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Blanched Asparagus

I never saw any thing equal to the comfort and style…The baked apples and biscuits, excellent in their way, you know; but there was a delicate fricassee of sweetbread and some asparagus brought in at first, and good Mr Woodhouse, not thinking the asparagus quite boiled enough, sent it all out again.

Now there is nothing grandmama loves better than sweetbread and asparagus — so she was rather disappointed, but we agreed we would not speak of it to any body, for fear of its getting round to dear Miss Woodhouse, who would be so very much concerned!

Asparagus has been used from very early times as a vegetable and medicine, owing to its delicate flavour and diuretic properties. It was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, who ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter. It lost its popularity in the Middle Ages but returned to favour in the seventeenth century.

Only the young shoots of asparagus are eaten. Asparagus is low in calories, contains no fat or cholesterol, and is very low in sodium. It is a good source of folic acid, potassium, dietary fiber, and rutin. The amino acid, asparagine, gets its name from asparagus, the asparagus plant being rich in this compound.

The shoots can be prepared and served in a number of ways, and are often boiled or steamed and served with hollandaise sauce, melted butter or olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Tall asparagus cooking pots allow the shoots to be steamed gently. The best asparagus tends to be early growth (first of the season) and is often simply steamed and served with melted butter.

Blanched Asparagus

  • 1 saucepan
  • 1 bowl of iced water
  • 1 tray, lined with paper towel
  • 1 set of tongs
  • 1 slotted spoon
  • 1 small knife
  • Salt
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, washed and trimmed
  • Olive oil or melted butter to taste
  1. Heat the water
    Blanching is a quick way of cooking vegetables while retaining their nutritional values and this technique is especially good for green vegetables. Begin by placing the saucepan on a high heat and fill it with about with 2 litres of water. Now add the salt and bring it to a strong rapid boil. Use 30 grams / 1 oz of salt for every litre / 1.5 pt of water. The salt creates a barrier on the surface of the vegetables and also raises the temperature of the water, sealing in the nutrients.
  2. Blanch the asparagus
    Now place the bowl of iced water next to the pan in preparation for ‘shocking’, the vegetables, later on. Then add the asparagus into the boiling water. Allow the water to come back to the boil then prick them with a small knife to check for readiness. The asparagus should be soft but firm at the same time. Blanching the asparagus for roughly 30-60 seconds is enough for it to be perfectly cooked.
  3. Shock the asparagus in ice water
    Remove the asparagus with your slotted spoon. Place it into the bowl of ice water, to shock the asparagus, for 30 seconds, or until cold. This will immediately stop the cooking process as well as preserve colour, and crispiness. Once removed from the ice, set them aside on the tray lined with paper towel. Keeping them in a cold place will also help to maintain colour and freshness.
  4. Season and serve
    Transfer all your blanched and steamed vegetables onto a serving platter. Season to taste with olive oil, salt and pepper. Your vegetables are now ready to serve. They go wonderfully with any type of meat, can be served with a cheese or herb sauce, or even just as they are.

Reprinted from Wikihow.

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All the Delights of the Season

There was now employment for the whole party– for though they could not all talk, they could all eat; and the beautiful pyramids of grapes, nectarines, and peaches soon collected them round the table.
Pride and Prejudice

In Georgian times, centerpieces that were both exquisite and edible were an inherent part of fine dining. In fact, food was the only centerpiece used until the 1750s. The goal of every great hostess was a captivating and inviting arrangement- a treat to the eyes and the taste. The more elaborate, the better. After all, your wealth and social status were clearly assessed by the size and complexity of the centerpiece.

Food stylist Debbie Brodie created many such arrangements for the A&E film “Emma”. Her challenge was to create confections that would look beautiful while standing up to the heat and transportation necessary in filming.

We created these colassal fruit pyramids, which are certainly not the thing to do when you’ve got four-hundred weight of food to put out and you’re in a complete tiz. They take a very long time. You have to have a completely level base onto which you put a layer of the larger fruits (apples, peaches, oranges).Food Stylist Debbie Brodie creates a pyramid of Peaches for the Box Hill picnic scene This you then spray with mounting glue and add a layer of leaves. I used Ivy leaves but you can use vine or bay leaves.Once that has dried, you do the next layer in the same way, with fruits getting smaller as it gets higher. Any fruits can be used: cherries, strawberries, whatever takes your fancy. After a second layer, I spear down through the fruit with cocktail sticks to give extra strength. These dishes may have to be moved many times during the day and, though I wouldn’t say you could drop one without collapsing, they can certainly take some rough handling.

Traditional pyramid centerpieces, made of exotic fruits, nuts and tiny desserts, were arranged on glass salvers (cake stands stacked one on the other), meant to be as delicious as they were beautiful. To create this centerpiece in your own home, you will need three attractive glass or porcelain cake stands in graduated sizes. These are available as sets from many retailers. The “Georgian pyramid” was originally made by placing like-sized pieces of fruit on a plate, topping with a smaller plate and more fruit, and so on, until a tall pyramid was formed. Boxwood or other greens were then tucked between the fruit to fill in the gaps. Though they are few and far between, a careful viewing of both Emma2 and Emma3 as well as Persuasion2 and P&P2 will reveal scenes of glorious fruit concoctions set out at dinner parties and meals.

For a freestanding, one tiered arrangement, hostess Mary Ellen Pinkham suggests arranging fruit in a pyramid on a cake stand. For the center of the pyramid, cut the flesh off of a large pineapple so that only the core remains. Attach to the middle of the cake stand and arrange whole and cut fruit around it, forming a pyramid.

The Apple Cone is available by mail order from the Colonial Williamsburg Marketplace.

An easy, non-edible alternative is suggested by artisans in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Crafters at Colonial Williamsburg market a conical wood form, called an apple cone, which makes creating one of these pyramids a piece of cake. The form has many nails embedded over the surface of the cone. Apples are impaled onto the nails forming a treelike shape. Often a pineapple, the symbol of hospitality, is placed at the top. Other fruits such as Lemons, limes, pears and pomegranates can be used in place of the apples. Like the early fruit pyramids, boxwood sprigs are tucked between the fruit mounted on the cone. To complete the centerpiece, the base of the cone is decorated with large flat leaves (such as magnolia or ivy).

A similar design can be created by cutting the top off a Styrofoam cone so that it is flat. Use florist’s picks to attach the fruit to the cone. You may want to use two picks each for particularly large pieces of fruit or the pineapple on top, or try the step by step instructions found here

  • Select small apples (Red Delicious, Granny Smith and Lady apples are all good choices) or like sized other fruits.
  • If using pineapples, look for some on the smaller side. Bigger is not always better- especially in this case!
  • Check with a local florist to obtain magnolia leaves and boxwood sprigs. If nothing fresh is available, you can use silk or artificial leaves.
  • Keep your pyramid fresh by storing it in a cool place when not in use on the table. To refresh your centerpiece, replace fruit that has started to soften. At best, the fruit on the cone will last one to two weeks.
  • To protect your tablecloth or table from the effects of “weeping fruit”, place your completed pyramid on a plate or platter before setting it on the dining room table.
  • Additional greenery, fruit, nuts and wrapped candies can be tucked into the greens to extend the centerpiece across the table and provide an edible feature, since the fruit affixed to the nails on the cone is no longer edible.

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