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Thanksgiving Holiday Table by Produce Pete

This week, with Thanksgiving being less than a week away, we will be talking about 3 more vegetables for your Thanksgiving table. These items are a must at Produce Pete's table.


Artichokes

Artichokes are actually the giant, unopened buds of a flowering plant - an edible relative of the thistle. They've been a favorite in Spain, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries for hundreds of years, but many people here still think of them as fairly exotic. Although they take a little time to eat - there's no way you can wolf down an artichoke - they're actually fun to dismantle; and the tender flesh at the base of the leaves and especially at the heart has a distinctive sweet, nutty taste that's absolutely delicious. Artichokes can be prepared in dozens of ways, and I like all of them.

The largest crop of artichokes is still produced in Mediterranean countries, but California is the biggest supplier in the U.S. Castroville, located near San Francisco, calls itself the Artichoke Capital of the World; and the whole economy of the place revolves around the vegetable - there's even a statue of an artichoke in the middle of town. With its cool, humid, foggy weather, the area is perfect for growing good artichokes.

There are three basic types of artichokes, plus a new "thorn less" variety that's beginning to appear on the market. The globe type is the most common, with a large fairly round shape and smallish barb on the tips of the leaves. The oval artichoke is very thorny, with a longer, more pointed leaf. The taste of both is identical and they can be cooked in the same way, but I find that glove artichokes are usually more tender.

The third type is the small, loose baby artichoke, which is often marinated whole in vinegar and oil after it has been washed and dethorned. Most baby artichokes don't have many thorns in the first place, and they can be eaten whole, without removing the "choke".

Thornless artichokes are also available. I find them to be excellent if they're from California but unreliable if they've been imported from Mexico or Chile. The imports are difficult to cook properly because it's hard to get the timing right - some cook fast and tender, others take an hour and either stay raw or suddenly turn to mush. The imports are usually a paler green than the California crop, but it you're in doubt, ask your produce manager.

Season

The peak of the season is in March, April, and May, when California producers ship nearly half the annual crop, but artichokes often show up in the fall. The worst time for artichokes is in the dead of summer (July and August) when growing conditions are too hot and dry for good artichokes. However, they are available year round.

Selecting

Look for fat, firm-looking buds with dense, tightly packed leaves of a uniform dusty green. Lots of black spots tired color, or opened leaves indicate an older artichoke that will have a woody taste. An artichoke with one or two black spots, on the other hand, isn't always a bad risk. Don't worry if the artichoke is discolored on the stem end - you're going to cut that part off. When selecting an artichoke, gently pull back the central leaves, taking care not to prick yourself on the thorns, and look into the heart. If there is no black showing inside, the artichoke is good. At home you can be more aggressive - turn the artichoke upside down and give it a good whack or two on the counter to make the leaves open out more easily.

Artichokes that have developed purpling on the leaves have been exposed to too much hot sun and will be much less tender. An artichoke that shows some bronzing and peeling has had a touch of frost, which won't hurt the flavor and may in fact improve it. If you're unsure about what kind of discoloration is okay and what kind is not a good rule of thumb is not to buy discolored artichokes in the summer.

Storing

Artichokes are quite perishable. Use them as soon as possible. Refrigerate for one week only if necessary.

Preparing

There are a thousand ways to cook artichokes, but one thing to avoid is to cook them in an aluminum pot since they will turn a gray-green color. To prepare them for the pot, rinse the artichokes in cold water, handling them carefully so that you don't prick yourself on the pointed barbs at the end of each leaf. The barbs are softer and easer to handle after the artichoke is cooked, but many people prefer to remove them beforehand by snipping off the tips of the leaves with kitchen shears or scissors. Remove the thorns from baby artichokes that you intend to eat whole.


Cranberries

Cranberries have been a part of the American holiday scene for many years. Raw berries are pretty strung with popcorn to make old-fashioned garlands for the Christmas tree. They're also used during the Jewish high holy days to construct little houses used in the celebration of Succoth. And although a lot of people have become accustomed to using canned cranberry sauce, it's quick and easy to make a delicious sauce from whole fresh berries. People are also starting to discover how useful cranberries are beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas. These festive, very firm red berries add great flavor to a lot of foods.

Generally a half inch to an inch in diameter, cranberries are oval in shape, with a smooth, glossy, red to deep red skin, and contain tiny, soft, edible seeds. They are too tart for most people and require some sweetening.

Cranberries are a member of the health family (Encaceae), which also includes blueberries, loganberries, and huckleberries. Their natural habitat is a swamp or bog in temperate climates, such as Wisconsin, Cape Cod, and Long Island. Native Americans used cranberries for dyes, medicines, and food, including a dish made of cranberries and dried meat. The various Indians names for cranberries translate as "sour berries" but settlers called them crane berries, possibly because they were favored by cranes or because the plant and flower look like one of these elegant birds. By the nineteenth century, American sailors and loggers were using cranberries to make a drink to prevent scurvy.

Today cranberries are cultivated in shallow bogs that are flooded with water at appropriate times during the season. They are important crops in Massachusetts and New Jersey and are also cultivated in Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia, and Quebec.

Season and Selecting

Fresh cranberries are available from September to January. They're usually packaged in twelve-ounce cello bags, which yield about three cups. Packaged cranberries are always sold in good condi8tion unless there has been a problem with refrigeration. Their high acid content gives them a long shelf life.

Storing

Packaged unwashed fresh cranberries will stay fresh up to four weeks in the refrigerator. You can freeze unwashed berries in doubled, well-sealed plastic bags, and they'll keep for as long as a year. Rinse them briefly, pick out the stems and use directly in recipes without thawing - they collapse when thawed.

Preparing

Wash well just before using, discarding the stems and any soft, wilted or bruised berries. Cranberries need to be sweetened with sugar, honey, maple syrup or other fruit juices. The high pectin content in cranberries makes them an ideal fruit for jellies or fruit chutney. Besides the popular cooked sauce and jelly used to accompany poultry and meats, cranberries can be made into an equally delicious uncooked relish. Grind or mince one package of cleaned berries with the grated zest and chopped pulp of one orange. Mix with 3/4 to 1 cup of sugar, add cinnamon if desired, and let the mixture stand overnight in the refrigerator. Cranberries are excellent mixed with apples or pears in pies and tarts. Apples are delicious stuffed with sweetened cranberry sauce, or try stuffing pears with cranberry sauce, sprinkling them with orange juice and cinnamon, and baking in a 325F oven for twenty minutes. Cranberry muffins are understandably popular, but your family will also enjoy cranberry nut loaf, cranberry upside-down cake, and cranberry cheesecake. Cranberry juice is delicious mixed with apple juice or lemonade, and cranberry sorbet is a refreshing treat.


Cauliflower

Known as the "queen of garden vegetables", cauliflower is actually a densely packed head of tiny, unopened flower buds that form clusters called florets. Straight off the farm, cauliflower is enclosed by large, green, edible leaves. In the field these are bundled up around the head to keep it white. Left exposed to the sun, the head turns yellow. When you see cauliflower with the leaves on, it's been grown locally. Cello-pack cauliflower, usually shipped in from California, is what you see in the store 90 percent of the time.

Selecting

Look for a good-sized cauliflower that is hard and heavy, with a touch of dew on the head. The florets should be compact and tightly packed. If florets have started to spread apart and the head looks very light and granular, that's called ricing, and it indicates changes in growing conditions. Ricing doesn't mean the cauliflower is spoiled, but it won't have quite the flavor or crispness of a firm, compact head. Riced cauliflower is a little softer and should be cooked for a shorter period.

Storing

Cauliflower must be refrigerated. Wrap it in plastic and store in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, where it will keep for several days.

Preparing

Cook whole heads in just an inch or two of water until fork-tender - no more than ten minutes. Broken into individual florets, cauliflower takes a little less time to cook. Cauliflower can be eaten raw, steamed or braised, or breaded and fried. It can be curried, served in a cream or cheese sauce, or shoed into vegetable salads, and it makes a terrific pickle.

Happy Thanksgiving From My Family To Yours


Additional Resources

Take a look at Thanksgiving Feast Part 2.

Other recipes from Produce Pete.

   

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