"O for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country-green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South!
" Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stainèd mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:"
(John Keats - 'Ode to a Nightingale')
Call me a daft, sentimental ol' romantic but I reckon not all's sweet and rosy in the glorious Galilee.
I'm not the only one to complain that local food, which I had imagined to be swollen with pride and desperate to fall off the vine and onto my lap, is in fact a grave disappointment.
Someone, who thinks like me, opined this week on a chat board:
"... since making aliyah (emigrating to Israel) over two months ago we are yet to taste any decent fruit and veg! Everything seems tasteless, and it's obvious they use a lot of pesticides round here. We have been sent to Dahan (the market) which was cheap but still not very tasty. All the tomatoes, cucumbers, melons... tasted of nothing. For this we made aliyah??!"
I agree wholeheartedly. The Dahan (or Dohan) in Karmiel at first glance is a cornucopia of exotic and more mundane fruit and vegetables, but these most often are hard, dry or perversely wet and mangy and last barely a week in the fridge before they droop, wrinkle and develop age spots or worse. Further, the produce available is 'repeated' in many guises throughout the market. So, you can buy a half-dozen varieties of pepper and aubergine, sweet apples and plums, mangos and all sorts of other exotica - but try buying dark green cabbage - until they feel like supplying it ...
Meanwhile, this afternoon, I spent a half-hour salvaging once green, glossy pears which had become blackened and bruised just by sitting carefully bagged in the fridge.
I wondered on becoming a resident, why everything was sold on such a large scale: fridges the size of wardrobes, vegetables bearing Amazonian tendrils, squashes and aubergines the size of baby whales ...
I also wondered - not unreasonably - why so many foods available year-round in the U.K., never appear on the shelves here.
"Oh, the market's seasonal ..."; "you'll only see (whatever) when it's in season ..."; "it's not the season ..." "wait until next month ..."
So, can anyone explain, please, why certain produce appears and disappears within a week, only to reappear several weeks later? Even as a ignorant townie, I know that a 'season' lasts for more than a week or a fortnight and does not conclude only to resume a couple of weeks later. Maybe it has more to do with supply and demand. Israeli food is surprisingly expensive. Even so, I guess the local farmers prefer to sell for export and while the best goods are flown abroad, we are treated to left-overs!
However, I have enjoyed experimenting with some 'new' fruits for the first time, even when they've disappointed. This summer I've dished up a prickly pear, a huge courgette (more like a gourd), exquisitely tiny aubergines, Jerusalem artichokes and unpleasantly hard, dry and tasteless fresh dates. The last were particularly disappointing compared to the sweet, dried variety I remember as an extra to mandarins during the winter holiday in Blighty. I didn't have a clue how to prepare the prickly pear and scoured the Internet until I found:
"How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears"
by Garrett McCord of Vanilla Garlic
1 Slice both ends of the prickly pear off. Discard them.
2 Make one long vertical slice down the body of the prickly pear.
"3 Slip your finger into the slice and grab a hold of the skin.
"4 Begin to peel back the thick fleshy skin that's wrapped around the prickly pear. Discard the skin. You'll be left with the prickly pear itself. The flesh is studded with tons of little edible seeds, if you like them, feel free to just chop the prickly pear up and eat, seeds and all.
"I myself prefer just the juice. To extract the juice, place the "husked" prickly pears into a blender or food processor and pulse until liquefied. Place the juice into a fine mesh sieve and push out the juice into a pitcher or bowl. Discard the remaining pulp and seeds.
"Use the juice as you like. About four prickly pears will get you about 1 cup of juice. It's great mixed in with some fresh lemonade, just use equal parts of prickly pear juice to lemonade".
McCord recommends using the juice in jam and sweets and says it "works wonders in cocktails and used in vinaigrettes for salads. I've used the juice to flavour cream cheese frosting for a lime flavoured cupcake, and have seen others boil it down with a bit of orange and lemon juice to make a sauce for fruit salads and cheesecakes".
Back to me: To be honest, I took the easy way out and after following the basic guide, simply chopped the pear and included it with other fruit salad ingredients. However, it helped to make everything temptingly pretty!
Further, a lovely blog Feed Your Vegetarian published this delightful and unusual recipe for the adventurous:
The author describes it as a "south-western twist on the classic mojito".
She writes: "... Instead of simple syrup, we used prickly pear cactus syrup! The syrup gives the drink a wonderful magenta and a mild fruity background. It's a very nice, refreshing combination".
"Prickly Pear Cactus Mojito
1 1/2 tablespoon prickly pear cactus syrup
6 to 8 spearmint leaves
juice of 1 lime (about 2 ounces)
2 ounces rum
1 to 1/2 cups cubed or crushed ice
2 ounces club soda
In a tall glass, place the mint leaves, lime juice and the cactus syrup.
'Muddle' the leaves for 20 seconds to release the mint oils using either a 'muddler' or a wooden spoon.
Add the rum, and stir.
Fill the glass until 3/4 full with ice.
Top off with the club soda club soda.
Makes 1 mojito".
* For all those who believe, with some justice, that I've been 'muddled' for years, I'll explain that a 'muddler' is "a bartender's tool, used like a pestle to mash — or 'muddle' — fruits, herbs, and/or spices in the bottom of a glass to release their flavour".
So, now we know!
Have a great weekend!