Three foods have been on my mind ever since I went to a food show last spring in New Orleans.
I saw individual endives growing in small, tight, creamy buds on top of thick brown roots like birds on a fence.
I had never seen endive (pronounced 'on-deev' by purists) growing. Most often I've seen petals of endive as a one-bite appetizer.
Across the food show aisle I saw a bowl of mangosteen, with segments like sections of an orange in a hard black shell. This fruit, which grows in Southeast Asia, often turns up in health drinks and beverages. It's not a fruit you can easily buy.
Persimmon is usually more available, but the native American persimmon is elusive to much of America.
The native fruit is generally yellow-orange to dark red-orange in color and may be spherical, acorn, or pumpkin-shaped. It's also higher in vitamin C than other varieties.
Commercial varieties are the Japanese persimmon Fuyu and Hachiya which must be completely ripened before consumption. The heart-shaped Hachiya is the most common astringent persimmon, which is unpalatable if eaten before softening. The nonastringent persimmon is squat like a tomato and is sold as
Each of the three products, in their own way, is humble, but lively enough to catch attention on a plate or in a beverage.
Yet, many consumers might walk by the endive and the persimmon in the produce department and overlook them. In fact, one produce manager told me that he throws many persimmons away because they mold not enough people buy them.
Endive was discovered in the winter of 1830 when a Belgian farmer forgot about some chicory roots he had in his root cellar, according to California Vegetable Specialties, a California farming company that produces endive. The farmer intended to use them as a coffee substitute. By early spring he found that they had sprouted blanched buds from the tops of the roots. This new winter vegetable gained popularity throughout Belgium, Holland, and northern France.
Endive comes in three varieties: white endive, called California Pearl; a red variety called Belles Rouges that is a cross between white endive and treviso, the red Italian chicory; and the deep-red variety called Endigia.
Endive brings a somewhat bitter flavor and crunchy texture to salads and, when cooked, a subtle taste to main entrees and soups.
As an appetizer, it can be used with party dips or filled with a teaspoon or tablespoon of crab salad, ham salad, or cheese spreads.
A small leaf of endive is better for passed hors d'oeuvres than a large leaf at a cocktail party. The smaller appetizer is a one-bite morsel (the large one is three or
four bites), which affords ease in conversation and eating.
It's an appetizer that will be among the passed canapes featured at the Junior League of Toledo's 75th Anniversary Diamond Celebration Nov. 1 at The Valentine Theatre. Chef Rick Whitehead of Gladieux Catering will prepare Endive Filled with Brie and Wrapped with Smoked Duck. (For tickets to the event for members and sustainers, call the Junior League at 419-474-6262. Tickets are $175 each.)
To braise endive, simply steam halved endives until slightly translucent. Transfer to a sauce pan and cook with butter, salt, and pepper. Endive is ready when soft and easily pierced. Allow one or two endives per person with main entrees of pork, poultry, or seafood.
In Outstanding in the Field: A Farm to Table Cookbook by Jim Denevan with Marah Stets (Potter, $32.50), Veal Chops with Mustard, Capers, and Endive pairs seared veal chops and a hot mustard-caper sauce with a cool, crunchy salad of fresh endive, parsley, and lemon juice.
I've been scouring the food stores for persimmon. The season is nearly upon us, although I have to believe that the native fruit which is grown in southern Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky must be ready to pick. Deborah Madison writes in Local Flavors (Broadway, $26) that the small native fruit has almost a tropical scent, unlike the Japanese varieties.
The season is about to start for the squat Fuyu and heart-shaped Hachiya varieties. Look for deep-orange fruit. Buy Fuyu when firm but not rock-hard; the Hachiyas should be hard to soft and are usually the ones used for cooking, but you can use Fuyus if very ripe. Fuyus can stay on the counter up to three weeks and Hachiyas until soft (or 2 weeks) and then use in two days. Persimmons are eaten fresh (when ripe) or dried, raw or cooked. When eaten fresh the peel is cut and the fruit is cut into quarters or eaten like an apple. The flesh ranges from firm to mushy.
The fruit is common in American culinary tradition. It can be used in cookies, cakes, puddings, and salads. An annual Persimmon Festival is held every September in Mitchell, Indiana. Persimmon pudding is a baked pudding that has the consistency of pumpkin pie but it resembles a brownie and is usually topped with whipped cream.
Ofelia Gallo of the Gallo Family Vineyard has shared her holiday recipe for Steamed Persimmon Pudding Cakein company advertisements. The recipe includes brandy; the raisins are soaked in brandy or Gallo Family Vineyards Moscato. The steamed pudding (which is cooked in a 2-quart pudding mold with a lid) is cooked in boiling water in a steamer for 2 hours. When cooled and unmolded, it is served with a scoop of ice cream or a chilled glass of moscato.
In Classic Home Desserts (Houghton Mifflin, $35), author Richard Sax's recipe for Persimmon Buttermilk Pudding is baked. He likens it to the creamy texture of pumpkin pie, but the sweet-tart dimension has a quality all its own. Persimmon can also be made into fudge or used as a filling for rolled cakes.
Mangosteen grown in Southeast Asia have only been allowed in the United States since July 2007, according to Melissa's produce company of California.
I saw the bowl of segments at their display at the food show at the International Association of Culinary Professionals in April. Since then, I've seen advertisements for the juice.
'The season just ended,' said Robert Schueller of Melissa's in a phone interview. Don't expect to see the fresh fruit again until April 2009. 'The majority is grown in April to August in Thailand and August and September in Puerto Rico.'
To get to the fruit, you cut through the diameter of the shell and simply lift off the top. Do not cut through the segments.
Some beverages do contain mangosteen but they use frozen pulp that is processed. 'Mangosteen is touted as a super fruit because of the antioxidants,' said Mr. Schueller.
It is sold locally as a dietary supplement (1 to 3 ounces per day) and in beverages such as Genesis Mangosteen 100 Beverage (Green and White Tea with Mangosteen) for $3.99 per bottle seen last week at Claudia's Natural Food Market on Monroe in Sylvania. There are other health food type beverages made with this ingredient.
Contact Kathie Smith at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.