Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Ugniberry: Yummy Fruits A-Z

Ugni shrubs are 3-15 feet tall.
Berries are 1 cm in diameter.

Ugni (also known as Chilean guava or strawberry myrtle) is an evergreen shrub native to Chile, Argentina, Central America, and southern Mexico. The ugniberry is quite edible and tastes like a spicy strawberry. It is often used as a replacement for strawberry flavoring in processed foods

There are ten species of this shrub. In New Zealand it is called "New Zealand Cranberry," and in Australia, "Tazziberry," however neither are native to the region. The shrub is smaller than the taller South American version. 

Juan Ignacio Molina
Historically, ugni shrubs were first described in 1782 by a Chilean Jesuit priest, Juan Ignacio Molina, who was also a botanist and naturalist, among other, and later a professor of natural sciences in Italy. His writings were the first to describe the natural history of Chile. Molina's contribution to science also explains the complete name of this plant - Ugni molinae.

Ugnifruit was then introduced to England in 1844 and became a favorite fruit of Queen Victoria. It was also enjoyed as an ornamental plant, prized for its flowers and evergreen foilage. The ugni flower is quite beautiful with its drooping pale pink petals. 
Ugni Matador Liqueur

Today the fruit is used on a rather small scale in New Zealand, Australia....and Chile, where traditional Matador liqueur is made. The fruit is also used to make jams, cakes, and other desserts, and eaten fresh or added to salads.

The popularity of this berry is growing. Some claim it has five times the taste of a blueberry, so home gardeners are beginning to plant this shrub more, as it does well in most soils. The only catch is probably the climate. Ugni shrubs thrive best in a subtropical, temperate climate, although they can handle light frost and withstand some dry conditions. I would love to see a variety that could be grown in the Pacific Northwest, east of Washington's Cascade range where I live.  

Do you grow this shrub? Do you eat the berries?

Cake with ugniberries
Nutritionally, ugniberries are high in dietary fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Native people used this berry to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and urinary tract pain. Antioxidant levels are comparable to blueberries, but information is sketchy, as studies appear to be ongoing. 

Ugni Recipe

"Ugniberry Oatmeal Muffins"

1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ugniberries
Preheat oven 375 degrees F.
--In medium bowl, mix together oats and buttermilk. Let stand 5 minutes. Add oil, brown sugar, egg and mix.
--In second bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir flour mixture into batter and fold in berries. Grease muffin tins with vegetable oil. 
--Fill tins 3/4 full and sprinkle tops with extra rolled oats. Bake 20-25 minutes, until centers are cooked. Remove from oven, cool ten minutes on rack, and remove from tins. Yield: 8 muffins. 


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Thimbleberry: Yummy Fruits A-Z

Thimbleberries are native to western and northern North America, and the U.S. Great Lakes region. At first glance, they look like raspberries, but without getting too complicated, there IS a difference between the two. Both are in the same genus (rubus), but of a different species entirely. 
(actual berry is similar to raspberry)
Thimbleberries grow on bushes without prickly thorns, while raspberries often grow on canes with thorns. Thimbleberries are flatter and softer than raspberries, with more seeds. They do not store well either, which is why they have never been commercialized. 

The two, however, are quite similar in taste, and like the raspberry, the thimbleberry is NOT a true berry. Both are "aggregate fruits," which defines a fruit formed around a central core (note the hollow cavity when these berries are picked). They are more like peaches or apricots in that regard. The name "thimble" refers to the berry's resemblance to a "sewing thimble." 

As a young girl, I picked thimbleberries in the wild with my mother and aunt. I liked putting the berries on my fingers (like thimbles) and eating them one by one. These dear ladies also liked to mess with my hair (ha-ha....I had more than my share of frizzy perms back then). But I learned a lot from them, and picking berries at the base of beautiful Mount Rainier was one of many lessons. After an afternoon of picking we would go home and convert the berries into jams and yummy desserts. 

Thimbleberries are high in nutrition, something native tribes throughout Canada and the U.S. understood well in the past. The entire plant is edible, the berry, roots, stalks, leaves and flowers! Leaves were used to make a herbal tea or soups for treating diarrhea, vomiting and stomach illnesses, also for poultices in tending wounds or burns. Roots were used similarly, and stalks were a nutritious vegetable. Like the berries, they are especially high in Vitamin C. 

Berries in general are a healthy food source, and are a smart and delicious way to strengthen the body against cancer, heart disease, and arthritis. Some think that eating berries may even slow the aging process. All are pretty good reasons to eat more!

Thimbleberry Recipes

"Thimbleberry Cheesecake"

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
2-1/2 cups cottage cheese
1/2 cream
2 eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup thimbleberries (or raspberries)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch (dissolved in 1/4 cup water)
Preheat oven 325 degrees F. 
Crust: Melt butter and mix with graham cracker crumbs, sugar (2 tbs), and cinnamon. Press into bottom and sides of spring form pan (or large deep dish pie pan). Set aside.
Cheesecake Filling: In food processor, blend cottage cheese, cream, eggs, flour, lemon juice, vanilla, sugar (2/3 c), and salt. Mix until smooth. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 60 minutes (filling is done if firm). Cool cheesecake completely.
GlazeIn medium saucepan add half of thimbleberries. Stir in cornstarch (dissolved), lemon juice, and sugar. Bring mixture to boil and continue stirring until liquid is clear and thick. Set glaze aside to cool (warm, but not hot). Arrange thimbleberries on top of cheesecake and slowly pour over glaze. 

Thimbleberry Jokes 

Thimbleberry Books

--Thimbleberries Big Book of Quilt Blocks by Lynette Jensen (2005)

--Thimbleberries Scrap Quilts 
by Lynette Jensen and Jeri Simon (2013)

 --Thimbleberry Stories (2006)
by Cynthia Rylant and Maggie Kneen 


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Strawberry: Yummy Fruits A-Z

Wild strawberries have been around for at least 2,200 years ago. Researchers know that Italy had strawberries in 234 BC, where ancient Romans used strawberries to make different types of medicines.

We also know that French kings planted strawberries in their royal gardens in the 14th century and European monks (15th century) wrote of strawberries in their manuscripts. Flemish, German, Italian, and English artists depicted strawberries in their work, while instructions on how to grow strawberries were described in England in 1578. Cultivation of non-wild strawberries followed in the 1750s in Brittany, France. After a period of cross-breeding with a native Chilean strawberry from Chile, a large, juicy and sweet strawberry was developed that became quite popular in Europe.

Meanwhile, settlers who had left for America in the late 1500s discovered native wild strawberries in Virginia and Massachusetts, a berry long since enjoyed by area Indians. Its popularity spread from there. Today the U.S. is the largest producer of strawberries in the world, with California producing the most (Florida second). Spain is the second largest producer, and also the largest exporter of strawberries.

Besides being high in vitamin C and dietary fiber, the health claims for eating strawberries are mainly: 1) support of cardiovascular health & disease prevention; 2) decreased type 2 diabetes risk, help regulating blood sugar; 3) prevention of certain cancers - breast, cervical, colon and esophageal. A word of caution would be the concern for those with gall bladder or untreated kidney problems. The oxalates in strawberries may interfere with calcium absorption. Other than that, enjoy this yummy fruit with gusto! I sliced these on my oatmeal with nuts almost daily.

Strawberry Recipes

FRESH: The best way 
to enjoy strawberries!

But for that special occasion try:

"Easy Strawberry Trifle"

2 cups fresh strawberries

2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups homemade vanilla pudding (or store-bought pudding)
1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 cups pre-baked angel food cake, cut in one-inch cubes (shortcake or pound cake also works)

--(Reserve 3 or 4 berries for garnish). Hull and slice 1 cup strawberries. Arrange berries along the sides of a clear, glass serving dish (1-1/2 quart size). 

--Place remaining strawberries and sugar in blender container and process until pureed. 

--In mixing bowl, mix pudding and cream cheese with electric mixer and blend well. 

--Place half of cake in bottom of serving dish. Pour half of pureed strawberries over cake, and top with half of pudding mixture. 
--Repeat layer. Cover and chill for up to 24 hours. Before serving stop with reserved berries. Yield: 6 to 8 servings. 

Strawberry Jokes

Q: Why were the little strawberries upset?

A: Because their parents were in a jam!

Q: What did one strawberry say to the other strawberry?

A: If you weren’t so sweet, we wouldn’t be in this jam!

"Rock Berries"

Strawberry Books

--Strawberry Girl (1945) (ages 8-12)
Freckleface Strawberry and the Dodgeball Bully: A Freckleface Strawberry Storyby Lois Lenski (a Newbery Medal book)

--Freckleface Strawberry (2007)
 (ages 3-8) by Julianne Moore & LeUyen Pham 

Strawberry Hill (2010) (ages 8-12) 
by Mary Ann Hoberman 


--Strawberry Shortcake (various titles) (2003-2014) A popular series for ages 2 to 6 years; I counted 131 books online! 
Note: the American Greetings character "Strawberry Shortcake" evolved commercially 
to include: dolls, toys, songs, posters, movies, TV series, video games, cartoons, and books. Lawsuits regarding ownership of this character and related continue to this day.

--The Strawberry Statement by James Simon Kunen (1969) (nonfiction) (Chronicles a student's experience at Columbia University; counterculture and student revolts, 1960s).

Strawberry Movies

--Strawberry Blonde (1941)  
James Cagney and Olivia DeHaviland

--Strawberry Summer (2012)  
Julie Mond and Trevor Donovan

--The Strawberry Statement (1970)
Bruce Davison and Kim Darby 
(Based on Kunen's book; Winner at Jury Prize Cannes Film Festival, 1970)

Strawberry Songs

--Strawberry Wine - Deana Carter (1996)

--Strawberry Letter 23 - The Brothers Johnson (1977)

--Strawberry Roan - Ed McCurdy (a cowboy song) 
(written by Curley Fletcher, first published 1936)

--Raspberries Strawberries - Kingston Trio
(first released, 1960)

--Strawberry Swing - Coldplay (released 2009)

--Strawberry Fields Forever - The Beatles (1967)
Although credited to both John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the story behind this song is that John was inspired by a garden he had played in as a child near his home. The garden was located at a Salvation Army children's home called "Strawberry Field."


Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Rhubarb: Yummy Fruits A-Z

Fudging a bit here, because technically rhubarb is a vegetable, but here in the U.S. most of us know it as a fruit. I always have. Have you? 

We have a New York court decision in 1947 to thank for the confusion. They ruled that since all of us were using rhubarb as a fruit anyway, the designation should be changed. (I'm guessing there was also some monetary motivation). So although rhubarb is technically a vegetable, for all tariff and regulation purposes it is "officially" a fruit.

Rhubarb is grown all over the world, often in hothouses, which has increased its availability. Hothouse rhubarb also tends to be sweeter and more tender. Other areas can grow rhubarb year round. The Chinese have been growing rhubarb for thousands of years. There it was commonly used for medical purposes. Medieval Europeans and Arabs also used rhubarb in this way.

The leaves are quite toxic. During World War II, British citizens were ill-advised they could eat these leaves, and there were reported fatalities. On the other hand, the stalks are rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber. But other vitamin and mineral content is small, since stalks average 95% water.  

I happen to like rhubarb, but with all the added sugar we need to enjoy this (very tart) fruit, it might make sense to use a sugar substitute like Stevia or Splenda to sweeten. Nevertheless, the health claims are impressive: anti-cancer properties; aiding indigestion; lowering blood pressure; diminishing hot flashes; lowering high cholesterol; and anti- oxidant, inflammatory, and allergy properties.

Rhubarb Recipes

"Rhubarb Custard Pie"

3 cups rhubarb, cut up
1 pie shell, unbaked

2 egg yolks, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/14 cup sugar
2 egg whites, beaten stiff
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sugar

Fill pie shell with cut rhubarb. Mix together all custard ingredients and pour over rhubarb. Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until rhubarb is tender.

For meringue, add sugar and salt to stiff egg whites, Blend with beater. When custard is set, spread meringue around edge of pie and return to oven for 12 to 15 minutes to brown lightly.

  • I also found this Icelandic recipe online for rhubarb jam. Have never had one for jam. (It works with other recipes, too).

"Rhubarb Jam"

rhubarb (6 oz.), cut into small pieces
granulated sugar (6 oz.)

In medium sauce pan, bring sugar and rhubarb to a boil over medium high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally until rhubarb falls apart and is pureed. Transfer to bowl and cool. 

Rhubarb Jokes:

Q: "What kind of socks do you need to plant rhubarb?"
A: "Garden hose!"

"Have you heard the one about the rhubarb who robbed a shop? He got taken into custardy!"

Rhubarb Books

--Rhubarb by M.H. Van Keuren 
(2012) (Sci-Fi)

--The Joy of Rhubarb: The 
Versatile Summer Delight 
by Theresa Millang (nonfiction) (2004)
--Rhubarb by Craig Silvey (2004) (fiction)

--Rhubarb (1946) (fiction)
by A. Allen Smith and Leo Herschfield 

--Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat  
by Red Barber and Robert W. Creamer (nonfiction) (story of baseball radio voice Red Barber) (1997)

Rhubarb Movie

--Rhubarb (1951)
(Comedy; A rich eccentric dies and leaves inheritance to a feral cat)

Rhubarb Song

"Rhubarb Pie" by John Fogerty (2007)