Red - The Colour Of ChristmasThursday, December 23, 2010
In our home we could not make do without tomatoes and onions. I always tell Rosemary that I cannot cook unless I have those two ingredients. In the last few years we have been spoiled by the sudden appearance of really good locally grown tomatoes. One particular variety that we enjoy is the Campari. They are red, very red, and juicy and sweet.
As Christmas beckons tomatoes begin to fade in colour, it would be impossible to consider the tomato the Christmas fruit or the vegetable. And only an imported watermelon from the Southern Hemisphere might provide us with that Christmas red.
Some might assert that the cranberry would be a likely Christmassy candidate. I would personally reject it as the cranberry came into my life, quite late, when I arrived to Vancouver in 1975. Still, my family, and especially Rebecca has a fondness for my home made cranberry sauce. I use whole berries and instead of water I use fresh orange juice. I add orange zest and a little nutmeg to my mixture. Rosemary spreads it on her breakfast toast.
For me it is the red bell pepper (pimiento morrón, in my Buenos Aires) that truly has that Christmas red. I use it almost as often as the tomato. Rosemary is forced to buy it in quantity to get any sort of discount. I use it for my pasta sauces, on my homemade pizza, in soups, in almost all my salads (except the cucumber salad) but I like it best either in pieces with Maldon Salt (the way Lauren, 8, likes it) or grilled in my barbecue after I have smothered it with olive oil.
The botanical name given to the red bell pepper and almost all of the sweet (not hot) peppers is Capsicum annuum. In the last few years the folks at the National Geographic have finally arrived at the fact that all peppers, (the hot ones and the sweet ones) all originated in Bolivia. Through trade these pepper migrated north to Mexico. When Cortez and Pizarro arrived in the New World they took peppers back to Spain. These peppers crossed from Extremadura (the land of Pizarro and Cortez), Spain to Portugal. From there Portuguese navigators and explorers took them in their ships around South Africa (the ones left there became the extra hot and tasty piri-piri peppers) to India.
Not usually known by most that enjoy hot food is the fact that the Sichuan pepper is not a pepper at all. It comes from the prickly ash shrub or Zanthoxylum. The varieties are usually Z. simulans or Z. piperitum commonly called the Japanese Sansho peppercorn used in Japanese cooking. It is illegal to import Sichuan “peppercorns” into the US because this relative of the citrus family can carry a canker that could destroy the Florida citrus crops in an instant.
We in Canada who enjoy Sichuan dishes can be lucky that there is no import ban in Canada. There has to be at least one positive advantage to be too cold to grow oranges and lemons!
Some careful readers here might note that one of the bell peppers is not quite red. Indeed, Rosemary thinks that grilling peppers of different colours (including the almost flavourless green ones) makes a beautiful sight. The pepper in question is an orange one and as far as I am concerned it will never replace pumpkins at Halloween.