Mystery Produce Solved!

September 27, 2010 § 2 Comments

Congratulations to anniespickns (check out her blog about fresh and local food here) for two correct guesses on Friday’s farmers’ market mystery produce from this post. Answers and fun facts about both below!

Mystery Produce #1: Rambutan

Mystery produce #1

  • What they are: Fruit from a medium-sized tropical tree native to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Phillippines and Sri Lanka. It is closely related to several other edible tropical fruits including lychee and longan. The name rambutan is derived from the Malay word rambut, which literally means “hairy” caused by the “hair” that covers this fruit. In the U.S., they’re grown near L.A. Rambutan offer vitamin C, calcium, niacin, iron, protein and fiber. An average fruit contains 59 calories
  • What they taste like: Rambutan have a juicy-sweet texture, and subtle flavor. The flavor of a rambutan is more acidic than the lychee and very aromatic
  • When in season: Rambutan trees fruit twice a year, yielding crops beginning late June and August and in December and January
  • Where to buy: Alemany farmers’ market
  • How to choose: Look for fruit that’s about 2 inches in diameter; the smaller, the better. One indicator of quality is the ease of detachment of the flesh from the seed; an easily detachable flesh normally will have bits of the woody seed coating (you can test for this by sampling before buying). Thus, it is a common Malay wisdom to not eat too much rambutan when one has a cough
  • How to store: Place in a perforated plastic bag in the fruit drawer of your fridge
  • How to eat: Best eaten fresh. Take a sharp paring knife and slice the fruit around the middle; the top should pop off, and you can squeeze the fruit out into your mouth. Discard the seed (see a photo demo of how to open the fruit here)
  • Other fun facts:
  • Seed oil from the rambutan is used to manufacture candles and soap
  • Rambutan is said to heal dysentery and diarrhea effectively
  • The leaves are used to cure headaches. In Malaysia, rambutan fruit skin is used to prepare native medicines

Mystery Produce #2: Chestnuts

Mystery produce #2

  • What they are: Chestnuts are the large edible seeds of the chestnut tree, encased in a prickly coat called a burr, which splits open when ripe in autumn. They have been cultivated in the Mediterranean for at least 3,000 years, in China for more than 2,000 years and in Japan since the 11th century. According to some, they’re one of the first foods eaten by man, containing twice as much starch as potatoes; they’re often ground into meal for breadmaking, thus giving rise to the nickname “bread tree”. The chestnut tree was first introduced to Europe via Greece. The majority of the chestnut trees currently found in America are of native European stock, but Native Americans feasted on America’s own variety long before European immigrants introduced their stock to America. In 1904, diseased Asian chestnut trees planted on Long Island, New York carried a fungus hitchiker that nearly devasted the American chestnut population, leaving only a few groves in California and the Pacific Northwest that escaped blight. Today, most of the chestnut food crop is imported from Japan, China, Spain and Italy. Chestnuts are low in fat, high in fiber and offer vitamin C and folic acid
  • What they taste like: Once cooked, its texture is similar to that of a baked potato, with a delicate, sweet and nutty flavor
  • When in season: Autumn
  • Where to buy: Alemany farmers’ market
  • How to choose: Choose fresh chestnuts that are hard, shiny, unblemished, heavy for their size and that do not rattle when shaken
  • How to store: Because they are highly perishable, refrigerate chestnuts in perforated plastic bags for up to one week. For longer storage, freeze in airtight container for up to one month
  • How to eat: Roast or boil and eat whole as a snack, add to stuffing, puree and spread on pancakes; or if you’re super ambitious, dry and mill into flour for breads, cakes, pancakes and pastas or to thicken stews, soups and sauces. The University of Missouri has put together a very informative overview of chestnuts and how to enjoy them; click here
  • Other fun facts:
  • These starchy nuts are given to the poor as a symbol of sustenance on the Feast of Saint Martin and are also traditionally eaten on Saint Simon’s Day in Tuscany
  • Legend has it that the Greek army survived on their stores of chestnuts during their retreat from Asia Minor in 401-399 B.C.
  • They say that by fermenting chestnut juice, you can generate sugar and even beer!

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§ 2 Responses to Mystery Produce Solved!

  • anniespickns says:

    Had my first Rambutan when I sampled them at the Honolulu Farmers’ Market. Bought a whole bag and enjoyed them for days. Last time I was in the islands was in April and they weren’t in season so didn’t get to enjoy them again. Think I bought them during December last time. When they are in season I see the chestnuts at our local Farmers’ Market here in Sacramento. They are grown in Yolo County.

    • I’ve never been to the Honolulu Farmers’ Market but would love to go someday. Rambutan make me think of my childhood — my mother is from Indonesia, where they’re eaten a lot, and we used to visit my grandparents in LA and eat them. Thanks for the info on chestnuts.

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