Q. How long have apples been grown and eaten? How do I select and store them?
A. Fruit -- and specifically apples -- can be traced back thousands of years and have played a symbolic role in human history from Adam and Eve to Isaac Newton to Johnny Appleseed to the computer trademark.
When the Pilgrims first came to America, they brought fruit -- especially apples, seeds and cuttings. Today, the United States is the largest apple producer in the world. Washington, Michigan and New York yield most of the crop.
Choose apples that are firm, fragrant and have a bright color. The skin should be tight without bruises, blemishes or punctures. An apple should not yield when squeezed. Brown streaks on the skin, called russeting or scalds, are present in some varieties but won't affect quality.
Store apples in a cool, dry place for a week or in the refrigerator, away from other produce, for up to six weeks.
Q. I'm not familiar with baked fruit desserts. What makes a cobbler a cobbler? How does it differ from a crisp or a betty? What is a pandowdy? And what in the world is a buckle?
A. Despite some unusual names, each of these fruit desserts typically relies on ingredients the home cook has on hand and is fairly easy to prepare. So if you ever find yourself with a surplus of fruit -- fresh, frozen, or canned -- try making one of the delightful fruit desserts below.
Betty: A baked, pudding-like fruit dessert consisting of layers of sweetened
and spiced fruit and buttered bread crumbs that have often been seasoned. The Apple Brown Betty is the most popular.
Buckle: Basically, a coffee cake baked over a layer of fruit. The batter rises around the fruit as it bakes and appears "buckled" when done. It's sometimes topped with a cinnamon crumb mixture. Blueberry is the most popular.
Clafouti: A French dessert in which a cake- or pudding-like batter is flavored with almond and poured over fruit, usually cherries. It's traditionally baked in a round baking dish or an iron skillet.
Cobbler: A deep dish of fruit topped with a thick biscuit crust that's then sprinkled with sugar. The crust may be rolled to cover the filling or cut into shapes that are placed over it. Some versions use a drop-biscuit or crumb topping. The name derives from the "cobbled" texture the crust has after baking.
Crisp: A layer of sliced fruit, usually apples, that's topped with a crumb mixture consisting of flour, sugar, and butter. The topping may include rolled oats, pecans, or walnuts. Also known as a "crunch" or a "crumble."
Pandowdy: A deep-dish apple dessert flavored with spices, brown sugar, or molasses, and topped with a biscuit batter. Halfway through baking time, you break the crust up and push some of it into the fruit. Another version layers brown sugar on the bottom of the baking pan. A pie crust is placed over the brown sugar, then the fruit filling, and finally a second crust is placed over the filling. After baking, the dessert is inverted onto a serving platter.
Q. What are mangoes and how can I use them?
A. A tropical fruit long enjoyed in Mexico, the Caribbean, India and Southeast Asia, the mango is growing in popularity with Americans. This juicy fruit with its exotic flavor is great eaten alone or mixed with other fruits or added to salads. It is the basis for fruit salsas that blend well with grilled chicken and smoked meats. Mango slices are a perfect topping for ice cream. This fruit has the added bonus of being high in vitamins A, C and D.
Q. Is there a quick way to ripen avocados? How do you know if an avocado is ripe?
A. Avocados are a type of fruit that ripen quickly when placed in a brown paper bag and set in a warm place. Another method is to place them in a plastic bag with a piece of banana peel. A ripe avocado should feel heavy for its size and be slightly firm. The color ranges are from green to purple-black. Refrigerate and use avocados within five days after ripening.
Q. I want to learn more about exotic fruits. Can you tell me what they are?
A. We all know what bananas, oranges and strawberries are. But, have you ever heard of these fruits?
Cherimoya: The cherimoya fruit originated in South America and may be the earliest recorded New World fruit. This pinecone-shaped jade green fruit is about the size of a large fist. It has a creamy, sweet-tasting pulp dotted with black seeds. The flavor may have hints of pineapple, papaya, banana, mango or strawberry.
Litchi: A litchi is a subtropical fruit grown in China, Mexico and the United States (California, Florida and Hawaii). It is a small oval fruit with a rough, bright red hull. Beneath the hull is milky white flesh surrounding a single seed. The flesh is sweet and juicy. The fresh litchi is a delicacy in China. They are available fresh at Asian markets in the United States in early summer.
Persimmon: Persimmons are orange fruits with a glossy skin and green cap. They are found in produce markets in autumn. The fruits are small, only slightly larger than a golf ball. Picked off the tree, they tend to be tart. But harvested from the ground, where they fall as soon as they ripen, their custardlike flesh is succulent and sweet, ideal for making puddings, cakes and candy.
Pomegranate: These bright coral-red, leathery-skinned fruits are a sure sign of fall. Cultivated for centuries, probably first in Persia or Afghanistan, pomegranates were a symbol of fertility to early Greeks. Once the skin is broken, the fruit yields an abundance of garnet-colored seeds that are juicy and flavorful. They have a tantalizing, sweet-and-sour taste. They are notorious for their ability to stain the skin and clothing.
Star fruit: Star fruit is the common name for the carambola. This fragrant fruit is small and oval-shaped ranging from 3 to 5 inches long with four to six deep lengthwise grooves. It has an edible thin, waxy bright yellow skin and sweet, juicy almost translucent yellow flesh. Its taste is similar to a combination of lemon, pineapple and apple. It can vary from sweet to slightly tart. When it is sliced crosswise, the slices are shaped like stars, thus its common name, star fruit.