You can rattle off a list of a couple dozen recipes that include fresh cherries. No sweat. Your kitchen gadget drawer boasts three kinds of zesters, and you know how to use them. You’re a font of esoteric kitchen knowledge: a large section of fresh ginger is called “a hand”; the Italian breed of dogs, the Lagotto Romagnolo, is the preferred scout for fresh truffles.
But still, you feel as though you could learn more. And that’s where The Splendid Table comes in.
This weekly radio show, hosted by Lynne Rosetto Kasper, is subtitled “The Show for People Who Love to Eat” but could easily be called “A Heaping Spoonful of Useful Food Information”.
This hour-long show includes interviews with authors and chefs, calls from listeners, Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood finds and more. And the best part is that I always learn something new.
For example, on a recent episode, Lynne had an interview with David Karp, a professor at University of California at Riverside, who also claims the title of “Fruit Detective.” He discussed a particular citrus fruit he had been obsessed with for over a decade: the Dekopon. This fruit, originally hailing from China and Japan, has the flavor of pineapple and orange and is comprised of three-quarters mandarin and onequarter orange genes. The seedless Dekopon—or shiranui or suma as it is also called—is very hard to find. These qualities alone might not sound so significant, but then Karp explained that the Dekopon is extremely sweet—and he had the calculations to prove it.
It seems that Karp, being a true Fruit Detective, travels with a refractometer. Okay, this was something new to me, and I listened more intently to the interview. The refractometer is a tool that measures the amount of sucrose in a solution as a percentage of weight. Measurements are listed as BRIX scores, a derivation of their symbol, °Bx. These instruments are commonly found with growers the California grape or kiwi farmers in New Zealand, but I wanted to try one for myself. Time to get resourceful.
Funny how things just happen serendipitously. Not long after listening to Lynne’s story on the Dekopon, I struck up a conversation with the Whole Foods Market produce buyer, Jason Autry. I was sorting through a pile of fresh white corn, and he mentioned that this white corn was actually sweeter than the blueberries sold at the front of the produce department. I cast a skeptical glance. He said he could prove it, and he produced a refractometer.
This tool is only about six inches in length and has a screen on one end and a scope on the other. Juice from a fruit or vegetable is dropped onto the screen, and the operator looks through the scope to see the reading. Jason and I tested several fruits to get their BRIX ratings. It was interesting to discover that the green grapes measured a 16 (grams of sugar per 100 grams of solution) while the red grapes were scientifically sweeter at a 21. Jason added that Whole Foods Market is going to start posting these BRIX scores on tons of stuff in the produce department. Using these scores helps customers better select their produce.
Hmm, so now that I can get my hands on a refractometer when I want, how am I going to get that elusive Dekopon fruit? I think I may need to contact David Karp about that one. In the mean time, I’ll take advantage of all that sweet summer corn and make the following:
Zingy Sweet Corn
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup chopped yellow onion
¼ cup chopped red onion
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
4 cups fresh white corn kernels (cut from about 4 to 6 ears) kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 – 3 tablespoons sliced fresh basil leaves Juice from one lime
1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onions and sauté for about five minutes. Add the garlic and sauté one minute more.
2. Add the bell pepper and corn and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for five minutes, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Add the basil and lime juice and stir to combine. Serve immediately.
Christiana Roussel lives in Crestline and is a lover of all things food-related. You can follow her culinary musings online at ChristianasKitchen.com or on Facebook (ChristianasKitchen) or Twitter (Christiana40).