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TOPICS include: Freshwater snails; Pangolin; Persimmons; Origins of Hotpot; Frying shallots: Buying tea in Hangzhou; Uses of winter melon

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Fall Volume: 2013 Issue: 20(3) page(s): 7 and 8

A great question, but the answer needs to address where and when. If you mean snails in your back yard, the response is 'not a good idea' because if that freshwater snail was found in your, my, or anyone's backyard, there is no way to know if it ingested any snail bait. If so, some of that snail's flesh can kill you.

These Viviparus malleatus, are also known as Cipangopaludina chinensis, Chinese mystery snails, Japanese black snails, or Japanese trapdoor snails, or what some know as Paludina malleata or by other names; but nomenclature aside, they are eaten in many parts of the world, and when large enough and when folks are assured that snail bait is not used where they live then they might be OK. Another reason not to eat them is because they are known to transmit parasites. That said, buy yours from reliable sources and always cook them thoroughly.

In the USA, they have been found and consumed in San Francisco since 1892, in Boston since 1915, and in places in between and since. They thrive in muddy waters, are appreciated because they make stagnant water clean, and because they eat algae, plant matter, fish food, vegetables, and more. Chinese and Japanese appreciate these thin-shelled river mollusks when full-grown and are about two and a half inches in length. Found light to dark olive green, they can be misidentified when small, but usually not those with bands of color as the one whose picture we share. Just keep in mind that many varieties are less distinctive. These snails are native to China, Burma, Thailand, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and South Vietnam, and perhaps elsewhere, and they are now found in more than half of the United States.

Do the Chinese eat pangolin?
HARRY: Yes, they do eat these mammals commonly known as ant-eaters or scaly ant-eaters. They consume them as food and use their scales as medicine, mostly to cure lymph node problems, reduce or kill pain, even increase the milk of nursing mothers. Their scales are made of the same material as human nails and they are their armor. Be aware that they are sharp, emit an awful smell sort of like the spray of a skunk, as they come from their anus. These are nocturnal animals with no teeth. They are good swimmers, and are eaten in many parts of the world, Asia, and beyond. People tell us they like them in soups and stews. Traditional medicinal practitioners tell us they are considered warm, help the blood circulation of a person's qi, reduce chills, and have analgesic effects. Often cooked with Angelica, wine, goji berries, day lilies, and salt. Some say their meat is salty. It does need to be cooked for several hours, often it is steamed, and sometimes prepared with fruits such as cherries. We have never eaten them, and have located very few who have. A few traditional medicine practitioners, mostly older ones, tell us they have.

From LILIE in Oregon:
Been reading articles on the web from your magazine, learning a lot, and enjoying most of them. I wonder about persimmons, and once read, but do not recall where, that dried persimmons should not be eaten with turtle? Can you locate this forgotten source and advise why? LILIE: Locating answers was no easy task. To the best of our knowledge, the earliest item located was by Chia Ming circa 1386 CE. He said that “dried persimmons must not be eaten with turtle as it causes bleeding.” Others have said this fruit, when dry, stops bleeding. Others advise persimmons ease stomach pain, and reduce asthma in the elderly if taken with honey twice a day. Some suggest cutting them up and mixing with boiled water, this we were told was to reduce high blood pressure. Incidentally, this fruit has been found dry in Han tombs and Neolithic sites. While looking for answers to your questions, we did learn about how to reduce their astringency. One way suggested includes putting the hachiya variety which has lots of tannins, in sealed plastic bags or three layers of plastic wrap. Keep them there four days and they will lose their puckery quality, or in a one hundred degree Fahrenheit oven over night or for an entire day. To our knowledge, no one says they have been successful in its total elimination.

We have read about hot pot foods being Chinese, Mongolian, or Beijing in origin. Do you know that and where and when this cooking method began?
BRUCIE: According to legends we have read, the concept of hot pot cookery originated in Mongolia more than a thousand years ago when warriors boiled water and other liquids in their helmets. It is said they cooked mutton and/or horse meat in them. Credit for this method of cookery does go to northern China when in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE) it became popular. In one place we read that in southern China, coals or wood have provided the heat source. Now electricity is favored north or south and the liquid is more often broth or stock with any meat and vegetables cooked in a metal pot, not a helmet.

Do you have a simple way to fry shallots; fried ones we purchase are not always fresh or fine?
TED: Yours is the easiest question of the year, but an important one. Incidentally, one can make them and keep them refrigerated until needed or wanted. Specific about how to fry them is at the end of this column.

From MILLY via e-mail then the phone:
When I called and asked about tea in Hangzhou you indicated you were about to go there. What I want to know is where to purchase Long Jing tea there.
MILLY: A quick response would be ‘everywhere. While true, most places would not qualify as the best ones. Hangzhou has a pedestrian area, no cars, and lots of places to shop. Any travel guide will tell you where this is, most policeman can, too. That is the first place I would go. There is a mediocre tea museum there, and above it they do tea tastings. You might start there. You will recognize it by the metal tea master standing outside photographed below. We bought our Long Jing and other tea varieties at a tea store down the block; it is Ten Fu and is related and run concurrent with Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Company in the United States and elsewhere. Their Jasmine Ball Tea is fresher, better, and with more jasmine flavor than ones sold here, and it is less expensive, too. Do drop in, to taste their tea. Then purchase those whose tastes you think are tops. In our tea closet, we have three terrific teas from Hangzhou.

Know little about winter melon other than the soup it is cooked in. Where can we learn more about this vegetable and its soup; and where can we find recipes for it?
BRIAN: This yin food is literally a 'fruit of the vine' and often used as a vegetable. The Chinese believe the fruit good to eat when wanting to lose weight because they say it increases metabolism. It also, they say, detoxifies the body. Look up 'wax gourd' which is another name for it or by its Chiinese name, dong gua or its botanical name which is Benincasa hispida. Both can lead you to more information about this white melon, also called east melon. To them, that distinguishes it from watermelon, and is the exact translation of dong gua. When seeing one, to be sure it has very tiny hairs on the stem and the surface when mature, and a white powdery surface, when very large. Chinese medical practitioners know its nature is cool, its taste sweet, and that it affects the lungs, spleen, and heart meridians. They tell us It cools fevers and reduces swellings, is used for those with diabetes, nephritis, various kinds of rash, and breast inflammations, and for food poisonings from fish. There are more health aspects in traditional Chinese medicine; and many ways to use it beside filling it with soup.
Wintermelon Seeds
Empty the seeds of a wintermelon, or any in the squash/cururbitaceae food family. Toast them in a low oven for an hour or more, then toss them with a little salt, cool and set aside to snack on.
Winter Melon Soup
Peel a piece of winter melon and cut it into two-inch pieces. Cook them in chicken stock or broth along with a few dried shiitake mushrooms cut up, fresh ginger pieces, scallions, and a few Smithfield ham slivers for an hour, then serve.
Fried Shallots I
Cut both ends off each shallot and discard them, then cut each shallot in kalf top to bottom, and remove the paper or outer peel. Heat one to two cups of vegetable or peanut oil over medium heat. Before it begins to smoke, turn the heat to low, add the shallot halves and stir continuously until they are golden brown. This takes about ten to fifteen minutes, and be careful not to burn them. Use a slotted spoon and remove them to a plate lined with several layers of paper towels. Allow them to cool, then refrigerate in a glass jar. Now strain the oil and refrigerate it for another use. Use the shallots and the oil, as needed.

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