Because of an increased interest in a diet relying heavily on fruits and vegetables and a growing awareness of foreign cuisines, Americans are hearing about and often seeing strange new objects in their groceries. What does one do with those large, round, brown objects labeled “jicama"? How does one know whether those glossy, yellow, egg-shaped fruits beneath the sign “tamarillos” are ready to be eaten? Even if they are, how would one go about doing so?
Elizabeth Schneider, who has published widely on food, has provided the answers for these and almost a hundred other exotic fruits and vegetables. For each, she discusses history and cultivation, selection and storage, use, preparation, and nutritional value. Following these comments is a sampling of easy recipes.
Not all the items in the book will strike everyone as unusual. Anyone with a patch of lawn will be surprised to find the dandelion next to the delicata squash. To a Southerner, mustard greens and okra are as common as string beans. Yet as Schneider repeatedly points out, Americans are not only discovering but also rediscovering uses for nature’s bounty. The sour cherry, long a stranger to American kitchens, was grown in Massachusetts in the seventeenth century. Gooseberries were common colonial fare, and the persimmon gets its name from the Algonquin Indians.
Foragers as well as shoppers will find this book helpful, for it tells how to identify edible varieties of such plants as morels and fiddlehead ferns. Gardeners will find new uses for their male squash blossoms and may be encouraged to try some of these exotics in their own plots. Sugar peas, for example, are no harder to grow than the regular varieties and are best eaten fresh from the vine. Indeed, anyone seeking alternatives to potatoes, carrots, and apples will enjoy this survey of tempting substitutes.