Monthly Archives: December 2012

The most interesting layer of wax in the world

It’s high season for kale and apples, and Katherine just can’t stop talking about epicuticular wax

There is something nostalgic about kale and its softly glowing dusky cast that suits late autumn and early winter. It looks rustic and thick-skinned, steeled against falling temperatures and short days. It even shrugs off winter rains. Water beads up and rolls right off its leaves. Kale’s ageless still-life look is due to its extraordinary epicuticular wax, a legacy of the first plants to survive on dry land. Continue reading

The holidays mean persimmons

Hachiya persimmons, ripening

Hachiya persimmons, ripening

Jeanne discusses the biology behind the strange winter beauty of persimmon trees and demystifies why eating one before its time is an unpleasant experience.

The holiday seasons of my adult life increasingly include persimmons.  The ‘hachiya’ persimmons on my mother-in-law’s tree in California ripen around Christmas, beginning a conversation about what to do with them, and when they start showing up in the grocery store in late fall, I’m invariably drawn to the plump orange fruits with their handsome green calyxes.  I’ve now learned that persimmons, especially dried, are an important part of many new year celebrations throughout Asia, where there are thousands of persimmon varieties, but I only became acquainted with them when I moved from Denver to go to college in the Bay Area, where some of the Asian varieties are grown.  The bright orange plum-to-apple-sized persimmon fruits stay on the tree until well after the leaves drop in the autumn.  I paid little attention to the persimmon trees on campus—tall specimens of the ‘hachiya’ variety of Asian Diospyros kaki—until the leaves fell to reveal the scraggly branches laden with the orange orbs. Continue reading

A brief history of gluten

Victory with creating a gluten-free quick bread recipe inspires Jeanne to give you a brief primer on the evolutionary history of gluten within the grass family. 

We were perhaps a little too enthusiastic this fall in our apple picking at a local orchard and our acquisition of interesting squash at our farmer’s markets.  Our freezer now contains many bags of applesauce and squash puree.  We must now “do something,” as we say, with all of it, meaning use the purees as ingredients.  Lately I’ve been working on incorporating the purees into nutritious (low sugar, high protein, whole grain) quick breads.  On my doctor’s recommendation, that quick bread also needs to be gluten-free.  Increasing appearances of the phrase “gluten free” on restaurant menus and product labels are noble efforts to accommodate the needs of people who have celiac disease or other dietary sensitivities to gluten.  Baking without gluten is a challenge, as gluten is what gives wheat dough its elasticity and allows yeasted wheat bread to rise.  The internet makes gluten-free baking more accessible by the day, but I haven’t yet found someone else’s recipe that really does what I want, so I’ve been working on my own.  I’m fairly pleased with the latest result (below) and thought I would use the occasion to give you a brief evolutionary history of gluten and the botanical family that makes it:  the grasses. Continue reading

Have a salad and relax: the Dipsacales trio

The three edibles from the order Dipsacales (mâche, elderberry and valerian) inadvertently make their way into Jeanne’s evening.

As I added some dried valerian (Valeriana officinalis) root to my bedtime tea mixture, I realized that in doing so I had inadvertently incorporated the only three common edibles from the order Dipsacales into my evening:  elder, mâche, and valerian.  These three make the Dipsacales a lonely but interesting and delicious branch of the asterid group of eudicots (see our phylogeny page for phylogenetic contextualization of the asterids):

Orders in the asterids, Dipsacales in red

Orders with edibles in the asterids, Dipsacales in red

Continue reading