I fell in love with Judaism one bite at a time—a rugelach here, a matzoh ball there, a crispy serving of potato kugel with the brisket.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is so sensibly sited when the year is really brand new, as the children return to school and the brisker days encourage resolution and effort. To make the new year sweet, we are also encouraged to serve foods like apples dipped in honey. For my family, no holiday dinner would be complete without Fresh Beet Salad. This wonderful dish adds glowing color, firm texture, and tart sweetness. It’s fast, easy, keeps for days, and will convert virtually all beet haters instantly to this inexpensive, filling and vitamin and mineral-packed vegetable. What’s more, the greens attached to those beets are nutritious and yummy, too—more on that in my next post.
Apples have been enjoyed by human beings since at least 6500 BC. Small burnt apples have been found in archaeological sites around lakes in Switzerland. There are wild apples or crab apples found in most countries of Europe, including as far north as Norway. It is thought that the first apple trees originated somewhere between the Caspian and the Black Seas. The Wild Apple, native to Britain, is the ancestor of all modern apple trees. The Romans grafted their premium varieties, including some from France, onto this wild stock
Though small, bitter, wild Crab Apples were present in the New World when the Pilgrims came to America, they wrote home for seeds and cuttings from England. This established the early apple strains in New England. Later, colonists brought apple trees to plant in Virginia and throughout the Southeast.
Legend tells of a Massachusetts man, Johnny Chapman, who traveled throughout what was then the West (Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois) in the early 1800s, planting apple trees. There is also a tale of a London sea captain who brought seeds to Washington state in 1820 that are reputed to be the initial stock for the booming Washington State apple industry.
Nearly 8,000 varieties exist today, but only about 100 are grown commercially in this country. New varieties are being discovered as chance seedlings or intentional cross-breeding. Of the commercial crop, 61 percent are eaten fresh, 21 percent are made into juice or cider, and 39 percent are processed into a variety of apple products.
[Photo courtesy of the NY Apple Association]
Many of the greens found in the wild have become legitimized by the popularity of mesclun mixes and intentionally cultivated. Mesclun, comes from a French word meaning “mixture.” Originating in Provence, France, mesclun traditionally was a blend of chervil, arugula, lettuce, and endive. These were usually grown together and harvested when only a few inches high.
Mesclun in America is much more varied. Not only are the blends packed with eight to sixteen different kinds of greens, but they are also geared for different tastes. Some are quite mild and contain much more lettuce. Peppery mescluns can have cresses, chicory, arugula, and mustards mixed with regular leaf lettuce. Many of the greens in these salad blends are: lettuces, endives, mustards, purslane, cresses, escarole, arugula, chard, and spinach. Exotic greens like mizuna from Japan or tat-soi from China are popular, too. Some mescluns even have herbs, like parsleys and fennels, and edible flowers.
Most wild salad greens are just pesky weeds to most people. Yet, many upscale supermarkets carry wild greens, and fine dining establishments use dandelion greens, a variety of watercresses, lambs quarters, and even French purslane in their creations. These weeds are really nutritious and very tasty. Wash them well, and chop or tear them into very small pieces to distribute their unique flavors. Use singly in a salad or mix them with other wild greens and domestic lettuces. Dress lightly so you don’t mask their flavors. Besides eating them raw, these greens can be wilted or steamed and served with a vinaigrette dressing or a splash of balsamic vinegar.
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