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TOPICS INCLUDE: Wintermelon; This magazine; Sea cucumber

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Fall Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(3) page(s): 10

I sit here reading a recipes asking for two cups of cubed wintermelon. What kind of a melon is this? I've never heard of it nor seen it.
ROSE: Wintermelon is round and green-skinned and belongs to the squash family. These wax gourds are usually found in markets catering to Asian customers. They weigh from five to twenty-five pounds, though I have read that they grow to a hundred or more pounds. The name comes from the fact that this vegetable is harvested in summer or fall and keeps for months through the winter in a cool place. You can recognize them because they look as if they were given a dusting of flour. Wintermelon is never eaten raw. Benincasa hispida, its botanical name, is commonly used in soups or whole as the serving container for soups or steamed foods, in fillings for pastries, preserved as a candy, and as a soft contrast in several dishes cooked with ham. You can buy them whole or by the slice, and if doing the latter, keep the section lightly wrapped, a paper towel works well, and keep it in the refrigerator. It stays almost a week, Peel it and remove the seeds just before using the cut piece.

I brought (the magazine) to my culinary class and they were intrigued...had no idea that there was such a specialized journal.
Dear SHARON: Just to set the record straight, there are many specialized culinary magazines and newsletters. For example, there is theJournal of Italian Food and Wine for those interested in foods of that culture. Pat Tung, who has a Chinese culinary school in Ohio, just recently reminded me about a defunct Chinese newsletter-type magazine called Wok. It was very interesting and I did enjoy it. However, it ceased many years ago. Flavor and Fortune is the first magazine dedicated to both the science and art of Chinese cuisine in the United States and unlike Wok, we have no ingredients or equipmment to sell.

Can anyone purchase fresh sea cucumber; the dried ones I buy have a different texture each time I cook with them.
EVA-JOHN: How appropriate, the question. This issue has an article about unusual ingredients, and sea cucumber is one of them. Yes, you can purchase them fresh, though that is rare in the United States, but common in France, where they are known as beche de mer. In Chinese and other Asian markets, you will find them both dry and hard as a rock or soft and in water. The latter are reconstituted from those that were dried shortly after they were harvested from the sea. When you buy them dry or reconstituted, rinse them in several changes of water. For the dried ones, soak them in tepid water for three or four days, and change the water two or three times each day. Once each day, place them in cool water and bring the water to the boil, discard the water and resoak in cold water. When the sea cucumber is very soft, slit it lengthwise and clean out the intestines and other matter. Rinse in warm water put them in a pot and cover them with stock or bouillon. Boil for five to ten minutes with a slice of ginger and a scallion tied in a knot. Discard the stock and added items and rinse them in cool water. Check to make sure that they are free of any remaining matter, cut in smaller pieces and they are ready for use.

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