Monday, August 14, 2006

So Very Many Tastes of Texas

I have a food hangover. My food hangover may or may not be mixed in with the other kind of hangover but that is, for the moment, irrelevant. I spent four wonderful days visiting friends in San Antonio (very neat place). We did a lot of eating - this may be an understatement. Every moment of the day was scheduled around when and where we should eat, which worked out to be as fantastic as it sounds. My Texas food experience was in no way limited to restaurants - we also went to an awesome farmers market and a couple of grocery stores that made my local Stop and Shop look like a 7-11. And there may have been a mechanical bull thrown in sometime during the weekend. I will say no more.

This is a partial (if you can believe that) record of the things that I brought back from my trip. Only by some minor miracle did I avoid having to take a second suitcase home with me to fit all the food that I bought while there. Somehow, I sat on my suitcase long enough to shut it. The poor thing may never be the same. I will get to all the restaurants in a later post.

I have never seen fresh dates before. Frankly, I thought fresh dates were a bit of a myth. These were grown locally in the Austin area (Hill Country, I think). The nice farmer/vendor man was patient with us cityfolk in explaining that dates are edible in all stages of ripeness, with the taste of the date evolving as they ripen. Green dates taste nothing like the fully ripe ones. When green, they are crunchy and somewhat mealy in texture (not in a bad way). The taste is grassy and floral, and lacks the molasses syrup note of the dates that I am most familiar with (the ones sold gummy and sticky). The dates in the picture should be fully ripe in about 2 weeks at which time they will be brown and soft. Unfortunately, the sight of fresh dates left me discombobulated enough to have forgotten to ask what variety of dates I was holding in my excited little hands. Any ideas? I haven’t yet decided what I will do with the dates once they are ripe, but I am thinking about something involving, not surprisingly, cheese.

Although this looks like an apple, it is not. It is in fact a cross between a pear and an apple which I will from now on refer to as prapple, since I don’t know what it’s actually called. This pretty prapple (hee) was raised by Lara and Anthony’s next door neighbors on an actual tree that is growing in their actual yard. They made their own fruit! How cool is that? As an aside, I really need to get out of the city more. Trees bearing fruit should not seem as much of a novelty as they do to me. I have yet to taste the prapple, but I am assuming that it will taste like a cross between an apple and, umm, pear - at least that’s what Anthony said.

[Just had the prapple - OMG it's so good. It has the texture of an Asian pear and all the little regular pear gritties, but tastes more like an apple with a slight pear hint. Very unusual and very good.]

Growing trees with fruit was nothing in shock value compared to growing trees with nuts. This totally blew my mind: Lara’s father grew these pecans on his very own pecan trees. Lara very kindly and generously packed some (and by some I mean a giant bag) for me to take back to Boston. These pecans didn’t taste like others I have had. I first tasted almond! The second wave of taste was more reminiscent of the familiar pecan but a little earthier. So very good. I am now completely ashamed for thinking myself a stud for growing basil on my kitchen windowsill. People grow prapples and pecans! Still can’t believe it.

The food gifts only got more impressive from there. If I understand this correctly, these are dried, ripe Hatch chiles from Mesilla, New Mexico. I have my eye on a couple of recipes for these pretty pretty chiles – my first effort will definitely be pozole (New Mexican chili).

This green chile is a less ripe version of the red chile above. I was lucky enough to be visiting Texas during the super short season for Hatch green chiles. These were roasted at the most giant Whole Foods in Austin the day I left to go back to Boston. Much (much) more on these fabulous and impossible to acquire (on the East coast) chiles later.

The last for this post, although in no way last of all the things I brought back with me, are dried hibiscus flowers from Mexico (Flor de Jamaica). Karkade is big in Texas –a deep red hibiscus tea that can be supplemented with sugar, ginger, and other flavorings, served either hot or cold. The tea is tart and very refreshing, especially on the 102F Texas summer days (that actually sounds a lot worse than it is, although I am told that it is about to get much much hotter. Scary). This may be an important note – in addition to being very high in Vitamin C, hibiscus tea is also a natural diuretic.

So that’s it for the partial list of things I brought back. I didn’t mention raw honey from Round Rock Honey Company, two kinds of Vosges chocolate, salsa from New Mexico (thank you again, Anthony and Lara), beef jerky, yogurt starter that I haven’t been able to find anywhere, and special cream to get rid of the onion and garlic smell on your hands (total turn off). Whew. I have a feeling that I may not be getting rid of my food hangover any time soon.

I highly recommend a trip to Texas, especially if you have two completely awesome people to eat with you.


P.S. If you are up for a truly surreal yet ridiculously entertaining evening, go here.


lara griffiths said...

you have a gift for taking photos. everything look so much better than it does in person~ esp dad's pecans :)

lara griffiths said...

oh- and since you mentioned cheese:

it is the master class. they have a new 2 1/2 day intensive course as an alternative to the 4 week couse.

Anna said...

Oh how cool would that class be?? Can't wait till I graduate and can actually do these things!

T-Beau Worley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
T-Beau Worley said...

I did not know that prapples were just a Texas thing(says the native texan!) I have been eating them all my life and then in my adult turning them into pies.

I wish you had more than just one! They make the best apple pie, oops, I mean prapple pie you have ever tasted.

...And oh yeah we do call them prapples. And I am not sure if your pecans are from a native Texas Pecan tree or a hybrid but the Texas Pecan is a very hard shell with an intense flavor! So worth the effort to get into them. In Texas we have many different contraptions focused on just cracking pecans and ppl are just as feirce as to which way is the best.

I just baked a prapple crumble pie. Wish I had a way posting a pic for you. We have Peaches, Pecans, Apricots, and Prapples growing on our Property. That is just a few.

I hope you venture to pic up some seeds or seedlings and start a garden for yourself. Asparagus is easy to grow and comes back every year lock clock work. Amaze your friends with a home grown Cream of Asparagus Soup or Quiche!


PS I love Hibiscus with lemon grass and mint! You will see in the store as Celestial Seasonings: Red Zinger Tea! Hope it reminds you if your trip to Texas!