The United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. What’s a pulse? It’s the dry mature seed of a large number of species in the legume family (Fabaceae): various beans, peas, soybean, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts and other groundnuts. 2016 is days from ending, so it’s high time I get up the Fabaceae diversity post I’ve been meaning to write all year long. This rounds out our year of legume coverage, which included Katherine’s posts on bean anatomy, peanuts, and green beans.
Christmas Lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus), soaking before cooking
One out of every 15 flowering plant (angiosperm) species is a legume, a member of the large plant family Fabaceae (Christenhusz and Byng 2016, LPWG 2013). Boasting around 19,500 species in 750-ish genera (LPWG 2013), the Fabaceae is the third-largest plant family in the world, trailing behind only the orchid (Orchidaceae: 27,800 species) and aster (Asteraceae: 25,040 species) families (Stevens 2016). By my count, people only use about 1% of legume species for food (my list of edible legume species is found here), but that small fraction of species is mighty. People eat and grow legumes because they are nutritional superstars, can be found in almost all terrestrial ecosystems around the world, and uniquely contribute to soil fertility in both wild and agricultural ecosystems. Continue reading →
Chili, black pepper, white pepper, and Sichuan pepper
Black pepper, pink peppercorns, chili pepper, Sichuan pepper – except for being “hot,” these spices have as little in common as Sergeant Pepper and Pepper Potts. Their homelands are scattered across the world, and they were spread through distinct trade routes. They are not closely related; they belong to families about as far apart as possible on the phylogenetic tree below. They even aim their heat at different sensory receptors in your mouth. Continue reading →
The scent of ripening peaches spurs Katherine’s musings on the botany of stone fruits
Fragrant peaches ripening on window sills and countertops pull me right back into the heart of my childhood summers. They always arrived in a huge box from Georgia, sent by my grandmother in the hope of drawing my parents back to their native state. Her other lures included Vidalia onions in April and Claxton fruitcakes in November, but peaches were definitely her best shot. The peaches were gorgeous, and their ripe flavor was incredibly complex and vivid, but their peak was ephemeral. After my sister and I had spread them all out on newspapers, the whole sprawling array had to be checked at least two times a day and sorted by ripeness. Peaches were never allowed to touch each other. On some hot days, peach tending took on the urgency of triage, with fruits passing from ripe to “sharp” to downright alcoholic in one long afternoon.
Peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and cherries are sometimes called stone fruits because of their pits, or stones. Along with almonds, they are all in the genus Prunus which belongs to the Rose family – Rosaceae. Several other familiar fruits come from the rose family but are not stone fruits. Continue reading →