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Radishes are amazing

May 30, 2009

It’s so true! I gorged myself a little too much on Reese’s Pieces today for dinner, and so followed up with a lovely dinner of toasted plain bagel, real butter, sliced radishes, and salt. Mmmmm! I’ve tried it with cream cheese instead of butter, but butter is so much better.

My boy claims he can sit and eat nothing but raw radishes and salt for hours. I don’t know if I could do that, but there’s something very fresh and a little earthy and springlike about them. With their crisp flesh and the slick water the salt draws out they can be quite refreshing.

On their own, they are a little bland, but stir-fried or stirred raw into salads and slaws, they are quite delicious and add a lovely punch of color with their bright white insides and ruby red skins.

My mom tells me (heard via her mother) that when my grandmother and her siblings were growing up on the farm, radish sandwiches were a treat because they were one of the first fresh growing things in the garden to be harvested. They ate sliced radishes on fresh homemade bread with lots of butter (abundant on a farm with dairy cows) and a little salt. After a long winter of nothing but canned meat, vegetables, and potatoes, I can definitely see how radish sandwiches would be a special treat!

Today I went to the library to do a little recipe-copying from some interesting-looking cookbooks and found a recipe for Radish-Honey Preserves in The Russian Heritage Cookbook (which is quite lovely and authentic, by the way). It is apparently a very old recipe that will “leave your guests guessing” as to what it actually is. I haven’t tried the recipe yet, but it is very intriguing. Here it is, if you’re interested:

“Radish-Honey Preserves
from the Russian Heritage Cookbook

1 bunch (6 oz.) radishes, grated
water
1 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped blanched almonds
1/4 tsp. powdered ginger

Boil radishes in at least 1 quart water for half an hour. Drain thoroughly. Separately, boil together honey, sugar, and 2 tablespoons water until sugar is dissolved. Add radishes, ginger, and almonds to honey mixture and simmer on fairly low heat until mixture has turned dark brown (10-15 minutes). Cool thoroughly and serve with black tea and rusks (the Russian/Scandinavian version of biscotti). Makes 1 1/2 cups.”

Apparently Russians are very fond of taking jam with their tea (in addition to have a variety of sweets on hand), and the Russian Heritage Cookbook recounts that Russians will sometimes take tea with only jam, eating tiny spoonfuls (the size of espresso spoons, I would think) of jam out of special little dishes as they drink their tea.

I thought this was an interesting connection with the old-fashioned rural American habit of having fruit “sauce” with every meal. Nowadays this tradition has evolved into mostly canned fruit, like peaches or pears, but in the old days it was home-canned raw-packed fruit (fruit that was not cooked before canning; it just had boiling sugar water/syrup poured over before processing). Something like stonefruit or pears would hold up pretty well to that, but berries and things like rhubarb would end up more like jam. “Sauce” wasn’t usually eaten with cake or anything other than maybe a little cream poured over top.

Today, someone eating a small bowl of jam, or what is essentially jam, as dessert or a snack would be regarded as very strange. But I think it’s kind of nice. I mean, yeah jam on bread with (or without) butter is kind of nice, but if the jam isn’t too sweet, it’s nice by itself, too. Because please, who hasn’t licked the jam spoon, or even stolen a spoonful to eat?

If I weren’t already sugared out, I might go steal a spoonful of rhubarb sauce for dessert myself. It would make a nice, bright and tangy follow-up to the fresh radish sandwich I had for supper. : D

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. snapdragons permalink
    May 31, 2009 5:32 PM

    Re. Russian tea with jam, yep. I think you’re supposed to still have the jam in your mouth when you sip the tea. Here’s a picture I took at Russian Samovar in Manhattan:

    IMG_2064

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