Uses

Abelmoschus esculentus is cultivated throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions of the world for its fibrous fruits or pods containing round, white seeds. The fruits are harvested when immature and eaten as a vegetable.

A high resolution scan showing pentagonal cross-section of fruit. A traditional food plant in Africa, this vegetable has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare.

In Egypt, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Yemen, and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus, okra is widely used in a thick stew made with vegetables and meat. In Indian and Pakistani cooking, it is sauteed or added to gravy-based preparations and is very popular in North India & Pakistan. In western parts of India, okra is one of the most popular vegetables of all and is often cooked in daily meals. Generally okra is stir-fried with spices and some sugar. Okra is also used in Kadhi. In Caribbean islands okra is cooked and eaten as soup, often with fish. In Haiti, it is cooked with rice and maize; it is also used as a sauce for meat. It became a popular vegetable in Japanese cuisine toward the end of the 20th century, served with soy sauce and katsuobushi or as tempura. It is used as a thickening agent in gumbo. Breaded, deep fried okra is served in the southern United States. The immature pods may also be pickled.

Okra slices show the pentagonal cross-section of the fruit. Okra leaves may be cooked in a similar manner as the greens of beets or dandelions. The leaves are also eaten raw in salads.[citation needed] Okra seeds may be roasted and ground to form a non-caffeinated substitute for coffee. As imports were disrupted by the American Civil War in 1861, the Austin State Gazette noted, “An acre of okra will produce seed enough to furnish a plantation of fifty negroes with coffee in every way equal to that imported from Rio.”

Okra forms part of several regional “signature” dishes. Frango com quiabo (chicken with okra) is a Brazilian dish that is especially famous in the region of Minas Gerais. Gumbo, a hearty stew whose key ingredient is okra, is found throughout the Gulf Coast of the United States and in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The word “gumbo” is based on the Central Bantu word for okra, “kigombo”, via the Caribbean Spanish “guingambó” or “quimbombó”. It is also an expected ingredient in callaloo, a Caribbean dish and the national dish of Trinidad & Tobago. Okra is also enjoyed in Nigeria where draw soup is a popular dish, often eaten with garri or cassava.

In Vietnam, okra is the important ingredient in the dish canh chua.

Okra oil is a pressed seed oil, extracted from the seeds of the okra. The greenish yellow edible oil has a pleasant taste and odor, and is high in unsaturated fats such as oleic acid and linoleic acid. The oil content of the seed is quite high at about 40%. Oil yields from okra crops are also high. At 794 kg/ha, the yield was exceeded only by that of sunflower oil in one trial.

Okra is also reported to contain the male contraceptive gossypol.

Cultivation

In cultivation, the seeds are soaked overnight prior to planting to a depth of 1-2 cm. Germination occurs between six days (soaked seeds) and three weeks. Seedlings require ample water.[citation needed] The seed pods rapidly become fibrous and woody and must be harvested within a week of the fruit being pollinated to be edible.

Abelmoschus esculentus is among the most heat- and drought-tolerant vegetable species in the world. It will tolerate poor soils with heavy clay and intermittent moisture. Severe frost can damage the pods.

The products of the plant are mucilaginous, resulting in the characteristic “goo” when the seed pods are cooked. In order to avoid this effect, okra pods are often stir fried, so the moisture is cooked away, or paired with slightly acidic ingredients, such as citrus or tomatoes. The cooked leaves are also a powerful soup thickener.

Recipes:

Bhindi Fry