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  • Sweet Potatoes: Much of the world uses the sweet potato as a staple starch. The sweet potato, in fact, came into widespread cultivation outside of the New World long before the white potato became popular. The sweet potato and the yam are two different plants; they are not even related botanically. Yams, native to Africa, have bland, white flesh. We rarely see true yams in North America except in specialty shops that carry Caribbean produce. Food terminologies, of course, don't always gibe with biology. In the 1930s. Louisiana farmers began to call their sweet potatoes "yams" to differentiate them from less colorful varieties of sweet potato grown in the north. Popular parlance in the south and among African-American communities all over the US has cemented the term "yam" in our national food consciousness even if botanists may object. Ironically, the more orange (and unlike a true yam) a sweet potato is, the more likely it is to be called a yam, in line with the general characteristics of southern sweet potato cultivars, like the popular Beauregard variety.

  • Cantaloupe: In the United States, the fruit we think of as cantaloupe is actually a muskmelon. The true European cantaloupe has a yellowish fruit with a distinct scent, not the pale orange we’re used to. Where do we get the odd name? The Pope occasionally retreats to his villa of Cantalupo, not far from Rome, where the original melons were first identified. The season for our cantaloupe is generally June through November, and they are better in season (though you can get most fruits year round now). When choosing a cantaloupe, look first at the stem end, which should have a smooth indentation, indicating it has been picked when fully developed (much non-seasonal produce is picked prematurely and allowed to ripen in transit). The melon should have a good, heavy feel to it, a pleasant smell, with no lumps; avoid odd-shaped cantaloupes. Once you cut into a cantaloupe, it will have a tendency to absorb odors of other foods, so cover tightly if refrigerating, or, better still, enjoy the sweet center all at once, and toss the rest. Pre-cut “convenience” cantaloupe should be consumed immediately.

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