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myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Archive for the month “May, 2016”

Tea Misunderstood

Think those little three-tier racks of sandwiches and scones and petit fours at fancy hotels are all about traditional High Tea? Or the British aristocracy, for that matter, at least in history?

Modern Take on a Chinese Teacup Design

Modern Take on a Chinese Teacup Design

Forget it. Wrong on both counts.

Tea expert Caroline Hope, owner of the “A Magical World of English Tea Time” tour and tasting organization in London, http://www.teaandscones.co.uk , recently spoke about the origins of the tea culture in Britain at Edible London, a four day gastronomic fest sponsored by Les Dames d’Escoffier London, http://lesdameslondon.org/.

The “tea time” culture actually originated in the 1700s at the time of the Industrial Revolution.

Tea Pot

Tea Pot

Prior to that, the aristocracy had been early adopters of the hot new beverage suddenly being imported from China, but this was, by no means, a national pastime. We think of tea as an inexpensive, easy beverage, but that was hardly the case when it was first imported to Europe.

The newly minted commercial class was anxious to mimic the landed gentry, so they started to adopt their customs. They began imitating the custom of offering tea to their guests, very much showing off that they were people of means who could afford this exotic beverage.

Silver Tea Service

Silver Tea Service

Royalty and the really old money had beautiful tea sets, including sterling silver serving pieces and porcelain pots and cups imported from China. The nouveau riche had lovely English made porcelain with Chinese designs, often blue motifs on white, and all young brides wanted a tea set for their new homes.

Unwritten rules emerged that separated the well bred from the gauche: Only the lady of the house was allowed to touch the tea service, never a guest. The tea kept coming unless the guest’s spoon was put into the cup (or the cup placed upside down, which sounds odd by modern standards). Many a French and American guest landed in hot water for not knowing these things.

People would have served guests a tea compatible munchie, maybe a cucumber or watercress sandwich, with the beverage, but that was not the point. This was not a meal, it was an opportunity to socialize and show off the silver and porcelain.

The (wonderful) notion of scones and clotted cream with tea was regional, and they never would have appeared with other distractions such as those little sandwiches or cookies or petits fours. And, the goodies never would have come out on a tiered stand, the type we love so much at “tea time”.

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

High Tea is probably the most misunderstood concept.

In the past, High Tea had nothing to do with a fancy and expensive afternoon outing where one sips daintily and indulges in a huge array of fancy pastries. It simply referred to supper (a light evening meal that happens to be served with tea).

When you think of High Tea, think of granny saying to a little kid “Eat your tea!,” not of the Dowager Countess with her pinky sticking out. Or, at least remember the old meaning when you put on a fancy hat and accept that invitation to High Tea at the Ritz.

The Dowager Countess at Tea Time

The Dowager Countess at Tea Time

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Land Ho! Pineapples!

Pineapple Greenhouse in the Azores

Pineapple Greenhouse in the Azores

On a recent trip to the Azores (yes, those Portuguese Islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean), myMEGusta was surprised and delighted to stumble upon, of all things, a pineapple plantation.

The Arruda Pineapple Plantation

The Arruda Pineapple Plantation

And this, of course, reminded her of the delicious ways in which this fruit, not the most user friendly, can be enjoyed. A personal favorite is dead ripe pineapple, just by itself, sweet and tangy at the same time, au naturel. For delicacies like pina colada (that calorie laden beverage of pineapple and coconut), you’re actually better off opening up a can rather than going to the trouble of making fresh juice.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Another popular pineapple dish is pineapple upside down cake, which dates from the early 20th century when the Dole company started canning pineapple rings and used this idea to promote purchases.

It can be challenging to find pineapples worth the time and hassle in supermarkets. The traditional pineapple has the best potential to ripen to perfect sweetness, but you’ll rarely find a properly ripe one (look for yellow skin, avoid green ones), and they don’t ripen once picked and shipped, so no amount of counter time will ameliorate the situation.

A new breed of pineapple, called “Golden”, has been marketed for several years. While the flesh is a prettier color, and they are certainly OK, myMEGusta finds that they never achieve the flavor complexity and sweetness of an old fashioned one.

It’s a chore to trim a fresh pineapple, getting rid of all those bumps and spines, and it can feel very wasteful, but, if the fruit is at peak, it is worth the trouble. The intrepid look up the process on the internet, and give it a shot, perhaps taking more care in trimming the eyes and such than some on line examples.

Baby Pineapples

Baby Pineapples

Pineapples can also be grown from the trimmings of that fruit you brought home, but it’s time consuming (think years), more a venture to do for fun than to get your next meal.

Pineapple Door Knocker

Pineapple Door Knocker

New England sea captains would bring pineapples home from their journeys, starting the custom of a pineapple image on the front door meaning hospitality. (“He’s home! Come in and have some fruit!”)

But, getting back to the Azores, unlike the pineapple growing areas we often think of, e.g. Hawaii and Costa Rica, these fruits are farmed in greenhouses through a long process which involves starting baby pineapples from roots, then transplanting them to grow and ripen indoors.

Pineapple Greenhouse Getting Whitewash

Pineapple Greenhouse Getting Whitewash

When the fruits reach proper size, they are given a dose of smoke, which causes them to ripen quickly, at which point they are ready to ship throughout Europe.

Growing in the Greenhouse

Growing in the Greenhouse

Having originated in South America, pineapples were among the fruits and vegetables the earliest explorers brought across the Atlantic to their kings, queens and other benefactors.

It is amusing to think that the pineapples in those greenhouses could be descendants of the first ones which made the crossing on tiny, wind driven sailing vessels which routinely stopped in the Azores as a stepping stone on the way home.

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