Avocados are technically a fruit but most of us eat them as a vegetable. They are native to Central America, and there are 4 main varieties. The ones we most commonly see in our shops are the Hass variety. Avocados are full of all sorts of goodness including vitamin E, potassium and iron. While they do have a relatively high fat content, most of it is the good mono saturated type.
When you buy them they will be green in colour. As they ripen they change to a brown colour. Test to see if they are ripe by gently squeezing them, they should give a little. To prepare them cut in half lengthwise, then with one half in each hand, give a gentle twist and the two halves should come apart. One half will have the stone in. To remove the stone get a fork and push the prongs into the stone. Then gently twist the fork and the stone should come out. Some stones are more stubb
orn than others, and they require more pressure, be careful of your fingers. The easiest way to get the flesh out is with a teaspoon.
If you are only using one half of the avocado there is an easy way to keep the other half fresh for the next day. All you need is a small plate and a bottle of lemon juice. Shake some lemon juice on to the plate and also onto the cut surface of the avocado. Be fairly generous. Place the cut side down onto the lemon juice on the plate and pop into the fridge. I don’t recommend keeping the avocado for more than one day as it will start to turn brown.
Avocados are generally eaten raw in salads, but they can also be used in smoothies. My favourite thing to do with them is as a fantastic sandwich filling. Mash up half an avocado and spread on your bread in place of butter, then add your choice of filling, bacon and ham work really well.
Avocados can be expensive the in the shops so buy carefully. Single avocados and those advertised as ‘Ripe and Ready to Eat’ will be more expensive than those you have to ripen at home, or come in packs of two or four. To ripen them at home sit them in the fruit bowl making sure you have some bananas in the bowl. You cannot always guarantee when they will be ripe, so you need to be a wee bit flexible. They are however lovely and creamy and worth the wait.
Fresh apricots are not readily available here in the UK, but tinned and dried are. Tinned fruit is fabulous. When buying tinned fruit check to see what juice the fruit is in. Syrup, light syrup and juice are most common options. Go for juice as it contains only naturally occurring sugar rather than the syrups which have sugar added.
Tinned or fresh apricots can be used in fruit salad, crumble or with baked rice pudding. You can also mix them into your porridge in the mornings.
Dried apricots are readily available in supermarkets. Try and buy the largest pack size available as they will work out the cheapest. Dried fruit has a more intense flavour than fresh. If you soak apricots in some hot water for 20-30 minutes, they will plump up and become juicy. You can do this with virtually all dried fruit, but be careful with dates as they tend to flake into the hot water rather than plump up.
Once upon a time we only got apples at the time of the year they ripened. Now we can get apples all year round, and a huge variety. One apple I like to champion is the Bramley, also known as a cooking apple. They are larger than your average eating apple and are a mid to dark green in colour. Bramleys originate from Nottinghamshire in the UK, and the UK is still the main producer of Bramleys. They react differently to ‘eating apples’ when cooked.
When cooked, a Bramley will mush down, as opposed to an eating apple which will retain its shape much more. They are eaten cooked as they are far too sour to eat raw.
The simplest way to prepare them is to stew them. Peel, quarter and core, then slice fairly thinly. Place in a saucepan with a little water, put a lid on and cook them over a gentle heat. Give them a stir every couple of minutes and add more water if needed. You can add dried fruit to the pan as well of you like. Serve with some natural yoghurt or custard.