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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Hearts of Palm

I didn't know exactly where I was or the reason for going. But, like many social expeditions in college, we often traveled in packs with an ill-defined leader, led to some unknown location for reasons unclear. Not that any of this information was really withheld. It was just that we really didn't care, because we had confidence that the outing would be an adventure.

It was a party of sorts and was most likely somewhere on the Lower East Side, where the problem was never rent, only the decision to live in a war zone. Places could be rented for as little as $60 per month, and yes, even at that time, in those dollars, it was very affordable. That amount of money could be earned in one or two days in an unskilled job, something impossible in today's market.

A woman, who I believe was Brazilian, offered me a long white object from a can. As she slid it out, it reminded me of Vienna sausages, which I ate from a can as a child (and which I loved). These, however, were some type of vegetable, with a texture not so unlike an artichoke.

But I never knew what they were called, and finding these was not going to be easy. I suspected that they were of South American origin, but at the time, international foods were a relative rarity, relegated to some small section of the supermarket, with each store having what appeared to be a whimsical selection of goods.

There were no Korean green grocers with all things imaginable. Delicatessens were the convenience stores of choice, and for those of us coming from Anytown, USA, these all-night delis were nothing short of miraculous. We were ecstatic to have places open 24/7. The selection of packaged or canned goods, however was very limited. Fruit would typically consist of a Rome or Delicious apple of unknown age behind glass in the center of a showcase. No one was expected to actually buy it, but at least that food group was represented.

So it was in this environment that the identity of that smooth, silky, ivory-colored, edible plant remained a mystery for years. A small, nagging, unclosed gestalt. Until I met an older woman from Puerto Rico who, from a loose description, immediately identified the suspect as hearts of palm (or palm hearts).
Visits to various supermarkets proved successful. There was a bit of sticker shock - these were imported from Brazil and pricey (I have since learned that they were uncultivated at that time.) But I really had no choice, and I purchased a can. They were as unique and wonderful as I remembered and became a regular (if infrequent) addition to my diet.

Of course now, hearts of palm are a common ingredient in salads and can be found in virtually any market. For me, seeing a can of these represents closure on a long affair. For everyone else, just hearts of palm :)


Mirela said...

Wonderful story! Isn't it incredible how much we crave for something we tasted as children - juice, a candy, a veggie...

Chuck Pefley said...

While not a vegetable, I've developed a craving for panfortè, Italian fruit cake. Yum!! Sometimes substitutes just don't work!

Terry B, Blue Kitchen said...

I agree with Mirela, Brian--a wonderful story. I've seen cans of hearts of palm on shelves in various produce markets here in Chicago, but never been compelled to try them. You've got me curious now, though. I may have to do a post on them one of these days. I'll keep you posted.

ChickenUnderwear said...

They are good.

Leslie said...

I remember the wonderful salads you used to make with your new found delicacy! Was that Fela who figured it out? Blast from the past!

Tatiana said...

Those palm heart are delicious. Here in Brazil we have them at all markets, but is expensive for us too.
Here we put them on fresh salads, into pies, in some cold recipies,soups,etc... you can use them with almost everything. I like eating them just he way the come in the can.
I loved the picture you took.
Brazil is a part of New York too. I miss so much that concrete jungle.
Loved your post
Have a wonderful 2010.

Mary said...

After reading your post, I bought a can of these tonight. They were a little pricey so hopefully I'll like them. Should be interesting.