“ Eat your purples” was my catch cry from end September to Christmas every year when we had young children.
It began with the Victoria plums, cropping so heavily that branches needed support,and demanding an immediate start to the preserving season. Plum chutney and plum compote were favourites. Only later did I come upon Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Chinese Plum Sauce. German Plum Cake with pecans on top entered the lexicon..… Pflaumenkuchen or Zwetschgenkuchen…watch the family falling around laughing (LOL) trying to pronounce these!
Blackberries came next. How many Irish schoolchildren have written the essay “Lá ag bailiú sméara dubha” during the first few weeks back at school? Jams, tarts, crumbles and the freezer cannibalized luscious blackberries as soon as they crossed the threshold. Elderberries, the mysterious Sambuca nigra, yielded their secrets to my Uncle Gerry D’Arcy who made wonderful Elderberry Wine.
As the evenings got longer, the Greengrocers began selling red cabbages, fresh beetroots and red onions. Red cabbage was known as ‘rotkohl’ in our house as our friend Ollie Murphy had German antecedents and was delighted to have Delia Smith’s Braised Red Cabbage with dinner one winter’s day. Raw cabbage has its own attractions; since my eldest daughter disliked the texture of mayonnaise, all slaws were flavoured with salt, pepper and cider vinegar only. There was always a box of freshly grated cabbage in the fridge, and still is. And mayonnaise for whoever would like some.
Beetroots are my husband’s very favourite food. Boiled, cooled, skinned and cubed. Absolutely nothing added. When Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in September 1979, we read in the newspaper that his childhood food was the Polish classic beetroot soup, Bortsch. Nothing would do us until we tried it out and we loved it. After a few disastrous attempts to serve it to our friends at dinner, we consigned it to the rank of private pleasures. Beetroot has many enemies. However, it’s a standard on my antipasti table if friends are over…few foods come with so few calories and so much intrinsic nutrition. Organic beetroots are the sweetest thing. (Oh–oh-oh…., as U2 have it). Since I have some on the vegetable rack today EatLikeaGirl’s Beetroot Latkes will be cooked over the next day or two….they’re bound to be good.
Red onions are delicious raw in salsa, sliced and roasted with other root veggies with a Sunday roast. Caramelized Red Onion Tarte Tatin became a family favourite when I saw the recipe printed on a Tesco plastic wrapping for onions. The pastry is made with fine wholemeal flour and thyme leaves… and it freezes so well.
Aubergines are with us all year round now. They don’t appeal to everybody- those in our family who prefer to leave them also avoid all their fellows in the Solanaeceae (or Nightshade) family, potatoes and tomatoes. It’s only a heartbeat in terms of human evolution since Sir Walter Raleigh first presented these to Queen Elizabeth I and introduced them to our shores, so it’s not surprising that some people can’t digest them. Those who do relish them enjoy Ratatouille, Caponata, Melanzane alla Parmigiana and more recently, Yotam Ottolenghi’s Aubergines with Buttermilk from his book ‘Plenty’ – such a pretty dish.
Passion fruits have the most beguiling symphony of flavours. I cut them in half and pile them on a fruit platter for teenage girls. At a certain age, girls feel safe with fruit, as it passes their Calorie counting/Weight Watchers points/ Glycaemic Index criteria. Leave them alone at the kitchen table with a pretty platter and they’ll chat forever. Those who haven’t had Passion Fruit before are always charmed by the taste.
Ruby Chard is the latest entrant to the family of purples chez nous. Frank in Elmhurst Cottage Organics in Dublin 9 offers it with his veggie box delivery almost every week, and sells it at the honest2goodness marketin Glasnevin Industrial Estate on Saturday morning. Our favourite recipe so far is from Riverford Farm website- Goat’s cheese and chard tart.
Apart from the fact that all these fruits and veggies are so stunningly beautiful, their purple pigment signifies the presence of phyto-chemicals such as anthocyanins, xanthans, and thiocyanates. Their powerful antioxidants help boost the immune system and regulate blood cholesterol. Since most fruit and vegetables are low-density carbohydrates with high fibre, they help regulate insulin and are a great asset in weight control.
Purple is a symbol of imperial power and was once the most expensive dye, as it required vast amounts of shellfish to provide the tiniest amount of dye. The Roman emperor could wear a toga of solid purple whereas senators were only allowed a purple border on a white toga. A Catholic priest wears a purple stole when officiating at the sacraments. Mary Robinson wore purple when she was inaugurated as President of Ireland.
There are so many purples that I haven’t even mentioned- damsons, prunes, grapes…at their very best from southern Europe around now, sloes for the forager, amethyst deceiver…a delicious wild edible mushroom, fraughans…our native blueberries growing wild on our hillsides in August, dried seaweed for soups, turnips, cavolo nero…the cabbage with a holiday home in Tuscany, as Niki Segnit would say. These and more are waiting to grace our tables, to glorify our plates with brilliant colour, and to nourish us in these uncertain times.
We’re inaugurating a new President this week.
Cherish all the children of the nation equally, especially your nearest and dearest.
Go Eat your Purples!