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Fruits v. veggies: what’s the diff?

September 15th, 2010
Eggplants and tomatoes are confusing!

Our post about eggplant a few weeks ago spurred a debate around the office.  Is eggplant a fruit or veggie?  We all think of it as a vegetable, but the seeds of eggplant are surrounded by the flesh of the edible portion, like apples or watermelon.  Isn’t that what most people think makes a fruit a fruit?

Looking it up online warranted even more confusion however, as many sites referred to eggplants as vegetables (which is what most of us call them, right?) but in more formal classifications were referred to as fruit.

So we did what we do whenever we are confused – we turned to food genius (and awesome guy) Harold McGee.

According to Harold’s book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, it turns out that the distinction isn’t as clear as some people would think.  According to Harold, a vegetable is “essentially…a plant material that is neither fruit nor seed.”  Fruit, on the other hand, has both a technical and common definition.  According to botanists fruit is “the organ that develops from the flower’s ovary and surrounds the plant’s seeds.”  But for culinary or “common” purposes fruits are what we typically think of – apples, peaches, cherries – the sweet things we can eat right off the tree or put into pies.  So technically, green beans, eggplants, cucumbers, corn kernels and peppers are fruit.  But chefs consider them vegetables.  Why is this?

It turns out that this culinary distinction has to do with flavor, which is a result of the basic makeup of the plant.  Fruits are engineered to be appealing to animals because it benefits the plant if animals eat the fruits because it helps to disperse the seeds.  As Harold says, “they are one of the few things we eat that we’re meant to eat.” They usually have a high sugar content, complex aroma, and they soften themselves; all characteristics which add to their appeal.

On the other hand vegetables are not meant to be eaten, and sometimes even have chemical defenses that are meant to keep animals from consuming them. (Think of the strong flavors and aromas that raw onions and cabbage have!)  Vegetables also remain firm and have either a very mild flavor or a very strong one and usually require cooking to make them palatable.

So basically it depends on your intentions for the fruit/veggie.  If you are a botanist, a fruit is something completely different than what it is to a chef.

Still not convinced and think that one is more correct than the other?  According to On Food and Cooking, the definition was brought to the attention of the Supreme Court in the 1890s:

“A New York food importer claimed duty-free status for a shipment of tomatoes, arguing that tomatoes were fruit, and so under the regulations of the time, not subject to import fees.  The customs agent ruled that tomatoes were vegetables and imposed a duty.  A majority of the Supreme Court decided that tomatoes were ‘usually served at a dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish or meat which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits, generally as a dessert.’  Ergo tomatoes were vegetables and the importer had to pay.”  

The distinction was so difficult to make it had to go all the way to the Supreme Court!

So is eggplant a fruit or a vegetable?  It depends – are you a botanist or a chef?

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Corn from our garden: BEFORE and (almost) AFTER

August 13th, 2010

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again!  I love before and after photos from our garden so I thought I’d share some with you too!

To learn more about growing your own corn access this helpful download about corn from the UC Davis Vegetable Research and Information Center.  This and many other helpful links and resources can be found on the California Master Gardener Program website called California Garden Web.

To learn more about the corn varieties we have growing in the garden visit the corn page on our website.

Here is the corn on June 30 about a week or so…cute!  (Can corn be cute?)  It’s hard to believe it will ever amount to much!
Here you can see a couple rows.  Some of the seeds did not germinate.

Here is a photo of that same corn, only this was taken just over two weeks later on July 16.  They grow up so fast don’t they?
Now you can see the corn is filling in despite the few that did not germinate.

This is what they look like almost a month after (August 12, 2010) the photos that were taken just above on July 16.
We have two patches of corn growing in our ‘Malting and Brewing Bed’ just outside of the brand new Brewery, Winery and Food Processing Facility.  Perfect fit, right?
Here is a close-up of the corn blossom!  This is a really interesting variety called ‘martian jewels’ corn.  The kernels are white, but the cob is a rich purple; the flavor is hardier and richer than most typical sweet corns.
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Crimson & Clover!

April 20th, 2010

Why have we chosen to plant a portion of the garden with crimson clover and not something edible? Crimson clover is planted in the garden as a cover crop. Cover crops are an essential part of any vegetable garden and perform and number of different tasks:

  • Produce nitrogen which helps bring a natural balance back to the soil post harvest
  • Attracts beneficial insects
  • Aids in soil erosion
  • Adds organic matter back to the soil
  • Looks nice too, don’t you think?

Corn is especially hard on soil, and if you are familiar with last summer’s garden, then you know we had corn planted here in the past. (See last August’s entry.) The crimson clover will help restore the nutrients lost growing corn last summer so we can grow more this summer. It’s easy and looks fantastically lush!!

CLOVER PATCH IN FEBRUARY:

They weren’t kidding about the clover part! You can see where a creature, we’re guessing a bunny, chomped off the baby red flowers back in February! Do you see the headless stalks? I bet they tasted great!

CLOVER PATCH IN APRIL:

Aren’t the fuzzy red flowers beautiful?

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Corn and Cover Crops

August 19th, 2009

Much of the garden summer crop is now in full bloom, including the colorful variety triple play corn that we are featuring this season. Because corn depletes a high amount of nutrients from soil, it is a good idea to rotate a cover crop into your garden – the cover crop is an organic way to replenish nitrogen.

Here you can see our gardeners discussing plans for the fall; they are going to plant red clover after the corn has been harvested. Red clover is an extremely effective cover crop and also yields lovely scarlet flowers!

Pictured here is the triple play corn. This variety of corn is mainly used for decorative purposes, although it can be eaten if picked early when the corn is still white and sweet.
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