This article is adapted from the August 27, 2022, edition of Gastro Obscura’s Favorite Things newsletter. You can sign up here.

It’s been exactly a year since we launched Gastro Obscura’s Favorite Things. Happy birthday to our newsletter!

To celebrate, we’re sharing our five favorite newsletters from its first year. (I was pleased to find that picking them was not easy!) If you enjoy them and aren’t already signed up to receive the newsletter, I encourage you to subscribe. Each week, you’ll receive a dispatch on a topic or question that a Gastro Obscura writer finds endlessly fascinating and delightful.

Here we go!

1) Why is there just one top banana?

Blue java bananas!
Blue java bananas! INGA SPENCE / ALAMY

This was the very first Favorite Things newsletter. No children were harmed in its creation, although I did accidentally give my boss’s son an inedibly unripe banana. My bad!

I’d long been curious about photos I’d seen of fruits far squatter than standard grocery-store bananas, as well as bananas that are a delicate shade of aquamarine. In this newsletter, I ordered a variety box from one of the few American farms that grows these lesser-known bananas and investigated why just one variety dominates the market.


2) Foraging from the world’s oldest tree

This Xi'an temple ginkgo is more than a thousand years old.
This Xi’an temple ginkgo is more than a thousand years old. IMAGINECHINALIMITED/ALAMY

Last October, while I was visiting a friend in Oakland, I phoned fellow newsletter writer Annie Ewbank. As we chatted, I saw a woman walk down the street, stooping regularly to fill a shopping bag with fruit from the sidewalk.

She was foraging ginkgo nuts, which come from trees that have been planted in cities around the world. (They are pretty, but their fruit is famously smelly.) When Annie told me, on the call, that ginkgo trees are living fossils, so old they co-existed with the dinosaurs, I knew she had to write about them.


3) The tyranny of Europe’s noble grapes

Grapes grow all over the world, yet winemakers insist on using European ones.
Grapes grow all over the world, yet winemakers insist on using European ones. DEAGOSTINI/GETTY IMAGES

I’m visiting that same Oakland friend again in a few weeks, and we’re plotting a winery-to-winery bike ride in Sonoma, California. But the vineyard I really want to go to is 1,700 miles away in Missouri: TerraVox Winery.

You’ll hear from the founder of TerraVox in this newsletter, which, along with my dispatch on making wine with fruits other than grapes, is part of my hopefully charming obsession with showcasing the daring and experimental parts of an otherwise conservative and fusty wine industry.


4) Five forgotten pies worth making for Pi Day

It's a pie. It's a pudding. It's a forgotten holiday classic.
It’s a pie. It’s a pudding. It’s a forgotten holiday classic. Rohini Chaki for Gastro Obscura

If pie is a blank canvas, a vessel for any number of fruits or fillings, then my colleague Sam O’Brien is a connoisseur of parts of the palette and palate that have been lost to time.

The newsletter includes recipes, but if you need more, she also recommends pickle pie, whose unlikely star ingredient adds the perfect slight, sour tang to its sweet custard base. Recipes abound online, although it’s worth traveling to the Sunglow Motel Cafe in Bicknell, Utah, where pickle-pie slices are locally famous.


5) The golden age of the department store restaurant

Enjoying lunch at the Lord and Taylor tea room.
Enjoying lunch at the Lord and Taylor tea room. TIM BOYLE/GETTY IMAGES

Do you dream of Frango Mints? Annie’s mother does. Which is how she ended up trekking to a Macy’s in Chicago in search of them and, eventually, writing this newsletter.

Decades ago, that Chicago Macy’s was a Marshall Field’s, a department store known for its minty, chocolatey dessert. It wasn’t alone. Other stores had their own specialties and their own swanky restaurants, just a few of which survive today.


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