Food and Stuff

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Creation Date April 12th, 2020
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As we are cooking home more these days: let's get to know our food a little bit more.
  1. This week, Endless Thread goes underground and back in time -- into what just might be the most important vault in the world. What's inside that vault? A treasure that originates with a Russian scientist during World War II.
  2. This fruit is used as a vegetable and was once believed to cause insanity. Anney and Lauren dig into the odd history and science of the eggplant. Learn more about your ad-choices at
  3. The produce section of most American supermarkets in the 1950s was minimal to a fault, with only a few dozen fruits and vegetables to choose from: perhaps one kind of apple, one kind of lettuce, a yellow onion, a pile of bananas. Today, grocery stores routinely offer hundreds of different fruits and vegetables, many of which would be unrecognizable to time travelers from a half century ago. What changed, and how did Americans learn to embrace spaghetti squash, sugar snap peas, and kiwi fruit? This episode, we tell the story of the woman behind this transformation: Frieda Caplan, the Queen of Kiwi. In late 1950s, when Frieda Caplan began working as a book-keeper at a wholesale produce business owned by her husband’s aunt and uncle, she had no interest in fruit and vegetables beyond eating them. She also had no real qualifications for the job: she had studied political science at UCLA, and, according to her daughter, Karen Caplan, “she got a D in math.” But that political background and love for campaigning ended up coming in handy. When her relatives went out of town on vacation a few weeks after hiring her, she found herself on the Los Angeles Produce Market floor, enthusiastically promoting a pallet of brown mushrooms that had been sitting in the corner, looking neglected. At the time, white button mushrooms were the only kind of fungi found in most grocery stores—but, somehow, Karen told us, Frieda “fluffed her hair and put on her lipstick,” and she succeeded in charming a supermarket buyer into purchasing these exotic brown mushrooms. Word quickly spread among growers of unusual or foreign fruits and vegetables that Frieda was the secret to getting their underloved produce onto supermarket shelves. Frieda’s Specialty Produce, the company Frieda ended up founding in 1962, was the first wholesale produce business to be owned and operated by a woman. Since then, Frieda and her daughter Karen, the company’s current CEO, have successfully introduced hundreds of new fruits and vegetables to the American supermarket shelves, including red seedless grapes, radicchio, Habanero peppers, Delicata squash, shallots, and, her first big hit, the kiwi. Frieda Caplan accepting a shipment of kiwi fruit. This episode, we learn the secrets behind their success, including the innovations in packaging and sales that Frieda introduced to persuade grocery store buyers and their ordinary American customers to try fruits and vegetables that looked and tasted like nothing they’d ever seen before. Then we meet an entrepreneur who has embarked on the same challenge today, in a slightly different way: Ayr Muir of fast-casual chain Clover Food Lab, who persuades his customers to try less familiar local New England produce such as medlar and rutabaga. Finally, we ask: why bother? Why does diversifying our fruit consumption beyond the familiar apple and banana matter? Join us this episode as we tell the stories of the people helping aspiring, underloved fruits and vegetables make it big in America—and reveal how the kiwi got its name! Episode Notes Frieda’s Specialty Produce Frieda’s Specialty Produce, based in Los Alamitos, California, is still a family-owned- and run-operation. Karen and her sister Jackie helm the company, and Karen’s daughter, Alex Berkley, the third generation of women, is now sales manager. Unsurprisingly, Karen had set out a beautiful tasting platter for us when we visited: rambutan (which Cynthia had never tried before), Cape gooseberries, jicama, lychee, and two different types of dragonfruit. Fear No Fruit If hearing about Frieda leaves you wanting to learn even more about this remarkable woman and her transformation of American grocery stores and diets, you should watch Fear No Fruit, the delightful documentary about her life that aired in 2015. You can catch it on the official website or on Amazon Prime. Ayr Muir and Clover Food Lab Ayr Muir has certainly succeeded in convincing hordes of hungry Bostonians that locally sourced, vegetable-centered meals are delicious. If you’re ever in Boston, we recommend heading over and tasting for yourself at the nearest Clover! And if you’d like to hear more of Ayr, don’t miss our Menu Mind Control episode. The post Meet the Queen of Kiwi: The 96-Year-Old Woman Who Transformed America’s Produce Aisle appeared first on Gastropod.
  4. Things are about to get hot in here—join us for an exploration of some of the world's spiciest foods. Why is that tingly combination of heat and flavor such a temptress? (Are we addicted to danger? Do we just love sweating while eating?) From spice-infused condiments to the many chilies of Mexico, we'll get to the bottom of that “hurts so good” thrill ride once and for all.
  5. Why do some fruits and vegetables achieve superstar status, appearing on T-shirts worn by celebrities, or in tattoos adorning some of the biggest names in music? Who is behind the rise of avocados and kale, and who benefits most from their A-list status - savvy farmers, slick marketeers or health campaigners? Emily Thomas explores whether fruit and vegetables should play the fame game: Is putting a single food on a pedestal good for consumers, producers, or the planet? Jess Loyer, from the University of Adelaide, and Lauren Westmore, from London PR firm Third City explain the potential pitfalls. Xavier Equihua, CEO of the World Avocado Organization explains how he promotes the fruit across the globe. And a small-town T-shirt maker, Bo Muller-Moore, reveals how he may have contributed to the rise and rise of kale. Plus, why is it so much easier to create a buzz around one vegetable than an entire food group? Anna Taylor from UK healthy eating think-tank The Food Foundation, describes her uphill battle against public attitudes and the enormous advertising budgets of Big Food. (Photo: Avocado being photographed. Credit: BBC)
  6. The 1980’s TV commercials for California raisins have been called some of the best ads ever made. The claymation raisins singing and dancing to Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” became a kids TV show, recorded an album that went platinum, launched a range of toys and costumes, and starred in an Emmy-winning Christmas special. But were they a success for the raisin industry? Or did the dancing California raisins cause more trouble than they were worth?Sign up for our newsletter:
  7. All fruit come from flowers, but not all flowers become fruit. Once you start to see the two as the same, the world of both grow more interesting. Dates, honey and saffron: we’re gettin sweet and spicy with stories from Egypt to Iran. In episode 3, we meet Leila Elamine of The Recipe Hunters, Gordon Hull of Heidrun Meadery, and spice expert Ethan Frisch of Burlap and Barrel. Learn more about your ad-choices at
  8. The banana is a staple of the American diet and has been for generations. But how did this exotic tropical fruit become so commonplace? How one Brooklyn-born entrepreneur ruthlessly created the modern banana industry and the infamous banana republics.
  9. This fall, there’s a new apple coming. It’s been 20 years in the making, and its launch will be the biggest in apple history. How was it invented? What makes it special? And will it live up to the hype? We hear the story behind this apple's conception and birth, with help from Helen Zaltzman of The Allusionist podcast, and NPR reporter Dan Charles.Today's sponsors: Download the mobile app or go to and enter promo code SPORKFUL at checkout for $10 off and free delivery on your first order. Go to to get 15% off your first pair, free shipping, and a 100% satisfaction guarantee.Get access to 500+ more Sporkful episodes and lots of other Stitcher goodness when you sign up for Stitcher Premium: (promo code: SPORKFUL).Transcript available at
  10. In 1927, more than 50 years before the first GMO crop hit the market, a scientist named Louis Stadler shot X-rays at barley. The result was a random mutation—a change in the color of the plant. While not particularly useful, it showed that with radiation, scientists could roll the genetic dice, press fast-forward on natural selection, and with enough rolls, maybe even uncover something new- a useful mutant. The Atomic Age would inspire a generation of scientists to blast crops with Cobalt-60 radiation. Even civilians got in on the action. But today, this type of breeding is all but forgotten. Is the possibility of an “Atomic Garden of Eden” worth the nuclear gamble?

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