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Berries Like Turnips!

September 30, 1993

Some of us kids in our 60s can remember a radio show of years ago called "The Shadow!" It featured a powerful voice that warned, "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit," followed by a fiendish laugh.

Well, the Shadow was right! Today, in our markets and restaurants we see the most beautiful fruit ever--huge strawberries, deep-red in color that are hard as a rock. You bite into one and it tastes like a turnip. It's bitter. Even adding sugar doesn't help much to get it down.

Recently, we ordered a beautiful fresh peach pie at one of our favorite restaurants. After trying to eat one of the delicious-looking peaches, I asked our waitress to try one. She took a fork, tried to cut it, but it wouldn't cut!

The crime behind this bitter fruit is the way fruit is gassed or "embalmed" so that it never gets ripe, has no natural sweetness and remains hard as a rock. You rarely see spoiled fruit on the stands today, but neither will you know the taste of delicious, natural flavored, vine-ripened fruit.

Is it the duty of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to go to work on this problem and get fruit back on the market that not only looks good but is good and digestible?

--JOHN C. BLAYNEY

Palm Springs

Ajvar : The Real Thing

As someone born and raised in the pepper-growing and -loving cultures of the Mediterranean and Balkan lands, I read your article on peppers ("Garden Fresh," Aug. 19) with interest. I was particularly excited to see that ajvar , the popular relish of Serbs, Macedonians, Bulgarians and other Balkan peoples, was given special attention in the article.

But the dish described and the recipe given bear little resemblance to reality. Although it may fit into your writer's "great color" motif, ajvar is not traditionally eaten over white creamy cheese on dark bread with "Greek" (as opposed to Albanian? Turkish? Maltese? Dalmatian? Istrian? Sicilian?) olives. The truth is, ajvar is rarely eaten as a spread but rather as a side dish with grilled or roasted meat, potatoes, vegetables, etc. In restaurant menus, ajvar is always listed under "salads."

The store-bought ajvar your writer describes comes from a manufacturer based in what used to be Yugoslavia and is now Slovenia (and labeled as product of either country, depending whether a particular jar was imported before or after 1991). It's true the contents listed are peppers, eggplant, spices and salt, but not prepared in the manner your writer suggests in her recipe. She dismisses the authentic way to prepare ajvar as "dulling the color" as if the glowing orange-red color of the correctly prepared ajvar can be called "dull."

The point is, why bother to familiarize your readers with an "exotic" ethnic dish when what you're presenting is just a watered (or rather, steamed) down version of the real thing?

--SANJA ILIC

Venice

Missing Market

The Food Section feature highlighting organic produce (The Organic Alternative, July 8) failed to mention my family's favorite place for purchasing organic foods, the Venice Ocean Park Foods Cooperative Commonwealth Inc., popularly known as the Venice Coop, at 839 Lincoln on Brooks.

This store has a friendly, knowledgeable staff, a varied and large selection, and 95% of its produce is organic. For this reason it has maintained our loyalty for many years.

--ARNOLD L. STANLEY

Los Angeles

Radish in Black

I enjoyed Sylvia Thompson's "Glamour Radish?" (July 15) and can almost, but not quite, understand her failure to mention the unseemly and often neglected black radish.

My mother would, when readying a meal for company, peel a black radish, which is usually about four times the size of any red radish, coarsely grate it, add some (not an overwhelming amount) raw onion, dampen the lot with rendered chicken fat, season it with a smidgen of salt, and serve it as a relish or side dish. The Yiddish word for radish is retach (the ch uttered deep in the throat, as if clearing it); the word for the rendered chicken fat is schmaltz.

I do believe it was the incomparable M. F. K. Fisher who suggested that instead of eating the lowly red radish straight, "we should dab it with fresh sweet butter and nibble away." A great idea, but a bit too precious for continued practice.

Incidentally, are black radishes used in any way other than my mother's appetizer? The greengrocers on Fairfax do sell them--but to whom and for what?

--DOROTHY H. ROCHMIS

Los Angeles

Letters should be brief and must include the writer's name, address and telephone number. No pseudonyms may be used. Letters are subject to editing and condensation. Mention date of publication when referring to a specific article. Letters may be mailed to Food Letters, The Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.

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