Spring is a season of transition. It heralds the return of a plethora of new fruits, while bidding farewell to the faithful winter crops. Nowhere is this bipolar intermingling more pronounced than in the kitchen, in salads and in our baking. Spring is unique in that it is the only season in the year when we can naturally combine the old with the new.
One of our treasured departing friends is citrus. Interestingly enough, the history of the citrus trade has deeply embedded Jewish connections.
The Succot ritual of the Four Species, of which the citron (etrog) plays a central role, dictated that wherever there were Jews, citron and other citrus cultivation perpetuated. In fact, the dissemination of citrons and later lemons and oranges to most of Europe and the Mediterranean is credited primarily to Jewish traders as far back as the eighth century. Citrus truly became mainstream in Europe when it was discovered that the juice of the lime could prevent scurvy, a fact that saved many “limey” British sailors.
The divine wisdom in the creation of our world can be readily observed in the periodicity of various fruits, such as citrus, which proliferate in the winter season when the human organism is more susceptible to bacterial and viral infection. Vitamin C, present in high quantities in citrus, is a building block in collagen, the fabric of our cell walls, the integrity of which helps resist infection.
What is not commonly known is that the peel of an orange contains almost double the concentration of vitamin C than its flesh. In addition to vitamin C, citrus peels contain a substance called flavonoids, which medical research has shown to possess antibacterial properties.
Aside from their health benefits, oranges and their peels are enjoyed for their exotic flavor and aroma. If you love oranges, you can preserve them well into the summer season by freezing them. Freezing the flesh of an orange does not produce stellar results, but freezing orange peel does. So, while oranges may still be found on store shelves, enjoy the fruit and freeze the peels. To enjoy maximum health benefits from the preserved peels, they should be tightly wrapped in plastic to prevent oxidation of the vitamin C during storage, and subsequent preparation should not be at high temperatures. Following this article is a recipe for biscotti baked on low heat.
Spring also heralds the entry of new fruits, many of which have very brief availability, such as blueberries. Blueberry season seems to come and go in the blink of an eye, starting as early as the beginning of May. Blueberries, like citrus, are rich in flavonoids, specifically anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant.
Studies have shown that blueberries are a great memory food, improving cognitive function and retarding the onset of age-related memory loss.
The flavor and health benefits of blueberries may also be preserved by freezing. As with the vitamin C in citrus, heat is not a friend of blueberries’ anthocyanin; therefore, all recipes that involve heat are destructive to the blueberries’ health components. The best and most delicious way to eat them is fresh and uncooked as detailed in the blueberry pie recipe below.
Whether it is warding off infection, keeping our minds sharp or simply enjoying the fruits for their intrinsic flavor, this is the season to “spring” into action if we want to prolong the enjoyment of our favorite fruits.
ORANGE PISTACHIO BISCOTTI
The low baking heat preserves the vitamin C content
✔ 200 gr. butter or margarine (butter is healthier but is dairy)
✔ 4 cups sugar
✔ 7 eggs
✔ 3 Tbsp. vanilla essence
✔ 2 tsp. cinnamon
✔ 2 tsp, baking powder
✔ 1 Tbsp. salt
✔ 1 kg. flour
✔ 2 cups shelled pistachio nuts (unsalted are best)
✔ Zest of 3 orange peels Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla and eggs and mix thoroughly. Add salt, cinnamon and baking powder. Slowly add flour. Add nuts and orange zest and mix until incorporated. Form into two logs on a tray. Bake at 80° for 1½ to 2 hours until firm. Cool logs and slice.
Rebake slices on tray at 80° for an additional 45 minutes.
FRESH BLUEBERRY CREAM PIE
Blind-baked pie crust
✔ 1 cup cake flour
✔ ½ tsp. salt
✔ ½ Tbsp. sugar
✔ 100 gr. butter or margarine
✔ 3 Tbsp. water In a bowl, mix flour, salt and sugar.
Cut butter into small cubes and add to flour mixture. Mix by hand, mashing the butter until the dough has a mealy consistency. Add water and mix until just incorporated. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Roll out dough and line the inside of a foil pie dish. Lightly prick the bottom with a fork. Grease a second foil pie dish on the outside and insert on top of dough. Weigh down top pie dish by filling with beans, rice or other suitable heavy filler to prevent pie crust from puffing up and losing shape. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 180° C until crust is golden brown.
Remove from oven and let cool.
Remove the top foil dish with beans/ rice (which you can use to cook later), leaving a baked, empty pie crust. Line the pie crust with a layer of whipped cream (thick or thin as you prefer) and place fresh blueberries on top of cream. You may leave out the cream completely (if you don’t mind the blueberries rolling around as you serve and eat).
Master baker Les Saidel is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (www.saidels.com), which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking, and is the inventor of Rambam Bread.