Green Fingers I Wish

Monday, March 23, 2009

Some Interesting Facts About Tomatoes

Ask what color tomatoes are, and the answer will most likely be "red." But did you know that varieties can be yellow, orange, pink, purple, brown, white, or green, and some are even striped? Not all are round. Some are flat or plum- or pear-shaped. They can be as small as a pea or as large as a man's clenched fist.

This popular food is grown as far north as Iceland and as far south as New Zealand. Major producers are the United States and southern European countries. Cooler climates rely on greenhouse production, and arid regions grow the crop by hydroponic techniques-that is, in a nutrient solution without soil.

And talking about hydroponics in the growing of tomatoes, a huge land development known as Thanet Earth in the South of England has been created to grow millions of fruit and vegetables, including tomatoes.

The greenhouses are large enough to contain ten football pitches in fact. Each greenhouse will be 1,240ft long, centrally heated and fed by its own private reservoir.

The results as far as tomatoes are concerned will be that every week of the year a staggering 2.5 million tomatoes will be cropped. Whether they are as tasty as those grown in soil will be debated by some for a long time to come I daresay.

The tomato remains a favorite of the amateur gardener. It is easy to grow, and a few plants provide enough tomatoes to feed a small family. If you have limited space, look for varieties specially developed for patios and window boxes.

Cold temperatures impair the flavor of tomatoes, so do not store them in the refrigerator. To speed up the ripening process, you could set them on a sunlit windowsill or you could keep them at room temperature in a bowl with a ripe tomato or banana or in a closed brown paper bag for a few days.

Tomatoes are good for you. They contain vitamins A, C, and E, as well as potassium, calcium, and mineral salts. Tomatoes contain high levels of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that supports the immune system and helps maintain healthy skin and tissue lining. Tomatoes are 93 to 95 percent water, and weight watchers will be glad to know that they are very low in calories.

When you buy tomatoes, what type will you choose? The familiar red, classic variety are useful for salads, soups, and sauces. The tiny red, orange, or yellow cherry tomatoes, which are very sweet because they have a high sugar content, are delightful eaten raw. If you are making a pizza or a pasta dish, maybe the oval-shaped plum tomato with its firm flesh would be a good choice. The large beefsteak tomato-called such because of its dense, beefy flesh-is ideal for stuffing or baking. The green tomato, sometimes with distinctive stripes, makes excellent relish. Indeed, tomatoes add their distinctive flavor and color to a huge range of delicious vegetable, egg, pasta, meat, and fish dishes. If you cannot obtain fresh tomatoes, no doubt you will find many processed tomato products in your local store.

Here are a few suggestions you may want to try.

1. Prepare a quick and colorful appetizer by overlapping slices of tomato, mozzarella cheese, and avocado. Sprinkle with a dressing of olive oil and black pepper, and garnish with basil leaves.

2. Make a Greek salad by combining chunks of tomato, cucumber, and feta cheese with black olives and sliced red onion. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice.

3. Create a Mexican salsa with freshly chopped tomato, onion, green chillies, and coriander, mixed together with a little lime juice.

4. Produce a simple yet tasty tomato sauce for pasta by placing in a pan the contents of a can of chopped tomatoes, a pinch of sugar (or catsup), some olive oil, a minced garlic clove, a few herbs such as basil, bay leaf, or oregano, and some seasoning. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then simmer it for about 20 minutes until the sauce thickens. Pour it over your cooked and drained pasta.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Olive Oil-Liquid Gold

Did you know that olive oil is a fruit juice? If you live in a Mediterranean country, it may not come as any surprise. After all, it is estimated that of the 775 million olive trees under cultivation in the world, about 96% are in the Mediterranean region. In Greece 60% of its cultivated land is devoted olive growing, and is the top producer of black olives. In some lands olive oil has played an important role in people's lives for thousands of years.

Olive oil really is a liquid gold, in that it has not only nutritional value, but many people depend on it economically too.

In simple terms, the olive is the fruit of an evergreen, (Olea europaea), and olive oil is essentially what is squeezed from the olive. Because of its slow growth, the olive tree may take up to ten years or more before producing well. After that, the tree can produce fruit for hundreds of years. It is said that there are olive trees in Palestine that date back more than a thousand years!

The production of olive oil begins by crushing the olives under millstones. The crushing produces a paste that is placed under hydraulic presses to extract the juices. This is no ordinary fruit juice, however. It is actually a mix of water and oil. After the water has been removed, the oil is graded, stored, and bottled for consumption.

In Ancient Times

The versatility of olive oil was especially evident in the ancient world. In Egypt, for example, olive oil was used as a lubricant in moving heavy building materials. In addition to being a basic food, olive oil was used as a cosmetic and as fuel in the Middle East.

According to a number of Bible accounts, olive oil, laced with perfume, was used as a skin lotion. It was also commonly applied to the skin as protection from the sun and after bathing. To grease the head of a guest with oil was considered an act of hospitality. The oil also served a medicinal purpose as it was used to soothe bruises and wounds. And olive oil was likely an ingredient used in preparing a person for burial. What was commonly burned as fuel in ancient lamps? It was the multipurpose olive oil!

Recognized today as a high-energy food and one of the most digestible fats, olive oil also served as a staple in the Israelite diet.

In Modern Times

Today olive oil is as multipurpose as ever. Olive oil products are included in cosmetics, detergents, medicines, and even textiles. Olive oil in soap has a natural ability to mix with water and go deeply into the pores of the skin. This has a cleansing quality that rarely happens with other soap. But the oil still serves principally as food. Although its popularity in Europe and the Middle East is unmatched, in recent years it has been in increasing demand in other lands as well.

Why this big increase? One reason is that olive oil is said to be a good source of vitamin E. A number of studies have also revealed that the consumption of the monounsaturated fats in olive oil might benefit the heart without negative side effects. Another study claimed that olive oil may lower blood pressure and reduce blood-sugar levels.

Some experts have recommended a high-fat diet based on monounsaturates such as are found in olive oil. Consumer Reports noted that such recommendation "caused something of a sensation, because the notion that any high-fat diet could be good for the heart was almost nutritional heresy. Monounsaturates soon garnered increased press attention, and sales of olive oil accelerated."

Are these claims generally accepted? There seems to be little dispute over the claim that the monounsaturated fats found in olives, avocados, and some nuts are a healthier choice than the polyunsaturated and saturated fats found in other foods. However, some experts feel that the other claims have been somewhat exaggerated.

A group of researchers gave this advice: "All olive oil, 'light' or not, is 100 percent fat and contains about 125 calories per tablespoon. For that reason alone, it can play only a limited role in a healthful diet. The potential health benefits of olive oil come exclusively from its use as a substitute for butter, margarine, and other vegetable oils-and even those benefits have been overstated." With good reason the International Olive Oil Council published this warning: "Before you get carried away by enthusiasm and add gallons of olive oil to your diet, a few words of caution are in order. Large consumption of olive oil may keep you healthy, but not necessarily thin."

A study in the British Medical Journal, in 2008, reported that the Mediterranean diet can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Researchers in Spain used detailed questionnaires to track the eating habits of more than 13,000 Spanish university graduates for several years. They found that those who closely followed a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil but with little red meat, and only a moderate amount of dairy, reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 83%.

Grades of Olive Oil

* Extra-virgin olive oil comes from cold pressing of the olives, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. It is the highest grade possible. Extra-virgin and virgin olive oil may not contain refined oil.

* Virgin olive oil has an acidity less than 2%, and is judged to have a good taste.

* Olive oil is a blend of virgin oil and refined oil, of no more than 1.5% acidity. Manufacturers refine this type of oil with the use of solvents, which are then removed, then blended with high-quality virgin olive oil. It commonly lacks a strong flavor.

* Olive-pomace oil is a blend of refined pomace olive oil and possibly some virgin oil. It is fit for consumption, but may not be described simply as olive oil. Olive-pomace oil is rarely sold at retail; it is often used for certain kinds of cooking in restaurants.

* Lampante oil is olive oil not suitable as food; lampante comes from olive oil's use in lamps which are oil-burning.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stupid Cats

I`m beginning to really take an intense dislike to cats! When I first moved into my house the local moggies crapped all over the garden. I remembered a solution I`d tried rather successfully with the same problem of cats and dogs some years previous - water bottles, laid sideways on the lawn. It worked, don`t ask me how, but it did.

Great! Since then no more deposits on the grass. Now, however, we`re having to put up with strange cat cries that aren`t a meow, something far deeper, more...well...troubled. And it isn`t just one that`s doing it-they`re all at it. Early in the morning, late at night, during the day, during the night, the lot.

Why do they have to come through my garden with their stupid noises? I`m sick of them. I don`t own a cat, but I have to suffer them. Isn`t life just wonderful!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

What`s Happening to our Conker Trees?

Once again Horse Chestnut trees around the country are facing a threat from a `killer` disease-bleeding canker!

28 trees have been culled in an area of Wiltshire. According to the Forestry Commission bleeding canker has killed over 3,000 trees over recent years.

Although the disease can be controlled by cutting out the infected parts, it is very limited in its effect. The tree usually dies anyway in time, with it losing its bark and branches.

The disease is spread by spores in the ground and can cause the tree to bleed a reddish brown liquid, being killed from the inside out.

In some areas of the country it could be that the Horse Chestnuts will be replaced in time by Oak trees.

What`s going to happen to all those conkers? A lot of kids are going to be disappointed without being able to get hold of loads of conkers for their fights! Maybe we`ll have to start importing them (agricultural regulations permitting).