Traditional fermentation at the heart of Japan’s healthy diet

A pickle stall at Nishiki Market in Kyoto.

The practice of fermentation in food can be traced to the very ­beginnings of civilisation when early humans discovered an al­chemy that allowed them to preserve ingredients so they could be eaten year-round. Almost every culture on earth practises fermentation in some way.

But in Japan, fermentation is integral to the food culture, with fermented foods often regarded as the “soul” of Japanese cuisine, and they have been part of the daily diet for centuries.

Beyondtsukemono (pickles, of which there are many types and methods), ingredients like shoyu (soy sauce), miso, umeboshi ­(salted plums), katsuobushi(fermented and smoked skipjack tuna integral to dashi stock), natto(fermented soy beans), sake, mirin, vinegars and amazake are all fermented. Koji (Aspergillus oryzae) is so intrinsic to many of these foods that it has recently been ­declared a national fungus.

Japanese cuisine is often regarded as one of the world’s healthiest, and fermented foods can be credited with playing a significant role in this. Fermented foods (that haven’t been pasteurised) are teeming with probiotics, millions of beneficial bacteria and enzymes that stimulate digestion and improve gut health. They also have positive effects on blood pressure and cholesterol, and some ­experts in Japan believe certain fermented ingredients provide relief from fatigue, anxiety and depression, and even have anti-cancerous properties. In Okinawa, they drink a fermented turmeric tea that is believed to be the key to the incredible longevity of the population.

My fascination with fermentation began in Japan. Five years ago, on my first visit, I found ­myself in a tiny sake bar called Yoramu in Kyoto where they served fresh tofu with a tiny dollop of a chilli paste called kanzuri. It changed my life. I have since ­returned to Japan every year to travel, eat and dig deeper into the incredibly rich culture.

Kanzuri is made in Niigata prefecture, which sits along the Sea of Japan. The climate and “long white winter” there has meant that fermentation and preservation has long been an essential part of the local diet — allowing fruits and vegetables to be eaten year-round. In more recent times — three to four generations — they have adapted their techniques by burying the vegetables in snow houses — called yuki­muro. By doing this they have discovered the natural refrigeration and steady humidity draws out the natural sugars and increases the levels of amino acid. Kanzuri is equal parts hot, salty, citrusy and umami. I have dedicated my life to trying to replicate it.

The following are a few of the ­ingredients, techniques and people I was fortunate to meet on my last visit to Japan, offering a small glimpse into the importance of fermentation in Japanese cuisine.

Sake

Terada Honke is located in the small town of Kozaki in Chiba prefecture, where they have been brewing sake since 1673. Terada Masaru grows his own rice and supplements it with the produce of other small ­organic growers in the area. His naturally brewed sake is completely handmade in the age-old Kimoto method and consists of three ingredients: rice, water and koji. I felt incredibly honoured to visit and learn the process and finish with a sake tasting perfectly matched with fresh tofu from across the road.

Nancy Singleton Hachisu is the author of Preserving the Japanese Way — one of my favourite books. American-born and married to a Japanese farmer, she has lived in rural Saitama for 30 years. It was a real privilege to visit her on her farm and talk preservation and the role of fermented foods in Japan. She also took me to Yamaki Jozo, a local producer of shoyu, miso, tofu and tsukemono.

Yasutaka Kijima is a sixth-­generation koji and miso-maker in Shimizu. His family has been producing in the same location for more than 180 years. As in the case of his forefathers, his is a manual and instinctive operation — his finger is his thermometer. My kind of fermentation.

At Kijima Kouji, koji is made in 100kg batches — some sold in bags (for the price of a packet of crisps) and the rest turned into miso. He sells both from the little shop he runs with his elderly mother. The sad thing is he is the end of the line.

His children aren’t interested in taking over the family business because there’s no money in it. Mass production and changing diets have hit his business hard. His family business will close its doors when he can no longer keep up the significant workload ­required to make ends meet. I was half-jokingly offered an apprenticeship.

Pickles

Shibazuke is my favourite pickle … ever. One of my highlights of the trip was visiting the birthplace of the tsukemono, with all organic ­ingredients grown on site. Tami and Yuto have a beautiful farm nestled in the mountains north of Kyoto. They sell their vegetables at the local farmers market and ferment the significant excess of eggplant, cucumber and shiso the authentic way. The pickle bears little resemblance to the preservative-rich, MSG-laden, luminous purple product readily available throughout Kyoto.

“Shiba” means firewood, and the story goes that back in the day women used to walk 15km each way, sometimes twice a day, with firewood stacked on their heads to sell in Kyoto. They would also fill their pockets with the distinctive pickle to sell or trade to supplement their income. I can only hope the men were being useful.

Sugukizuke is another of the quintessential pickles of Kyoto (along with shibazuke and senmaizuke). Made from a variety of turnip called sugukina, its legitimate production is limited to the area of Kamigamo where it has been made for more than 300 years. Its first recorded history traces its origins to Kamigamo shrine. Gaining access to see it made was a challenge in itself as the families making suguki keep their methodology extremely close to home. I was very lucky to be invited (through friends of friends of friends) to visit master-pickler ­Hajime Watanane, and he talked me though the entire process: from growing the turnips through to the extensive and somewhat complicated fermentation. The results are amazing — crunchy, lactic and so delicious. Again, an entirely different product to what is generally found in the markets.

Soy sauce

Today in Japan only 1 per cent of shoyu is still made the traditional way — not mass produced, and free from the preservatives and flavour enhancers that dominate not only shoyu production but many (once artisanal) fermented foods. Of this 1 per cent, only a handful still use the original cedar barrels (kioke) for fermentation. The ones at Yamaroku on the island of Shodoshima were made in 1868 and hold 6000 litres each. The soy beans are grown on the island and the ­moromi is fermented for between two and four years before being pressed. The recipe has remained unchanged for five generations and, according to present owner Yasuo Yamamoto, “time is the only way to make the best flavour”. The place reeks of umami in a ­really good way.

Fermented sushi

Probably the most fascinating (and challenging) ferment of the trip was fermented sushi — nare­zushi. Sushi as we know it came from fermenting crucian carp in rice, then discarding the rice once the fish was preserved. The practice is believed to have started in the 8th century around lakes Biwa and Yogo in Shiga prefecture.

The tradition was largely abandoned during the Edo era and now lives on via a select few around lake Yogo (about two hours north of Kyoto). Tokuyamazushi is a beautiful restaurant sitting beside the lake surrounded by mountains and forest. Chef Hiro­aki Tokuyama feeds 15 people a day with a set menu highlighting his fermented fish. His process is traditional, using only natural ­ingredients: 12 months salting the fish, then fermenting for between seven and nine months in koji-­inoculated koshihikari rice. He is now beginning to experiment with other (non-lake) fish such as mackerel.

The flavour is intense: very acidic, blue cheesy, yoghurts, fishy. Hiroaki-san serves the fish in the rice it was fermented in, which by this stage has broken down to a thick congee-like consistency — it kind of softens the blow. I initially gagged — but out of respect “took one for the team” and finished not only my portion but also my guide’s and translator’s serves.

While I can’t say I loved it — it was unlike anything I had tasted before — what resonated from the experience was not only that a tradition is being kept alive but that this is now considered one of the greatest delicacies in Japanese cuisine. Tokuyamazushi is one of the hardest restaurants to get a reservation for, and is generally booked out a year in advance.

Adam James (@roughrice) is a cook and fermenter from Hobart. He has just completed a three-month, six-country Churchill Fellowship research trip in search of all things fermented.

Trade talks heat up over jalapeño chiles

Chile growers want to prevent other countries from using the names jalapeño and chipotle.

Jalapeño chiles: Mexico says they’re Mexican.

Another commodity has the potential to apply some heat to trade talks between Mexico and the European Union.  Earlier this month, Mexican cheese makers demanded the right to sell cheese using European names while negotiators from the European Union want designation of origin protection (PDO) — or geographical indication (GI) — for 57 European cheeses.  Now chiles are the focus.

Mexican producers of chile peppers want their own protection for fresh jalapeño chiles and those that undergo smoking, known as chipotles, from the Náhuatl word for smoked chile.

“Turkish and Asian chiles are entering Europe, chiles that have lower quality than ours and that ride the coattails of the popularity of Mexican cuisine,” said the chairman of the National Chamber of the Processed Foods Industry (Canainca).

Chiles from Turkey are sold with a label showing a jalapeño pepper wearing a Mexican hat, explained Jesús Murillo González, but do not state the country of origin. “They’re not saying it’s from here, but they’re riding the coattails of Mexico’s prestige.”

If the protection is granted only Mexican-grown jalapeños and chipotles processed in Mexico will be able use those names.

Murillo explained that the defense of Mexican chiles focuses on japaleños and chipotles because they’re the two kinds with the highest market impact.

Mexican chiles represent a market of just over 7 billion pesos (US $376 million) annually, most of them being either fresh jalapeños or processed chipotles.

Trade talks will continue on February 5 in Brussels, Belgium.

Mexican exports to the European Union are about $19 billion, a fraction of trade with the United States, which is estimated to have been $302 billion last year but has been under threat from protectionism in the U.S.

Dagwood’s in Vero Beach delivers big on flavor, quality and friendliness

By Maribeth Renne, Special to TCPalm

Dagwood’s Deli and Sub Shop’s signature club sandwich is a soft roll loaded with fresh ham, turkey, roast beef, bacon, cheddar and provolone with lettuce, tomato and onion and additional toppings such as pickles, banana peppers, black olives and, jalapenos, if you like. (Photo: MARIBETH RENNE/SPECIAL TO TCPALM)

Make sure you also try the Philly cheese steak dip, an excellent sandwich loaded with tender, perfectly seasoned eye prime beef and sautéed onions, peppers and mushrooms and a layer of melted provolone cheese. It comes with a cup of beef au’jus for added flavor.

Dagwood’s makes tuna salad just the way I like it, nicely seasoned with just the right amount of mayonnaise. Tuck a large serving of this delicious tuna salad into a soft roll, add lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles and salt and pepper and you have a divine tuna salad sub.

The sophisticated California club is a nice sandwich with turkey, bacon, provolone, avocado, mayonnaise, honey mustard, tomato, onions and lots of alfalfa sprouts. We enjoyed trying it.

And thank goodness it has a veggie sub for our vegetarian guest who enjoyed the alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, black olives, cucumbers, green peppers and avocado spiced just right in a soft sub roll. In retrospect, she wished she had asked for a cheese to be added but enjoyed the sandwich as offered.

And if you prefer white or wheat sub roll, sliced white, wheat or rye bread or a wrap, just make that request for an easy substitution. Like it toasted? Dagwood’s will do that as well.

If you wish to go bread-less, no worries. Dagwood’s offers any sub made as a salad for the same price as the sub.

Dagwood’s is a simple little shop but delivers big on flavor, quality and friendliness.

Maribeth Renne dines anonymously at the expense of Treasure Coast Newspapers for #TCPalmSocial. Contact her at maribeth.d.renne@gmail.com or follow @mebpeb on Twitter.

Dagwood’s Deli and Sub Shop

Cuisine: Sandwich shop
Address: 835 17th St., Vero Beach
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Phone: 772-778-1900
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Website: www.dagwoodsvb.com

Don’t get in a pickle with preserving, says chef Jamie Scott

by Jamie Scott   –   The Courier

Meat and Pickle Board

At the restaurant fermentation and preserving are just as important to us as local sourcing and seasonal cooking, says Jamie Scott, chef patron of The Newport.

That’s  because, in my opinion, it enhances certain foods by manipulating and prolonging its existence.

A combination of both preservation and fermentation – and probably the most in demand just now – is sourdough (levain) bread, perfect topped with anything from cultured butter to a little bit of pate to be spread over and devoured in one bite.

My interest in these methods was first aroused by my parents’ love for pickled onions. They would always go for the large onions in the tastiest malt vinegar that would make a camel’s eyes water after one bite, even in the middle of the Sahara.

“Now those are pickles,” Dad would say, and they were fine. But when I finally tasted a real pickle, the kind made the old-fashioned way, fermented with nothing more than salt, water and thyme, I realised what I’d been missing. A vinegary pickle ploughs through your palate (often in a pleasing way) but a live cultured, salt cured, fermented pickle tells a more multifaceted story.

It’s sour, to be sure, but it tastes of something more something elusive – it’s the flavour of middle Europe captured in one bite.

When I started cooking for a living, I realized that the complexity I’d tasted in that pickle is the hallmark of well-made fermented food, which include some of my very favourite things to eat and drink – pickles, aged cheeses, tangy sourdough, spicy kimchis, tart yogurts, winey salamis and of course wine itself.

I’m not short of volunteers in the kitchen to start fermentation projects we are all love trying out a new sauerkraut recipe or getting stuck into a fresh batch of new season carrots from the local farm along the road. Making our own yoghurts and skyr seemed like kitchen magic the way it so effortlessly soured and thickened overnight.

Nurturing live cultured foods, watching their colours change and tasting the results is so incredibly satisfying and I would urge anyone to give it a go.

Chef’s tip

Try my super easy and delicious pickle recipe which will kick start your love for pickling and preserving. Put 200ml white wine vinegar, 200ml water, 100g caster sugar, 1 tsp pink peppercorns, 1 bay leaf and 2 sprigs of thyme in a pan and bring to the boil, cool to room temperature ready to use.

Take any of your desired vegetable, peel or give them a really good wash, pop into a kilner jar and cover with the pickle liquor. Pop a wee bit of greaseproof paper as a small weight to keep everything fully submerged. Leave for as long as desired, but initially a minimum of two to three weeks.

 

Turning a pickle into prosperity

By Susanna McLeod, Kingston Whig-Standard

Aboard the ocean liner RMS Empress of Britain in the summer of 1939, the family from Holland breathed a sigh of relief. The horrors of what became the Holocaust were vanishing into the distance. The palpable threat by Hitler to Jews made life impossible in Europe, and they fled. Now the calm of Canada lay ahead, a place of safety and hope. And for the Bick family, an unexpected and prosperous future awaited — in pickles.

Landing at Quebec City on Aug. 15, 1939, George and Lena Bick and their adult children made their way to Montreal and then on to farm property north of Toronto. The urban-dwelling family temporarily tucked away their dearth of farming skills and indications of their Jewish faith. They pretended they were Christians and farmers so they could satisfy requirements to obtain 117 acres of Scarborough land.

“It was the law to be farmers for a year. But we were city people,” son Walter Bick was quoted by Genevieve Susemihl in -¦and it became my home: The Assimilation and Integration of German-Jewish Hitler Refugees” (LIT Verlag Munster, Bd. 21, 2004.) The Bick family “did everything ourselves. We learned how to milk cows “¦ [for fresh milk and to fill industrial contracts for ice cream, cheese and butter].” The industrious team “grew grain, oats, barley, and fall wheat, and then after 1943 we started growing vegetables, cauliflower, and cabbage.”

In 1944, 10 acres were planted with cucumber seeds to provide the field vegetable to the Rose Brand pickle company. The firm did not want the full harvest, and the Bicks were left, um, in a pickle, so to speak, with a lot of cucumbers on their hands. Conditions were perfect that year for growing an unusually large bounty. They had to think of something fast or the cucumbers would rot on the vines. It was time to ferret out their grandmother’s old family recipe for pickles.

Wasting not another moment, the cucumbers were picked, processed in brine, vinegar and spices, and packaged by hand. Purchasing 200 containers from the nearby Pepsi facility, the Bicks “made the pickles in 50-gallon barrels,” said Denzil Green at Cook’s Info. Stored in the barn to cure, the family “started selling them to restaurants and army camps by the barrel.”

There was a learning curve to be navigated, according to Walter and Jeanny’s son Robert Bick to Katie Daubs in “Bick’s Pickle Co-Founder Dies” (The Star, Oct. 21, 2011). “A food inspector came by and said, ‘Walter, if you’re packing food you can’t have animals in the barn, too.” The animals were moved to another barn, and Walter Bick headed to Michigan to study food technology.

Expanding the sales of their scrumptious pickles to prominent locations such as the Royal York Hotel and finer restaurants, the Dutch farmers then added department stores to their client list. Once farming techniques were down pat, the Bicks proved capable entrepreneurs, well appreciated by their new Canadian homeland.

Sales of the crisp green snack soared. The farm animals were sold off and the appetizing Bick’s pickle became the family’s bread and butter. The area around them was prospering as well. Highway 401 cut through the middle of the farm property and now Scarborough Town Centre sits nearby.

Seven years on, Bick’s boosted its production by packaging the pickles in smaller containers for home enjoyment. Using glass jars in 473 ml, 710 ml and 946 ml sizes, the family still worked with little machinery. Pasteurizing, brining, adding dill and other spicing, and screwing on lids to jars — the hard work continued to be accomplished by hand. There were more than just a few hundred containers to fill: Bick hands prepared 60,000 glass jars in the first year of packaging pickles for the grocery store market.

“Soon after, the business expanded into a renovated barn on their farm,” according to Mark Kearney and Randy Ray in “I Know That Name!” (Hounslow/Dundurn, Toronto 2002), “and Canada’s fastest-growing manufacturer of pickles and relishes was on its way to leadership in the Canadian pickle business.” As unfortunately happened to many manufacturers, production was abruptly halted when the barn burned down in 1958. From the ashes quickly rose a new purpose-built factory, and Bick’s was back in production.

Walter Bick made sure to visit every store that sold his company’s pickles. Building a premium-quality brand, “he ensured that a prominent graphic designer created the iconic label,” Daubs stated. The Bick’s label remains a eye-catching colourful statement, easily recognized on grocery store shelves.

The market for delicious Bick’s pickles sky-rocketed. “In 1960 Bick’s sold 12 million jars of products,” according to Green. “At the time, they were producing 33 varieties of pickled products, including pickled onions, gherkins and relishes including their Sweet Pickle Relish.” To celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary, a special pimento-stuffed gherkin was announced.

By the mid-1960s, the processing plant had blossomed to employ more than 120 staff in summer and 65 in winter, growing beyond the Bick family’s capacity to operate. Bick’s Pickle was sold in 1966 to the Robin Hood flour company. Everything Bick went in the sale — the factory, the farm property and even the Bick house, then home to Walter, his wife, Jeanny, and their family.

Walter Bick remained with the firm under its new owners for several years. He did not relish the corporate life. On leaving his post, Walter Bick was able to volunteer time to other organizations. The businessman participated in the founding of “the Jewish Vocational Services, an organization that helped Jewish people find jobs, which, he later remarked, was a lot harder than selling pickles,” Daubs noted.

In 2004, American food giant J.M. Smucker Company of Orrville, Ohio, purchased International Multifoods, the parent company of Robin Hood and its subsidiaries, including Bick’s. The Canadian Bick’s operations in Dunnville and Delhi, Ont., were closed at the end of 2011 and moved to Wisconsin. About 150 plant jobs and hundreds of seasonal jobs were gone, not to mention the loss to local farmers who were supplying cucumbers to the pickle company.

Walter Bick died at age 94 on Oct. 17, 2011, having lost his beloved Jeanny 10 years earlier. Younger brother and company co-founder, Thomas Bick, died on Feb. 11, 2017, also age 94. Walter Bick is credited with instituting the “fresh pack” system in the 1950s, meaning “to pack green cucumbers into containers within 24 hours of being picked,” the Bick’s company said. “They are then covered with a pickling solution that contains vinegars and/or sweeteners, flavourings and other ingredients” for “an unusually crunchy and delicious pickle.”

Although his life was spent in the manufacture and promotion of pickles, it seems Walter Bick didn’t particularly care for the tangy snack, his grandson Robert Bick mentioned to Daubs. “He used to have to sample them with customers and would sometimes grimace.” But that’s a pickle of a different nature.”

Susanna McLeod is a writer living in Kingston. This week she is delighted to celebrate 22 years of contributing to The Kingston-Whig Standard. Thank you, dear readers, and Happy New Year!

Are Christmas pickle ornaments really a German tradition?

A Weihnachtsgurke. Photo: DPA

By Anja Samy   –   The Local de

Hang a shining… pickle… on the highest bough? The Weihnachtsgurke, or Christmas Pickle, is supposedly a classic German tradition. But it may not be quite as traditional – or German – as you’d expect.

Legend has it that when Germans decorate their Christmas tree, the very last ornament they hang on it is a pickle.

Usually made from shiny or matte green glass rather than cucumbers, the Christmas Pickle is much more than just a decoration.

On Christmas Eve, the first child to find the pickle hidden amongst the branches on the tree is said to get good luck for the year to come, as well as an extra present.

SEE ALSO: Everything you need to know about preparing for Christmas like a German

If you ask someone from the American Midwest, they will most likely be able to tell you all about this German festive custom. Germans, on the other hand, will have absolutely no idea what you’re on about.

In December 2016, a YouGov survey found that only 7% of Germans had ever heard of the ‘Weihnachtsgurke’.

What’s more, only 6% of Germans with children who know about the Christmas Pickle actually practise the tradition.

But you can certainly be forgiven for believing that the Christmas Pickle comes from Germany as Germans do certainly love their pickles.

What’s more, many of the best festive traditions such as Christmas trees, a large number of Christmas carols, advents wreaths and Christmas markets actually do have their roots in German customs.

Though no one is entirely sure where the Weihnachtsgurke originates from, with a number of German newspapers even publishing explainer articles for the puzzled German public, it’s pretty likely that whoever brought it to the USA capitalized on the popularity of these German Christmas traditions when marketing pickle ornaments to American consumers.

On the packaging of a lot of pickle ornaments you can find an explanation of how to carry out the ‘time-honoured German tradition’, emphasizing how it’s an ‘Old World custom’.

Glass ornaments only really started being produced in the late 19th-century, with a whole range of shapes – including fruits and vegetables – being sold in stores.

The likelihood is that the Christmas Pickle tradition is just an ingenious marketing scheme by an American retailer to help shift a load of leftover pickle ornaments.

But there are a number of less cynical myths explaining the significance of the Christmas pickle.

One story goes that a captured German-American soldier in the civil war became seriously ill and asked for a pickle as his last meal. After eating it, he was somehow restored to health and from then on always hung a pickle on his tree each year.

According to another legend, St. Nicholas (the original saint, rather than the jolly, fat man with a fondness for elves) disovered that a shop keeper had murdered three boys and hidden them in a barrel of pickles.

St. Nicholas prayed for the boys and his faith miraculously brought them back to life. Supposedly, from then on the pickle has been linked to St. Nick and consequently to Christmas.

Somewhat ironically, the Christmas Pickle has made its way across the pond and has recently started to rise in popularity in Germany.

Take a close look the next time you’re in a Christmas market or shop; nowadays you can find pickle ornaments across the Bundesrepublik in every style and size you could possibly want.

Six Flags wins world record for hanging pickles on a tree

Six Flags Over Georgia has a new spot in the record books, and park president Dale Kaetzel is pickled pink about it.

“Tonight, our guests were able to create a new family tradition during the most magical time of the season,” Kaetzel said. “Each guest who participated in our record attempt took home their very own Christmas pickle ornament to place on their tree each year.”

On Saturday, the theme park set the record for the most pickle ornaments hung on Christmas trees. The festive gherkins came courtesy of home decor retailer Pier 1 Imports, which gave out 500 pickle ornaments for guests to place on trees lining the park’s entrance.

In some parts of the country, people hang pickles on their Christmas trees, and whoever spots the pickle first on Christmas morning gets an extra present and good luck for the upcoming year.

To celebrate the record, Six Flags held a snowball fight with plush snowballs for guests. The event was originally scheduled for the previous week, but had to be canceled due to snow.

There’s A New Pickle-Sized Avocado And It Doesn’t Have A Pit

By Bridget Sharkey   –   Magicvalley.com

Pickle Sized Avacado

Avocados are one of Mother Nature’s most delicious and versatile fruits. (Yes, avocados are a fruit!) And now farmers in Spain have made them even more spectacular by growing avocados without a pit.

Known as ‘cocktail avocados,’ they are smaller than the average avocado, and instead are about the size of a pickle. They have no stone, and their flesh is edible.

The process behind their creation is actually quite simple. The farmers keep a Fuerte avocado blossom from being pollinated, which in turn stops it from growing a pit, and also stunts its growth — thus giving us a small cocktail avocado with no pit and an edible exterior.

Once ripe, you can cut off one end of the cocktail avocado and squeeze the whole fruit out, just like you would squeeze toothpaste out of a tube. Voila! It’s that easy.

In fact, this ease of cutting is part of the reason why so many people are excited about this new avocado variation. Cutting avocados has long been a point of stress in many people’s kitchens, as it’s easy to cut your hand (an injury called “avocado hand”) while dicing an avocado if you aren’t careful.

Remember when Meryl Streep showed up to a movie premiere with a huge bandage on her hand? That happened because she badly cut herself while trying to dice an avocado! This stuff’s serious, y’all!

It’s about time these cocktail avocados came into existence. We can’t have our Hollywood treasures risking life and limb just to enjoy a little guac.

But here is some bad news: Cocktail avocados are only available in December, and thus far, only Europeans who shop at the British grocery chain Marks & Spencer have been lucky enough to snag this awesome creation.

However, you could still try to find a Fuerte avocado in your local grocery store, as these are available from November to February. Haas avocados are by far the most popular type of avocado sold in the United States, but the California export Fuerte has a wonderful mild flavor and a beautiful green skin.

If you are lucky enough to find a Fuerte (or if you live in California, where Fuertes are quite popular), then try this amazing recipe from the blog Kirbie’s Cravings for chocolate avocado banana bread! You will never want plain old banana bread again.

Would you try a cocktail avocado, given the chance? Let us know in the comments!

This story originally appeared on Simplemost. Checkout Simplemost for other great tips and ideas to make the most out of life.

With an eye on summer markets, classes teach Anchorage refugees pickling, fermentation

Author: Devin Kelly   –   Anchorage Daily News

Hassan Gedi dipped tongs into a boiling pot and pulled out glass jars full of dark purple liquid.

The jars contained pickled grapes marinating in brine. Next summer, Gedi, a 29-year-old refugee from Somalia, may be able to sell his own pickled goods at an Anchorage farmers market.

“I would like to learn this, to make money myself,” said Gedi, who came to Anchorage more than a year ago and also has a job at a fish processing plant.

Through the nonprofit Catholic Social Services, Gedi is one of a handful of refugees taking cooking classes this winter. A newer extension of a summer gardening program that began a decade ago, the classes focus on food production, business and social skills. It’s part of broader community efforts to re-settle people arriving in the U.S. from conflict-torn regions.

Amid a national slowdown in refugee resettlement, the agency decided to focus its programming on the existing refugee population in Anchorage, said Liza Krauszer, the state refugee coordinator. Through the cooking classes, she said, the agency hopes to help develop the skills of refugees in addition to gardening. A federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture supports the program.

The winter classes come at a time when farmers markets and cottage food production in Anchorage are on the rise. Farmers markets have sprung up in Mountain View and Muldoon, two of Anchorage’s lower-income neighborhoods. The markets have created a niche for small-scale farmers and gardeners and the sale of homemade, non-temperature-controlled products like bread, cookies, jams, pickles and relishes, advocates say.

In May, acknowledging the popularity of the markets, the Anchorage Assembly sharply dropped an annual fee to sell cottage foods, from $310 to $50. Next week, the Assembly is slated to debate new regulations that license Anchorage cottage food vendors for the first time and drop the fee even further, to $25.

Lower fees are good news for refugees trying to break into the market, said Jesse Richardville, the class coordinator. He said that while the cooking classes would have happened regardless, high costs could have discouraged participants from branching out into their own businesses.

“The goal of our program is to teach our gardener participants – here’s another economic endeavor, and here’s another source of income,” Richardville said.

On Saturday, in a building at the back of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in East Anchorage, a small group learned about two types of food preservation: pickling and fermentation. Richardville watched over the jar-boiling and explained techniques. Pickling involves vinegar, he said, and fermentation calls only for water and salt.

When two class participants walked into the room, Richardville greeted them by pointing to a line of colorful Mason jars. Each had a different type of produce inside — spicy pickled garlic, sweet-and-sour pickled garlic and spicy pickled grape.

Richardville named off the contents and handed the men tasting cups.

Nearby, Claudia Hernandez, 23, and Agustina Ramirez, 44, helped organize jars. The women fled political unrest in Oaxaca, Mexico, nearly two years ago. Both also participated in the summer gardening program.

In Spanish translated by Hernandez, Ramirez said she didn’t have much experience with fermentation but enjoyed it.

When the gardening program first started in 2007, all of the participants were Hmong, Krauszer said. Now, class participants come from Iraq, Congo, south Sudan, Somalia, Myanmar and Bhutan, as well as Mexico, she said. Many lived in camps before coming to the U.S.

Richardville, a former supervisor at Spenard Roadhouse, organized the classes, which include not only cooking but English instruction and mentoring on customer service skills. The classes are aimed at refugees arriving to Anchorage without jobs, though some participants have gardened with the program for many years, Richardville said. He said that many refugees have experience with agriculture, but are unfamiliar with Alaska’s growing seasons and environment.

Following a summer harvest, he said, it also made sense to look at preserving food over the winter.

In the coming months, more growth is on the way. Working with a Mountain View-based nonprofit, the Anchorage Community Land Trust, Richardville and his colleagues plan to launch an urban farm for refugees.

Athletes are turning to pickle juice to prevent cramps, but how does it work?

CBS NEWS

Pickle juice awaits University of Maryland players after practice. CBS NEWS

Many athletes rely on brands like Gatorade or Powerade to help with hydration and recovery, but a growing number are now turning to something tangy from a very different section of the supermarket: pickle juice, right out of the jar. Some athletes from high school to college to pro swear by it and experts will tell you it can work, but you may be surprised by how.

After a long practice, it’s not what you’d expect to see: University of Maryland football players looking to replenish, reaching for pickles, reports CBS News correspondent Dana Jacobson.

“I actually like to eat the pickle and then drink the pickle juice, you know,” said Maryland linebacker Jermaine Carter.

That juice, technically called brine, fights cramps — at least some athletes say so.

“Definitely noticed a difference, you know. Like I said, you don’t cramp as much, you know. You feel more hydrated,” Carter said.

Brine is that salty, vinegary, yellow-green liquid that give pickles their flavor.

“The sodium that you sweat out and electrolytes that you sweat out during practice, it’s just a really quick way to recover and replenish,” said Maryland’s strength and conditioning coach Rick Court

He thinks pickle brine makes sense if his athletes find it effective.

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily better than anything specifically, but it definitely gives of a twist of a different taste and a different flavor for guys. I do think some guys swear by it more,” Court said.

Blake Coleman swears by it. The New Jersey Devils forward gained attention in October when he was handed a jar of pickles as he came off the ice. He started drinking pickle brine in college when a teammate suggested it.

“Yeah, I still think it’s pretty crazy. I would stick with anything that works, though. I’ve heard it’s like a neurological thing where the taste is so sour that it tricks your mind or something like that,” Coleman said.

Turns out, Coleman is right.

Performance nutritionist Heidi Skolnik says that it’s not salt or nutrients in pickle brine that stops cramps. It’s the taste.

She says that it’s not salt or nutrients in pickle brine that stops cramps. It’s the taste.

“It tastes so awful that’s it’s interrupting the central nervous system pathway that’s creating that cramping. Having something like pickle brine might be so horrendous that it shocks your system and it interrupts that pathway. And that stops the cramping,” Skolnik said.

Skolnik says that while pickle brine likely won’t hurt an athlete, there are other more practical ways to recover.

“Getting in some carbohydrate, protein, electrolyte mix and eating your meals,” she said.

That could be why Blake Coleman’s teammates aren’t jumping on the brine bandwagon – at least not yet.

“I’m still in a solo camp right now. I got some of the boys that are eating the pickles, but the juice is all mine,” he said.