Jerusalem artichokes are neither artichokes nor from Jerusalem. It seems their name is a corruption of ‘girasole’, Italian for sunflower, as the plant is indeed a relative, complete with bright yellow flowers and head-turning properties. They originated in North America and first arrived in the UK in 1617, via France. Their flavour is distinctly artichokey, which probably explains the first half of their name. In the United States now they’re called ‘sunchokes’, which, as much as I hate invented conjoined abbreviations, is probably a more sensible name.
It really is. We loved Galicia so much we nearly bought an abandoned farmhouse set in the most stunning location amid steep vineyard-covered valleys, looking down over a bright blue gorge and out to a mountainscape not dissimilar to Scotland (with more sun). Here, in the tiny little stone villages clinging to the mountains people are making excellent wines, cheeses and cured pork products. And they’re growing turnips…
Down the pub, fancy a nibble with your pint… what do you get? Presumably a packet of crisps or a packet of peanuts. Maybe pork scratchings if you like that kind of thing. Chances are it’ll be very fatty and salty, devoid of vitamins, and not terribly good for your heart. Not so in Spain…
If there is one vegetable that symbolises the Turkish kitchen it has to be the shiny, purple aubergine (patlıcan). It may not be native to Anatolia or the wider Mediterranean (it was native to India and probably reached what is now Turkey in the Middle Ages ), but it certainly suits the climate well and has become the representative, ‘traditional’ vegetable of the whole region. We had aubergine prepared for us in numerous delicious ways. These were some of our favourites:
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking Turkish food is just meat and kebabs, despite what you may have seen on your local highstreet in England. Some of the best cooking we had in Turkey was totally vegetarian. Three of or favourite cooks in Turkey, Musa Dağdeviren, Zeliha İrez and Erhan Şeker, cooked predominantly with vegetables, and made abundant use of weird and wonderful wild greens and herbs that we’d never heard of before, let alone tasted.
Today Barnaby has been chatting with the locals while waiting his turn to buy vegetables in the Place d’Anvers market. The best stall with the nicest-looking most local produce has the biggest queue, but it’s worth the wait.
Zea mays, the giant tropical grass commonly known as corn or maize, now totally dominates both American agriculture and the American diet. 93.6 million acres of US soil is given over to its production (imagine a cornfield bigger than Germany), and of the 45,000 or so different products in the average American supermarket, over one quarter contain corn. Why has corn been so successful in domesticating us? The answer involves sex, drugs and very complicated US government farm policy
Rhubarb originates from Mongolia. The word was coined in medieval Latin and derives from ‘Rha’ (old name for the Volga river) and ‘barbarum’ (foreign) – ie a vegetable from the foreign lands east of the Volga.
Rhubarb was pronounced a ‘fruit’ in 1947 by confused US customs officials who opted to classify by its use in desserts rather than its botanical status.
But rhubarb as pudding, even as food, is a relatively recent concept. For centuries it was used in China and elsewhere purely for medicinal purposes. Rhubarb is a great laxative, if you eat enough.
Perhaps Dugléré did not choose a potato dish to name after Anna by chance, but because he knew the potato is a member of the nightshade family. This family also includes the deadly belladonna plant, so-called because 16th century Italian bella donnas (‘good-looking women’) used atropine, found in the belladonna plant, to dilate the pupils of their eyes so as to appear more seductive.
In fact, when potatoes were first introduced to Europe from the New World in the 16th century, people were highly wary of them, suspecting them to be poisonous. They were actually right – the leaves and stems of the plant are, being full of solanine. The tubers, of course, are not.
However, beware the potato that has turned green, been stored in a very cold place, gone wrinkly and spongy, or started to sprout. These are all signs that solanine has developed in it to high levels. The potato probably won’t kill you, but might taste bitter and give you a slight tummy ache.
Adding a potato to an overly salty soup, sauce or stew in order to absorb some of the salt is nothing more than an old wives’ tale. The potato just absorbs some of the liquid, and the salt carried in it, hence not affecting the percentage of salt in the remaining liquid one iota.
With its taught, glossy skin and regal, deep purple colour, this is surely one of the most beautiful vegetables around. (Although, to be pedantic, it’s a fruit, which puts it in competition with figs…)
It is a member of the Nightshade family, as in Deadly, along with potatoes tomatoes, peppers, chillies and tobacco. It is the only major vegetable in the Nightshade family to come from the Old World. (The tomato was slow to catch on in Europe when it was introduced from South America due to its resemblance to Deadly Nightshade.)