Friday, August 26, 2022

Genre-Bending Fruits and Vegetables



A selection of fruits and vegetables.
With most plants, the botanists have the last say in how to define them. With fruits and vegetables, however, the culinary world gets in the game. Botanically speaking, fruits are produced by a flower and contain seeds while vegetables are the other parts of the plant that are eaten (leaves, stems, roots, etc.). A culinarian, on the other hand, may classify them by flavor profile and when/how they are eaten. In other words, fruit is sweeter and is eaten in desserts and baked goods while vegetables are savory and are eaten as side dishes or as a part of a main dish. With both voices having their say in the matter, the whole thing is inevitably confusing for some people. When you add in plants that can be cooked in a number of ways, the confusion can mount. Let’s examine some of the most genre-bending plants out there:

    Avocado 

Cut and whole avocados sitting on a wooden table next to a jar of mashed avocado.
This ridiculously popular food is  botanically a fruit. What’s more it’s not a pome fruit or stone fruit as one might think, it’s a berry fruit. Be that as it may, avocados are considered savory and eaten like vegetables. They make an extraordinary addition to main courses, side dishes and salads (here are some savory ways to eat avocados that go beyond guacamole). But avocados are nothing if not versatile and although they not generally considered as dessert, they can go sweet with great success (like these recipes). You can probably get most people to agree that avocados are fruit, but the berry bit would make an excellent talking point the next time you serve avocado.

Leafy Greens

A variety of leafy greens sitting in a green colander.
This category of vegetables has flavors that can be polarizing. Kale, for instance, is a hard sell for many people (myself included). Nevertheless, greens are well-loved additions to salads, side dishes, sauces and entrees. But they can also be used in desserts. You could try the Slow Cooker Bok Choy Brownies, Vanilla Spinach Cake, or a traditional southern French dessert, Tourte des Blettes. This confection dates back to before the 16th century and contains a Swiss chard-based filling within a buttery crust. As far-fetched as it may seem to the American palate, a recipe that’s been popular for more than 500 years must have something going for it.

Okra

Whole okra sitting next to a glass bowl of cut okra.
Fried okra, gumbo, succotash - all of these are decidedly savory dishes. I know my Southern grandma would have a hard time believing it, but these “vegetable” dishes are actually made using a fruit. And while okra holds a place of honor in old-school Southern cooking, modern vegan and vegetarian chefs have gotten super-creative with ways to make old standards new. This is how we got Okra Ice Cream. I’m really not sure how I feel about this (and my grandma would be really skeptical of it), but it does have plenty of coconut and sugar, which is always a good thing. Another Southern standard that has been re-imagined as a no-meat dish is Pulled Pork. This recipe uses jackfruit and claims to be a good representation of pork. That said, this may be the one that sends Grandma spinning.

Tomato
A white plate holding sliced tomatoes with yellow and read tomatoes scattered around it on the table.

This is the poster child for the fruit or vegetable question. We’ve all heard the discussions surrounding this fruit; genre-switching is nothing new for tomatoes. In fact, back in 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case to determine (for taxing purposes) whether the tomato was indeed a fruit or a vegetable. Their final decision was that it was a vegetable, which goes to show that the Supreme Court has been making controversial decisions for quite some time (read more about this case here).Tomatoes are firmly in control in some of America’s favorite foods and flavorings like spaghetti, salads, pizza and ketchup. But some brave cooks have turned them into dessert as well. There is the Tomato Cheesecake, which I’m not sure I want to try. There is also a Tomato Soup Cake, made with the ubiquitous canned tomato soup we’ve all had in our kitchen. I have to admit I‘m somewhat intrigued by this one – it seems like something that was created because there wasn’t much else in the pantry. And I can appreciate the creativity in that.

A spinning spiral of fruits and vegetables.

If you are dealing with a bumper crop of fruit and/or vegetables, I hope this blog has plucked the strings of culinary inspiration in you. Think outside the usual ways of cooking things and you may just find greatness.

Take Care.

Submitted by Pam


Friday, August 19, 2022

Wasps of the World Deserve Our Appreciation

Closeup of a wasp face
If it seems to you that lately every time you go outside there are more and more wasps around, then you are correct. In the latter part of summer and early fall, wasp populations are at their largest and all those wasps are out and about busily bulking up their queens and colonies. Wasps get a bad rap; they are amazing creatures that are crucial for a healthy ecosystem and not aggressive, people-hating bad guys. The more you know about them, the easier they are to like.   
   
                                                    Types of Wasps

Wasp on green plant stalk. Photo by Jose Frolian Diaz on Unsplash.
There are two main types of wasps: solitary and social. The solitary wasp species are the vast majority of 75,000 or so wasp species out there. Solitary wasps are mostly predatory and parasitic (we sell some as aphid predators). While their habits may be horrific to their arthropod and insect prey, they couldn’t care less about people. As their names suggest, solitary wasps live on their own and social wasps live in colonies. Wasp colonies are usually a great deal smaller than bee colonies. They will typically have only a dozen or so individuals, although some species can have hives with up to 10,000 inhabitants. Bees, on the other hand, routinely have colonies of 50,000 or more. So, mathematically speaking, you have a greater chance of coming into conflict with bees than wasp. For more information, check out this article.

To Sting or Not to Sting
The Velvet Ant - aka Cow Killer - Don't ever touch one of these!
Velvet Ant

The fear of getting stung is what seems to drive the irrational hatred for wasps. But, unless you have an allergy (which can be very serious), the pain of the sting should not be overwhelming for most adults. The exception would be certain solitary wasps, like the wingless Velvet Ant wasp, that may sting if provoked and can be VERY painful. Any wasp will sting if it feels threatened, but the majority of stings occur when people get too close to or disrupt the activity of the hive  Since solitary wasps do not live in hives, they have no reason to sting to protect one. On the other hand, like most animals, social wasps will aggressively defend their homes and offspring. They will fearlessly dive-bomb and sting intruders. So, just as you would do with a mama bear, back away and leave them alone.

                                   Wasp Nests

Wasps entering a wooden structure that most likely has a nest inside. Photo by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash.
Wasp nests, and their proximity to humans, seems to be the flashpoint for confrontation between wasps and people. But the solution is not necessarily to seek out and destroy the hives. In most cases, it is probably better to leave them where they are. First, try to determine if there is in fact a hive nearby (not all are easily visible) – observe their comings and goings to see if they regularly fly to the same sheltered areas (unused equipment like barbecues, sheds, under the eaves) or crevices (cracks in foundations, wall cavities). Once you know where they are, you can plan where not to be. Bear in mind that wasps don’t swarm and that most nests will be abandoned once summer is over. If you are still uncomfortable with the nest being nearby, have it removed by a professional. While wasps don’t swarm, if you try to get at a nest you will be stung many times by many individuals. From more information on how to avoid confrontations with wasps, read this article.  
Biodiversity 

A Sand Wasp in mid-flight carrying prey back to its nest.
Sand Wasp with prey
The presence of a thriving wasp population helps keep the biodiversity therein robust. Wasps are at the top of the inveterate food chain and, as generalist predators, wasps will prey on all manner of spiders, millipedes, caterpillars and soft-bodied insects. Whether through parasitization or direct consumption, they keep pest populations of insects and arthropods in check. In this way they protect lower invertebrates and plants from indiscriminate predation that could cause an imbalance in the system which could lead to many serious consequences, including crop failure. 

Wasps as Pollinators

A closeup of a wasp covered in yellow pollen,
Those chubby little honeybees get all the pollinator love, but wasps do their part as well. While they do not gather pollen to take to their hive and turn into honey, they become covered in pollen as they search all parts of flowers and plants for prey. As they move on in their hunt, they take the pollen with them and spread it around. And then there are the specialist wasps like the Fig Wasps. These insects have developed a symbiotic relationship with the plants they visit. In tropical ecosystems, the fig is an essential food source for a great many species, and without this particular wasp that would be gone.
A long, skinny Fig wasp sitting on a green fig.
Fig Wasp

Wasps Could Cure Cancer 

Could it be that a lowly wasp is the key to wiping out the curse of cancer? Scientists are learning that a certain Brazilian wasp has venom that destroys cancer cells. It’s still early days on a possible cure, but this illustrates just how important wasps can be. 

A cartoon gif showing a little boy trying to knock down a wasp nest with a rake.

I hope that this has changed some thinking about the importance of wasps in the ecosystem. If you still want to control them around you, our Yellow Jackets, Hornets and Wasps page has more information and a variety of non-poisonous controls.

Take Care 

Submitted by Pam



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