Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Labor Day Special: Husk Cherries and Blackberry Beans

So here's the kind of miraculous thing. I'm shambling around Union Square Greenmarket on Labor Day Monday in that particularly listless fugue state brought on by an over-active "vacation", mixed with a touch of jet lag, and gently kissed by a soupcon of too many gin and tonics, trying in vain to pass the hell out already on the return flight. In short, I was definitely more in the head space to lay in bed and order in Thai food than walk to get stuff I would have to process myself.

But just a couple of minutes poking around the few stalls that were there (who knew local farmers were such commies as to actually take Labor Day off?!), the old synapses were firing and Holy Crap! was I hungry!

Even more miraculous, on a holiday when there were 10 or fewer stalls set up, I still came across 2 items that were both extremely photogenic and almost entirely unknown to me.

Gleaming piles of organic produce initially beckoned me over to Norwich Meadows Farm's stand. Among the multitude of varieties of heirloom tomatoes and eggplants, I spied one of those products I've seen but never asked about. HUSK CHERRIES! the sign screams.

I pick up one of the darling wee tomatillo-looking things and the guy doing the restocking is immediately at my side. "That one's no good. You want this one."

Honestly, the miniature Japanese paper lanterns all piled together were so pretty and dainty it took some coaching on his part before I was able to see the differences between good ones and bad ones.

husk cherries, ground cherries, gooseberries, with husk

husk cherries, ground cherries, gooseberries, without husk

I think these somewhat more clinical photos (the colors are way more vivid than you will see in real life) will cut you to the chase. The green ones are underripe. Still edible, but rather tart. The pinkish-beige ones are good to go. The grey ones are over. Not just overripe, but covered with mold. And while I'm ok with some molds--cheese for instance--if the guy selling it says don't go there, guess where I'm not going?

I get them home and do a quick Google. Husk Cherries are also known as ground cherries or cape gooseberries. The extremely nice man at Norwich Meadows recommended just eating them out of hand or adding them to a salad. Very logical, given their delightful texture--juicy flesh held together by skin substantial enough to have a peppy little snap, but not so thick that it sets my teeth on edge like grapes do.

Their flavor is strangely complex, almost befuddling. Smoky grape, melon, apple, fresh hay+cherry, and, weirdly, buttered toast are some of the thoughts I had while trying to suss out what these things taste like.

I think they would be a good addition to a raw salsa intended to go with fish or a reduction to go over game (duck!), in fruit tarts, or preserved and spread on toast. I also suspect they would do well dried as a snack, or a substitute in any recipe calling for dried figs. I really couldn't say though, as I ate every last one, and actually turned the bag inside out to make absolutely positive there were no more hiding in the seams. The verdict: odd, but addictive. I hope they have more next week.

Next I was absolutely beguiled by the blackberry beans from Race Farm, Blairsville, NJ. Just stunning beans, sexier than Padma's Scar (is that a band name yet?), pure white with somewhat lurid splashes of crimson.

I have to confess, to me, beans are kind of beans. They're fresh or dried, eaten shelled or in the pod, but other than that they can be used to a certain extent interchangeably. That's of course an exaggeration, written mostly to justify my primary interest in the Blackberry Beans: would they retain their color through cooking? Well, in a word, no. Less than five minutes at a simmer they were a uniform dull grey. I had been trying to stay pure, cooking them in salt water only, but as soon as I saw the crimson splotches fade, I said to hell with it and dived for the Really Good Bacon.

Twenty minutes later, oh yeah. The beans melted to creaminess itself and oozed the bacon and salt they had absorbed at a really fundamentally delish level. Nummy eaten too hot out of the cooking pot, niiice blended into faux hummus. Oh! I wish I had these beans to go with the mohea a couple of weeks ago!

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