Ripeness is allAgricultural engineers at Purdue University...


Ripeness is all

Agricultural engineers at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., have developed a machine that can measure the ripeness of fruits and vegetables. The device could mean consumers would find optimum ripeness dates on individual items, could reduce waste for supermarkets, and could help growers harvest at the proper time.

It works by using magnetic fields to detect the amount of sugar and water in the produce, according to Gary Krutz, a professor of agricultural engineering. The device, about the size of a

microwave, uses technology similar to that of magnetic resonance imaging devices employed in medical facilities to create images of bones and tissues.

"Right now we can measure the sugar levels within 2 percent accuracy, which would allow us to grade fruit to three levels," Mr. Krutz says in the press release from Purdue. "But our goal is to get the machine accurate to within 1 percent. If we can do that, we could put stickers on fruit that would tell the date of optimum ripeness."

The devices are also attracting interest from diabetics, because it would allow them to control more precisely their intake of sugar in fruit by selecting lower-sugar items, and from French winemakers, who are interested in using the device to measure sugar levels in grapes to time harvest more accurately. Eventually, Mr. Krutz says, engineers expect to use magnetic waves to measure such things as fat or sodium levels in all kinds of foods.

"We're hoping to test the device in an Indiana supermarket within a year," Mr. Krutz says. "We'll start with a small fruit, nectarines or cherries, and move up from there." Downtown dwellers hungry for hard crabs have generally had to get in their cars and drive somewhere else to get them. But that's changed since Grille 58 restaurant in the Society Hill Hotel, 58 W. Biddle St., began offering crab feasts.

Crab diners can eat in, in the restaurant's garden room, or take the steamed crabs home to eat. The restaurant will be offering a variety of specials during crab-feast time, which lasts through this month, including "buy one dozen, get one free."

The restaurant, in the lower level of the historic 15-room bed and breakfast inn, is right across the street from Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The regular menu will be available in the main dining room. Reservations are advisable for this intimate spot; the phone number is (410) 837-3630.

Fans of Newman's Own foods will be happy to know that the ol' bandito has a new cookbooklet out that offers tips, lore and recipes for salsa, one of the company's newer products. Newman's Own Bandito Salsa -- "So good it oughta be outlawed" -- comes in strengths of mild, medium and hot. The 32-page booklet costs $1.95. A 20-by-28-inch poster of "Butch" Newman, salsa outlaw, costs $4.98. Both are available from Avery Business Services, 39 Fort Point St., East Norwalk, Conn. 06855. Prices include postage and handling. Send check or money order made out to Avery Business Services and allow six to eight weeks for delivery. Mr. Newman donates all after-tax profits from Newman's Own food enterprises to charitable and educational causes. Here's a sample recipe from the salsa booklet:

Sundance shrimp salad

Serves four to five.

1 pound large cooked shrimp, peeled and halved crosswise

1 firm ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and diced

1/4 pound jicama, peeled and cut into julienne strips (see note)

1 carrot, peeled and cut into julienne strips

2 scallions, chopped

1/2 cup Newman's Own All Natural Salsa

1/4 cup mayonnaise (low-fat or non-fat)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 small head bibb lettuce

Combine all ingredients, except lettuce, in a large bowl, tossing gently to blend well. Spoon into lettuce leaves, dividing evenly. The shrimp salad is also an excellent sandwich or taco filling.

Note: Jicama is a tuber vegetable with a crisp texture and delicate flavor. It's available at supermarkets and specialty markets.

Spain on center stage

This is a big year for Spain. It is the site of the Olympics, the World's Fair is in Seville, and the country is a major celebrant of the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage.

To bring some of the festive mood and food to Baltimore, chef Tomas Sanz has added some dishes from his native Spain to his restaurant, Thompson's Sea Girt House on York Road.

Among the special dishes being offered are snails sauteed with onion, tomatoes and ham; seafood bathed in Spanish brandy; chicken and lobster tail sauteed in Spanish brandy, and flounder stuffed with crab and shrimp with a Spanish wine sauce. There will also be daily Spanish specials, such as a cold seafood salad similar to ones served in Catalonia.

Mr. Sanz was born in Segovia and worked in Barcelona and Madrid before coming to the United States. The sampling of Spanish fare, done in conjunction with Torres Wines, will run all summer.

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