Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Hoofdstuk X - Vruchten"

"The nutritional value of fruits is similar to that of vegetables; they are preferably to be consumed raw, but may also be prepared in some manner. Like vegetables, the main value of fruits lies more in the vitamins and minerals they contain than in other (nutritional) components."

Thus begins "Chapter 10  -  Fruits" in Grandma VandenBergh's Dutch cookbook, a chapter that contains a plethora of recipes for preparing fruit compotes, dried fruits, and even fruit soups, which can be served warm or cold as either a first course or a dessert.

The introductory paragraphs go on to tell us that the preferred method for cooking fruits is steaming, so as to prevent the loss of the vitamins they contain. The juice can be thickened into a sauce in which to serve the compote, thus maximizing the preservation of the their nutritional value.

Adding flavor enhancers such as cinnamon, lemon rind, or a berry juice can mask the fruits' natural flavor, and is best used for bland fruits such as sweet apples and some varieties of pears.
This description from the early 1920's sounds surprisingly modern, although the recipes in this chapter, and indeed in the entire volume, were most likely prepared on a coal, wood, or kerosene stove.

Perhaps Grandma VandenBergh used fruits from the family's orchard in "the lower lot" to prepare a dish such as the one described below:

Steamed Pears

- 1 kilo (2 pounds) pears
- 50 grams (1/4 cup) sugar
- cinnamon stick or lemon rind
- 1/2 d.L. (3 tablespoons) black currant juice (optional)
- about 5 grams (1 1/2 tsp.)sago*

Peel the pears, cut them in quarters or halves, and remove the cores. Set the pear pieces in a saucepan so that they are half covered with water; cook on low heat (about 3 - 4 hours), with the cinnamon or lemon rind, until they are a nice red color. Sprinkle the sugar on, or optionally the currant or apple juice; cook a few minutes longer, and thicken the juice with the sago. Remove the cinnamon or lemon rind before serving.

A footnote indicates that there are some varieties of pears that will not turn red even if cooked for a long time. People may add currant juice when the pears are half done.

I found a more modern version of this recipe in a cookbook I bought at the gift shop in the Rijksmuseum last summer, which suggested simmering the pears for two hours. I tried stewing mine for that length of time, and they did begin to turn reddish after the two hours. In place of black currant juice, which I could not find in my local supermarket, I used pomegranate juice, which produced a reddish syrup when thickened with a tablespoon of flour. You could also try substituting red wine or port for the fruit juice, as suggested by Deliciously Dutch.

The stewed pears were tasty and sweet. I served them in fancy antique desert dishes:
Steamed Pears

*Sago is a starchy product that comes from the pith of certain species of palm trees; you can substitute cornstarch in this recipe and no one will know the difference!

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