A is for Apple

A is for Apple Hill

Pumpkin spice, fuzzy socks, and bulky sweaters…the calling cards of fall are many, and this list wouldn’t be complete for me without adding a trip to Apple Hill to it! 

For those who are not familiar, Apple Hill refers to an association of apple growers, wineries, fruit and vegetable farms, and other businesses in Camino, CA that has become a hot spot for fall fun and year round activities such as wine tasting and berry picking. Camino is just off of Highway 50 between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe. According to their website, Apple Hill was established in 1964 and started off with just 16 apple growers. Now their members number over 50 businesses.

Before Apple Hill was Apple Hill, the area was primarily pear orchards. However, the area suffered a devastating pear blight, a potentially catastrophic bacterial disease, and the growers on the Hill turned to apples instead. Through combined years of experience and growing their businesses and orchards, the grower association was able to transform Apple Hill into a fall day-trip destination for Northern California. 

If you’re thinking about visiting, consider downloading the Apple HilI app to help navigate your trip. The app includes vendor lists and locations by type. It also provides mapping and weather information. It helps to plan ahead when you’re going to visit Apple Hill, or at least pick out a couple of top choice locations before embarking. Plan for traffic and check business hours. 

Apple butter for sale at High Hill Ranch.
Fresh chestnuts for sale at High Hill Ranch.

My most recent trip to Apple Hill was with my boyfriend, Josh, and two of our friends, Ashley and Cody. We were pre-celebrating my birthday since my actual birthday was on a weekday. I picked out three different locations to visit, but ultimately, we pared it down to one, High Hill Ranch, which is probably the best one-stop-shop in Apple Hill. We were able to score the coveted apple donuts I had my heart set on. Next we perused the craft booths which showcased everything from jewelry and photography to metalworking and crocheted clothing. Afterwards, we purchased and ate our lunch on site as well. There were of course plenty of apple orchards on each side of us although apple-picking is one thing High Hill does not offer. However, High Hill also features a country market where they sell local goods and products such as fresh apples, apple butter, chestnuts, frozen pies, cook books and apple-themed merchandise. 

Apple cider donuts from High Hill Ranch.
Josh and I about to enjoy our apple cider donuts.

Considering traffic can be pretty heavy at Apple Hill on the weekends, not having to move our cars throughout the day was very convenient. We ended the day with wine tasting which was only a quarter mile walk away at Madrona Winery. The walk takes you past some of the vineyards used to make Madrona wines, and their cozy tasting room is settled back under some large redwood trees. It was a wonderful day, and a great way to kick off my 27th year!

Madrona vineyards sign.
Madrona Vineyards sign outside of their tasting room.

A is for Apple Breeding

Now, this is a gardening blog, so this post would not be complete without talking plants! Specifically, apples! Malus domestica is the apple’s scientific name, or in other words, it is called the domesticated apple. The apple’s wild ancestor is from the mountains of Kazakhstan (Pollan, p.11). Apples spread from Kazakhstan to Europe, and then European settlers brought apples to the New World. They were consequently spread across the country largely with the help of John Chapman, the real Johnny Appleseed which the folklore is based on. Johnny Appleseed planted and sold apple trees across the westward frontier as his business and livelihood. Settlers welcomed him with open arms because apples were their main source of alcohol in the form of cider (Pollan, p.14-15). 

Most apples in frontier times did not taste very good on their own.  When planted from seed, apple offspring are very different from the parent trees. This quality makes the apple a plant that adapts well to new areas, such as the expanding western frontier, but there is no consistency between parent and child generations of apple trees in taste or size of fruit (Pollan, p. 9-10).

Jonagold and Granny Smith apples for sale at High Hill Ranch.

Apple varieties that are beloved today have been bred and selected over centuries and kept consistent through grafting. Grafting is the only thing keeping specific apple varieties alive past the lifespan of a single apple tree. Grafting is a technique used to join a piece of fruiting wood from a tree variety that produces desirable fruit onto another piece of wood called the rootstock (UNHCE). The variety of rootstock will affect the size of the tree such as whether the tree is standard sized or dwarf sized, for example. The rootstock also determines the hardiness of the tree such as how tolerant it is to frost and disease. The fruiting wood, also known as the scion, is spliced into the rootstock and it will determine the fruit produced. Generally, grafting only works within species (apple to apple; pear to pear, etc).

Grafting is a technique that can be used by home gardeners; however, if you are buying an apple tree from a nursery, this process has likely already been started for you. There are so many varieties of apples that their sun, water, and soil requirements may vary greatly. If you are going to plant an apple tree, I recommend researching varieties that do well in your area before buying one. Some nurseries and garden centers will carry varieties that are well-known but not necessarily well-adapted to the area they are being sold. 

Malus domestica is a deciduous tree meaning that it loses all of its leaves each year after its growing season (Sunset, p. 154). Most varieties of apples need cold winters (or a certain number of chilling hours) to achieve maximum productivity; however, there are some apple varieties which will produce under warmer circumstances. Some of the low-chill varieties recommended by apple expert Kevin Hauser out of Riverside, CA are ‘Rubinette’, ‘Anna,’ ‘Dorsett Golden’, ‘Arkansas Black’, ‘Fuji’, ‘Granny Smith’, and ‘Pink Lady’ (Sunset p. 161).

A if for Attention

Apples do require some attention to produce a healthy crop of fruit. One tip that I’ve read is to plant at least two apple varieties, so that the trees have a chance to cross-pollinate and have a good fruit set (Sunset p. 154). Newly planted apple trees will need fertilizer prior to budding-about ¼ lb of fertilizer with a 10-10-10 NPK ratio (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium ratio is usually printed on the bag). In subsequent years add a ¼ lb fertilizer to the feeding dose until trees are bearing well and producing 6-8 in of annual new growth, and then they may not need annual feeding (Sunset p. 160).

There are a variety of ways to prune apple trees. If you have dwarf trees, a pyramidal shape may work best; however, espalier is a popular style as well. Mature trees should be pruned late in the dormant season. The purposes of pruning include shaping the tree, developing strong scaffolding for fruit, and to remove dead, damaged, and diseased branches (Sunset p. 161). Pruning is a good maintenance practice that will help your tree to thrive. 

A is for Anecdote

Fun fact that I learned from Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, but that I couldn’t find a place to put in the rest of this post: “Apple a day keeps the doctor away,” was a campaign created by the apple industry to promote the moral goodness of apples when their morality was under attack. Since apples were often used to make cider, an alcoholic beverage, prohibitionists were not particularly keen on the fruit. 

Sources:

Apple Hill Growers Association. “Our History.”

Lord, William G. and Amy Oulette. Revised by Becky Sideman, 2017. Growing Fruit: Grafting Fruit Trees in the Home Orchard. University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire. New York, Random House, 2001. 

Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles: The Complete A to Z Guide to Growing Your Own Vegetables, Herbs, and Fruits. Menlo Park, Sunset Publishing Corporation, 2010.

Washington, Kate. “The Ultimate Guide to Apple Hill.” Sac Town Magazine, October-November 2017.

Oh, Kale Yeah!

The curlier your kale, the better. However, if you have minimally ridged “Dino” kale, that’s ok, too. 

Beans and chives on the left and mixed kale varieties on the right.

I started off by harvesting some kale that I grew in my backyard container garden. Although you can pinch off the leaves at the stems with your fingers, it is gentler on the plant to use some sort or shears. Even clean office scissors will do. With kale, start harvesting from the outer leaves, in. You want to take off the more mature leaves and keep the younger, smaller ones so they can continue growing. 

“Red Russian” and “Dino” Kale washed and drying.

Rinse the kale well after harvesting, and pat dry with towels. You are going to drizzle your kale with olive oil, so it is better not to have too much water on the leaves. Trim off stems.

Oiled up!

Preheat your oven to 350 F, and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Lay out your kale in a single layer on the baking sheet. Drizzle about 1 tbsp olive oil and massage gently into the kale. Sprinkle kale with salt, and bake until crisp for about 15 mins. 

Kale chips with roasted squash seed

I had roasted some seeds from a spaghetti squash several nights before, and the combo of roasted squash seeds and crispy kale chips made a delicious and salty snack to eat while unwinding in the evening.

Enjoy!

Summer “Throwback” Galette

a.k.a. Tomato, Basil, and Fromage Blanc Galette

I made a double batch of shortcrust pie dough earlier in the week for a recipe my boyfriend was experimenting with. We ended up with a lot of extra pie dough, so I decided to try my hand at another galette. This time I made up my own recipe!

This galette is a throwback to summer. Although here in the Sacramento Valley, tomatoes can sometimes produce well into fall. I got my tomatoes from Riverdog Farms, my fromage blanc cheese from Nicassio Valley, and the basil and rosemary from our backyard. I decided to put the last of our basil plant to good use. 

Early Girl Tomato from Riverdog Farm, “Foggy Morning” Fromage Blanc style by Nicassio Valley, and homemade rosemary shortcrust pie dough.

I incorporated the fresh rosemary into the pie dough by rolling it in. Then I spooned about a third of the fromage blanc into the center of the pie dough, and I tried to spread it out evenly. I removed the seeds from the Early Girl tomato and cut it into thin slices. I tried a few pieces of it before arranging it on top of the cheese, and this Early Girl tomato was still packed with plenty of sweet flavor. 

I reserved the basil leaves to garnish with after baking. I put an egg wash on the crust and sprinkled the galette with rosemary, salt, and fresh-cracked black pepper. With the oven set at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, the galette was ready to bake. The bake time was up to me to guess since I was not following a recipe. 

Galette mid-bake after about 20-25 minutes.

I checked on the galette after the first 20 minutes, but it was still underbaked. I put the galette back in and I checked on it at five minute intervals. I had only expected to bake it for about 30 minutes max, however, the galette was still rather doughy on the inside even after 35 minutes. I tried to apply some heat to the bottom of the galette by toasting it in a non-stick pan at low heat on the stove, and unfortunately, even though this improved the doughiness, it did not cook all the way through. 

Summer “Throwback” Galette

After topping the galette with fresh basil, it was sitting pretty. The flavors came together well, but unfortunately, the dough was still underbaked. If I were to do this recipe again, I speculate that baking the galette longer at a lower temperature could have worked better. I maybe could have covered the top with tin foil to prevent over-browning the edges of the crust. On the whole, this galette looked very pretty and tasted of good potential.

Summer “Throwback” Galette By Alex Stubblefield

1 Large Tomato

4-6 oz. Fromage Blanc Cheese (Feta or Goat Cheese would probably work too!)

8-10 Fresh Basil Leaves

1 sprig Fresh Rosemary 

1 beaten egg (for egg wash, if desired)

Pinch of Salt

Fresh-Cracked Black Pepper to taste

1 Shortcrust Pie Dough (Click the link for a recipe to make your own or buy one premade at the grocery store)

  1. Wash and dry herbs and tomato. Separate basil and rosemary leaves from stem and set aside. Seed and thinly slice tomato. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  2. Roll dough into a disk 8-10 inches in diameter on a lightly floured surface. Incorporate rosemary into the pie dough with a rolling pin.
  3. Spread the fromage blanc evenly working it out from the center of the dough and leaving about an inch border of pie dough. Then arrange the tomato slices on top. 
  4. Fold in the edges of the dough. Apply the egg wash to the folded-in edges, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and any extra rosemary. 
  5. Bake in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30-40 minutes*. Let cool for 10 minutes, and then garnish with basil leaves. Enjoy! 

*Bake times may vary! 

Flower bed sink

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure! We replaced the kitchen sink in our new home when we moved in a couple of months ago. Since then, the old sink has been sitting in the side yard in disuse. This week I decided to re-purpose it into a planter. 

I wanted to add some flowers to our yard, and I thought that this sink would make the perfect flower bed. I had to make some slight modifications to it. The plastic o-rings on the bottom side of the sink were falling apart and needed to be taken off. I also removed the faucet and spray hose attachment.

I bought a six-pack of pansies and another six-pack of violas. I also bought a bag of potting soil that is suitable for both indoor and outdoor planters. 

The next part was easy. I partially plugged the drain holes with some rocks from the backyard so that I wouldn’t lose all of the potting soil. There are still some gaps between the rocks though so that some of the water can still drain and the potting soil doesn’t get overly saturated. I spaced the flowers out, five plants on each side. To finish, I watered them in with my watering can. I left some space in between the flowers so they can fill in the gaps as they grow. 

I had two flower starts leftover, so I made another planter out of an old cinder block in the backyard. 

Fall Planting

A time to sow…”

Here in California, there are two prime times of year to plant–spring and fall. Generally, you can plant after the last frost of winter and before the first frost of fall. Depending on where you live these dates will be different. A quick internet search should provide approximate first frost dates, and it looks like the first fall frost for Sacramento is predicted for November 8, 2019 (The National Gardening Association). 

Bonnie plants also offers this map as a resource to estimate the first frost in your region:

https://bonnieplants.com/gardening/first-and-last-frost-dates/

According to the Bonnie map, Sacramento should have its first frost between November 16-30. This estimate is a little later than the National Gardening Association’s estimate, but they’re pretty close. 

To be safe, I’d recommend having all your plants in the soil before November (before mid October is even better). Especially, if you are starting plants by seeds, it is important to get them in sooner rather than later because seeds usually need warmer soil temperatures to germinate even if they are a cold-hardy plant.

Choosing cool season crops

Most garden centers and nurseries are well-stocked this time of year for fall planting, so you will probably have luck finding seeds and plant seedlings wherever you decide to shop. I decided to buy my seeds and plant starts from a local shop called The Plant Foundry. They carry nursery and seed brands that I trust, and I like their unique, quirky vibe. 

Some beautiful Sweetwater Nursery organic lettuce starts for sale at The Plant Foundry.

I created a rough list of what I wanted to buy before I went shopping for plants. Onion starts were on my list, and I contacted the store ahead of time to make sure they had them in stock. However, I planned to start all of my root vegetables from seed, and from previous visits, I knew The Plant Foundry had a good seed selection. I have a couple of reasons for choosing to start certain vegetables by seed rather than transplanting them as seedlings. One reason is that some vegetables don’t respond as well to being transplanted, and root vegetables tend to fall into that category. Another reason is that buying seeds tends to be less expensive than buying seedlings that have already been started for you. 

These are the root veggie seeds I bought:

Botanical Interests, Renee’s Garden, and Baker Creek’s Heirloom Seeds are all seed companies I like and trust. Johnny’s and Territorial Seeds are two other great companies, but you won’t see them in the store, rather, you can order from them online.

These are the onion starts I purchased:

Walla Walla Onions are a classic yellow onion variety.  Again, organically grown by Sweetwater Nursery and sold by The Plant Foundry.

A place to plant

With this plant purchase, I exceeded the capacity of my container garden. My solution was to transform a patch of the back yard into an edible garden space. Unfortunately, It doesn’t get as much sun as I would like because it is under a couple of mature trees in our backyard. One advantage to this garden location is that it is close to the micro-sprinkler system that waters our ornamental plants, so that takes the burden of hand-watering off of me.

My first step was to turn up the soil. I ended up removing about 6-8 inches of rocks to free up the soil:

Next, I needed to infill with new soil. For one, the soil level dropped significantly after removing the rocks. For two, the soil that was in place was loose, crusty, and had no living insects or worms in it. This is a sign of poor soil health. A healthy soil will have a thriving ecosystem of both macro- and microscopic organisms. Anticipating this, I picked up a bag of E.B. Stone Soil Conditioner Planting Mix.

This planting mix helps to break up tough soils, adds crucial plant nutrients, and it will also help the soil to retain more water. In addition to the planting mix, I also added a granular plant fertilizer from E.B. Stone for an extra nutrient boost for my seedlings. This one is specifically formulated for vegetable gardens. 

After preparing my soil, it was time to plant. I planted my onions first. I set them up in rows roughly 3-4 inches apart. The onions rows made great guidelines for planting my rows of seeds. I inter-cropped rows of root veggies with rows of onions. This is partly due to my limited space and partly for biodiversity. Additionally, I’ve heard that squirrels do not like onions and garlic. I hope the onions will be a good squirrel deterrent, especially since our backyard has a lot of them. 

As far as planting goes, I generally follow the seed packet directions. In this case, I couldn’t afford the recommended row spacing, so everything was planted pretty close together. It is crucial to follow the seed depth instructions though. If you plant your seeds too deep, you risk them not emerging. All of my root veggies were planted ¼”-½” deep depending on how small the seeds were. Also, if planting by seed, be sure to label your rows! It is easy to forget what was planted where once you step away from the seeds and they are all covered up. 

After watering these seedlings, I took an extra measure to ensure their success. I used row cover to protect my seedlings from pests and to give them another defense against the elements. Row cover is a permeable, white, agricultural cloth. It is used on large scales by organic farmers, and you can buy rolls of it online from farming supply shops. I was fortunate enough to find a garden-sized package of row cover at the Plant Foundry under the name Harvest-Guard. 

I am currently using this row cover over my container garden and my new garden bed planting. It is folded up kind of like a sheet, and that gives each gardener a chance to cut it to the size of the area they are covering. The cloth is permeable by light, water, and air while protecting from pests like birds and caterpillars. It provides an increase in soil temperature to help seeds germinate, and it traps in moisture so that seeds will not dry out too quickly. It is also reusable so long as it is still intact at the end of the season. I love using this stuff when possible, and I think it gives seedlings a much needed head start on pests and poor weather. 

It doesn’t look like much once the cover is on, but it will help the garden out while it gets started. I will probably keep the Harvest-Guard on for at least a month. It can remain on until the plants start to outgrow it! I look forward to seeing how these seedlings grow. It was satisfying work to get this garden dug and planted. I look forward to enjoying the fruits (erm…veggies) of my labor!


Preserving the Summer Bounty, Part 2- Figs

I recently had the good fortune of being invited to pick figs from my old landlord’s tree in Davis. After a pleasant visit, I went home with a nice-sized box full of figs and a dilemma on my hands. I loved having all of these beautiful, sweet figs, but how was I going to use them all?

Black Mission Figs

To start, I sorted through them to pick out ones that were overly fermented from being too long on the tree, and I set about half of the fruit aside to give to my family. I saved the other half for my boyfriend and I, and I decided to turn the figs into jam. 

This was only my second time attempting fig jam. The other time was when I lived in the house with the fig tree a few years back. Then, as now, I wanted the simplest route to fig jam possible. The figs were honestly so soft and sweet that there was no need for added sugar or any kind of thickener. I looked at a couple of recipes, but I ultimately decided to try it my own way. 

I washed the approximately two pounds of figs I had kept for myself, and I cut the stem and any rough parts of the skin off the fruit. I did not peel the skin off all of the figs- just where the fruit had attained some damage. After that, I quartered the figs and added them to a non-stick saucepan over medium high heat. I wanted the figs to break down into a mostly liquid form and then to bring the liquid to a boil. I added the juice of half a lemon to help balance out the sweetness. I also helped the breaking down process by stirring and breaking big pieces up periodically with a wooden spoon.

Fig jam in progress

After bringing the figs up to a boil, I dropped the heat to medium low. Then I let it simmer uncovered, stirring periodically, for about one hour. 

Once I was satisfied with the consistency of the figs, I took them off the heat, and I let it cool. The first time I made this jam, I put it directly into jars after cooling. This time, I wanted the jam to have a smoother consistency, so I pureed the mixture in my food processor before storing it. The jam filled ¾ of a quart size jar. 

So far, I have used the jam for PB&J.

Fig jam PB&J

Figs also pair nicely with lamb.

Leg of lamb with Josh’s Fig Jam Dipping Sauce, mint mushy peas, baked potato with garden chives, and goat cheese

Josh’s Fig Jam Lamb Dipping Sauce

Roasting juices from 1 leg of lamb

½ cup fig jam

½ cup brandy

2-3 tbsp butter

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Combine ingredients in a saucepan over medium high heat. Stir constantly to combine and prevent burning. Cook about 2-3 minutes. Serve with lamb. 

September is Farm to Fork Month!

“Farm Forking Tastic”

In honor of Farm to Fork month, I want to feature my latest trip to the farmers market. Admittedly, I do not shop at farmers markets as often as I would like- which would be at least once a week if I did. It is something I love to do when I can, and having previously worked at a farmers market for several years, there is a personal connection for me. The idealist side of me also gets to check the “eating local box” when I shop at farmers markets. There is also the fact that farmers markets offer such a wide selection of high quality and delicious fruits and vegetables. Plus it’s fun! 

Last Sunday, my boyfriend and I shopped at the market under the freeway at 8th and W streets in downtown Sacramento. The market is open year round on Sundays from 8am-noon. We were shopping for our weekly groceries as well as for some dinner guests we were having over later that night. We were a bit pressed for time, but I insisted on starting at the farmers market because it has been on my to-do list to go back to this market for awhile. I say “go back” because I had only been to this particular market one other time. It had been winter on that first visit, and we hadn’t yet seen the market in its full summer glory. 

My boyfriend, Josh, and me holding “Pig Pops” from Upper Crust bakery. This is from our first visit to the 8th and W Market.

To be as efficient as possible, we made a list of what we would ideally like to purchase beforehand. There were several items like citrus that were highly unlikely to find since citrus is out of season in the summer. Tomatoes and peaches are peak summer produce, and we knew those would be easy to find. Items like garlic and cauliflower were a toss up because they seem to be out of season, but garlic stores well and cauliflower can be grown in some of the more mild climates of the area even during summer. 

Pro tip: cash is king at farmers markets. These days many vendors do accept credit and debit cards. Powerful technologies such as square, venmo, and others have made this possible for vendors through their smartphones or tablets. It is still a great idea to have some cash on you though for those vendors who are cash only or that have minimum spending limits for card transactions. Using electronic payment technology may also cost the vendor a usage fee, so when possible, cash is best for market transactions. Confession: being a little underprepared, we used a combination of cash and card. 

The Cloverleaf Farm from Davis, CA.

Our first stop was at the Cloverleaf Farm stand from Davis, CA. They grow a variety of organic fruits and vegetables, and they are known especially for their fruit. They even have a fruit CSA. Most of the fruit was nearly sold out by the time my we arrived at the market around 11 am. We skipped the fruit this time, but we were drawn to their baskets of mixed hot peppers. We bought a batch of them. The hot peppers were on our list, and we figured we could dry any extra peppers we didn’t use up (see my previous blog post about Preserving the Summer Bounty!). 

Our next stop was at J&J Ramos Farm. J&J sells a variety of fruits including tomatoes, stone fruits, grapes, and citrus. They usually have ample samples of fruit available at their stand, and I have been consistently happy with their produce. We bought some large red slicer tomatoes for burger toppings and yellow peaches. 

For our cherry tomatoes, we went to the next farmstand over (I forget the name). We actually ran into the credit card minimum payment issue at the cherry tomato stand. The basket we were buying was an affordable $3/basket and the credit card minimum was $5. We were able to find enough cash to cover it, but otherwise we might have had to leave the tomatoes behind or buy something else to get us up to the minimum. 

The bargain of the day probably had to be the cauliflower we got from Patrick’s Garden. Growing up in the Apple Hill area, they are able to keep cauliflower in stock even in late August. We ended up getting a 2-3lb organic cauliflower for just $5. Compared to what we had spent the week before on cauliflower at the grocery store, this seemed like an absolute steal! 

We made our rounds through all of the stands at the market, and we were able to score a few more items on our list. We found garlic, amazingly, but as predicted there were no lemons or limes available. All in all, it was a great farmers market visit! Not everything on our list had been available; however, we were still able to get most of the produce we needed and for way less than we would have spent on it elsewhere! 

Posing with vegetables in the park because, why not?

I highly recommend this market if you are in the area and have some free time on a Sunday morning! There is more produce available the earlier in the day that you shop, but if you shop towards the end of the market, you may find some discounted prices. Most carry foods other than fruits and veggies such as honey, cheese, meat, eggs, bread, etc. Non-food items such as houseplants are also a staple at many markets. Plus, the farmers market vendors have more free samples than Costco! What more of a reason do you need?

Preserving the Summer Bounty, Part 1

By this time of year, however, most people are sick of zucchini noodles, and the appeal of a nice caprese salad has lost its novelty. So, what do you do with the rest of your summer produce? Before composting it or turning it all back into the soil, consider some preservation methods. 

Freezing, pickling, and drying are some of the options that come to mind for me. Freezing can help ensure you’ll have summertime produce long past the end of your summer garden’s demise. Pickling not only preserves foods, but it also adds some variety of flavors and changes up how you enjoy certain veggies. Drying is my top choice for herbs and peppers. 

Freezing

If you want to approach freezing in the most simple way, just make sure you clean and dry your produce and have some sort of freezer safe container to store them in. To make frozen foods easier to handle upon removing them from the freezer, I also recommend slicing before freezing. Frozen stone fruits go great in smoothies, and frozen tomatoes cook down easily as the base for a sauce. In the past, I have also made tomato soup and pesto, and then stored them in the freezer for later use. 

Another easy freezing idea I’ll mention was inspired by my grandmother. She called me with a basil question last week, and then we started discussing what she does to store her basil. My grandma harvested some stalks of basil, clipped off some of the basil flowers that had formed on the end of the stalk, and then she washed the basil leaves she planned to preserve. Her technique is simple and genius at the same time. She adds the clean basil leaves to a plastic Ziploc freezer bag and then she submerses the basil leaves in olive oil. She then freezes this bag flat in her freezer and breaks off chunks of olive oil and basil to cook with as needed. A zero waste version of this is to use ice cube molds instead.  It doesn’t even have to basil you grow, it could be leftover basil from a bunch you bought from the farmers market or grocery store. Making a sauce or a herb-olive oil ice cube is a nice way to make sure your excess herbs do not go to waste. 

Quick Pickling

Quick pickle of chiogga beets, golden beets, and cucumbers.

Ok, so I am not fermentation expert, so I will not attempt to give you instructions on that. However, I have used quick-pickling methods with some success, and I would like to recommend trying your hand at it! Quick pickles don’t have to be limited to cucumbers although cucumbers do respond exceedingly well to pickling. I have also quick-pickled beets and green beans. The only limits on what veggies you can pickle are really preference and what you have on hand. 

Online, I have seen recipes for cold and hot quick pickles. I recommend using the hot method because it seems to infuse a more powerful flavor more quickly than the cold method. This seemed especially apparent when I tried quick-pickling whole green beans by cold and hot methods. The thick skin on the green beans takes on a much stronger flavor when using the hot method. Next time, I will probably cut the green beans into smaller pieces so that they have more surface area exposed to the pickling solution. 

Cleaning and slicing your chosen vegetables is the first step of quick pickling. Cucumber spears and slices seem to work equally well. Peeling and thin-slicing into coin shapes is what I recommend for beets and other root vegetables. I usually then place my vegetable slices into clean glass jars with a quarter inch of room for pickling solution at the top. 

For the quick-pickling solution, I reference a different recipe each time. Here is one for example: Quick Pickles Recipe by Rachael Ray. Generally, I will adapt a recipe depending on what I have on hand and which flavors I am going for. A cup of vinegar, a cup of water, a tablespoon or two of salt, a teaspoon or two of sugar, and the spices are up to you. For dill pickles, I like to add garlic, coriander, and dill. I have also seen some recipes call for mustard seeds, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, and more. It depends on the flavor profile you are going for. Anyway, heat up all of these ingredients in a saucepan on the stove until it comes to a simmer. After simmering, take off the heat, and pour the hot brine over your vegetable slices making sure they are fully covered with the solution. Let cool, and refrigerate. They should be ready in a couple of hours. 

Drying

Drying is great for preserving herbs! All I usually do is hang my bunches of herbs upside down in a dry, sunny location in my kitchen until the herbs feel papery and practically crumble at the touch. However, another big one that comes to mind for me are hot peppers. Hot peppers are your cayenne, habañeros, jalapeños, cherry bombs, Fresnos, Thai chilis, and more. Hot peppers can be very prolific plants, and it can sometimes be difficult to use them all up while their fresh. 

Oven-dried peppers

Drying is a great way to preserve hot peppers! There are a variety of ways it can be done. One method that requires some initial effort but then allows you to basically forget about it is string-drying peppers. You want to have thread or string that can hold-up to the weight of the peppers. Using a needle you can thread the peppers onto the string and hang them up to dry in a sunny window. At this point, you’ll just need to give them some time, and in a few weeks you’ll have dried peppers. Keep in mind that factors like temperature, hours of sunlight and type of pepper will vary the drying times. In the meantime, you have a pretty pepper garland decoration.

Another drying method which I tried recently is oven-drying peppers. I used the oven in lieu of the food dehydrator I don’t have. If you have a food dehydrator, you should probably use that instead! I set my oven to its lowest setting, and I spread whole peppers out on a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. I initially dried them for about 3 hours checking on them every hour or so. At the end of three hours, I took the pan out of the oven to assess the peppers. I could tell the cayennes were well-dried because their skin was hardened, and I could hear the seeds rattling around inside a little bit when I picked them up. The thicker peppers like the cherry bombs and the jalapeños were still a bit squishy to the touch, so I determined that they needed longer. The cherry bombs and jalapeños ended up needing about two more hours in the oven until I felt confident that they were dried. 

At the end of about 5 hours of total drying, the peppers were all just about where I wanted them. They are now being stored in a mason jar without the lid in my spice cupboard. The idea is to eventually grind them into some chili flakes or chili powder. They will hopefully keep for several months in this dried condition. As long as their conditions are not too humid, they should be able to avoid molding.  

Additional tip: According to Cayenne Diane, in her article on how to dry peppers, I could have reduced the drying time in the oven by cutting some of the thicker, juicier peppers like serranos and cherry bombs in half. Cayenne Diane also has some instructions on how to dry your peppers in a food dehydrator if you have one of those handy, so you might take a look at her site. 

Also, if you go to the Davis Farmers Market in the fall and stop by the Good Humus Farm stand, you might see these gorgeous dried pepper wreaths available. Beautiful and edible!

Good Humus Farm dried chili wreath.

In summary, there are many ways to preserve your summer bounty, so before you throw it out consider freezing, pickling or drying it. It may not all keep in perfect condition, but this is one example of how to minimize food waste from your garden. 

Farm to Fork Live! Re-cap

Yesterday I attended a free event called Farm to Fork Live! It was put on by a Sacramento-based organization called Valley Vision. Valley Vision is focused on community innovation in the Sacramento region. This year’s Farm to Fork Live had the theme of agriculture technology, specifically where these two fields intersect. I heard about the event through the Valley Vision email newsletter. 

I attended the first half of the event which was held at Woodland Community College. Woodland is about 20 miles east of the state capitol building in Sacramento. The backdrop for the WCC campus is acres and acres of farmland broken up by newly constructed housing developments. As Woodland’s mayor, Xóchtil Rodriguez, said in her introduction, Woodland is the epicenter of food production in the Sacramento region. This is highlighted by Woodland’s new city-wide “Food Front” campaign. “Food Front” is an appropriately complementary brand for this neighboring city of the self-proclaimed “Farm-to-Fork” capitol, Sacramento. 

Attendees included representatives from government, for-profit and non-profit organizations, academia, and community members. Notably, there was a representative from Congressman John Garimendi’s office present. The event was opened by a few words from Trish Kelly of Valley Vision, and then she introduced the first speaker, Gabe Youtsey of the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). 

Youtsey began by reminding the audience of some important facts about California and its economy. California is the #1 agriculture producing state in the U.S.- including #1 in dairy production. California also produces two-thirds of all fruits, vegetables and nuts in the U.S. We’re not all coastline and beaches out here in California! There is some serious farmland out here as well! If you’ve ever driven from one end of the state to the other via the I-5 or Highway 99, then you may have noticed the extent of hardcore farming happening in the heart of the state. 

California is producing literal tons of food. However, Youtsey pointed out that the food demand is projected to increase by more than 40% in the coming years, but as our world population grows and climate change ramps up, our global resources are becoming more scarce. We have to learn how to use what we have more wisely in order to keep up with the food production demand. This is where technology comes in. Agriculture technology can mean many different things from the genetics that go into a seed, to the machines that are used to harvest, weed and apply fertilizers to fields, to the meters used to measure nutrients and moisture contents in soils. Technologies are being developed to help meet the emerging challenges in agriculture. 

One of the central themes and purposes of the event was to foster conversations across industries so that these industries can put their work together to develop new innovative ideas. Many of the organizations represented at the event were involved in work which required them to work “across the aisle” with different industries. Some of the organizations were working to educate about agriculture technologies, others were developing the technologies themselves, while still others were providing the physical spaces and materials needed to foster the development of new ag technologies.

The next two speakers were Dr. Martin Ruebelt from Bayer Crop Sciences and Dr. Amit Vasavada from Marrone Bioinnovations. Bayer is a huge international company that is spread out to 160 countries, and it is notably the parent company of Monsanto. Marrone Bioinnovations makes biopesticides, and they are based out of Davis, CA. These two companies as well as many others are present in Davis and Woodland specifically because it is a hub where food academia, research, and production intersect. 

Trish Kelly from Valley Vision moderated the discussion with these two speakers and asked them a series of questions. Her two key questions boiled down to 1) What is our future?, and 2) How do we make those visions of the future a reality? Dr. Vasavada answered that we must use data to see our way forward, and the industry needs to fund students in higher education who are studying STEM fields. Dr. Ruebelt agreed and added that tailored solutions based on data were key. Dr. Ruebelt also added that starting STEM education early in schools will help prepare the next generation to meet the technology challenges of the future. 

An additional comment Dr. Ruebelt made was that people need to not be afraid of innovation. This comment landed with mixed reactions. It brought up the issue of bioethics and the speed at which new technologies are often introduced. One of the audience members thoughtfully commented that although she was not afraid of the progress of technology, she was concerned with the speed of the progress at times. An example the audience member gave of a technology that had been accepted and implemented too hastily was DDT. This chemical had initially been thought of as safe until some of its detrimental impacts were realized too late. 

Another audience member added his thoughts towards the end of this discussion that transparency and equitable education about new technologies are paramount to ethical distribution and adoption of technology. 

Unfortunately, I did not stay for the second half of the event which was held at a separate location in Woodland, however, I enjoyed the half that I did get to attend. It was interesting to hear from leaders in the agriculture industry about where they think the future of agriculture is going. Some of the outlooks for the future of agriculture are grim, but this discussion on the future of agriculture technology has shed some hope on my outlook. 

Summer Fruit Galettes

I’ve recently experimented with how to bake galettes. Galettes are a sort of rustic looking, free-form pie. If you’ve never made one, I highly recommend trying your hand at it. As far as the baking techniques go, it is pretty straightforward. A key to a great galette crust is to keep the dough cold. The recipes I followed recommended freezing the butter before mixing it in and using ice water to moisten the dough. Chilling the dough after it has been formed is also crucial. You may also want to bake during a cooler part of the day. I found my butter melted quickly while baking mid-afternoon, even after chilling it. 

Peach Galette

The first galette I baked was a peach galette based off of this recipe by Elise Bauer on SimplyRecipes.com. I had several large juicy peaches bought at the Davis Farmers Market from Mount Moriah Farms a couple of days previous. I had already snacked on some of the peaches, so I knew for sure they were going to be delicious in this galette. The recipe only calls for two peaches, and there is no need to skin the peaches unless you have a strong preference for that. I simply halved the peaches, removed the pit, and sliced them into large chunks. 

I made the dough in a food processor following the recipe. Galettes are open faced with just the edges of the crust folded in, so you only need to worry about having a bottom crust. I chilled the dough for one hour in the refrigerator. I think it could have used at least half an hour longer. I had a little trouble rolling out the dough because the butter in the dough started to melt causing the dough to become sticky and difficult to work with. Pausing here and chilling the dough longer would probably have been a good move, however, I was impatient to get the galette into the oven, so I continued. 

I arranged the peach slices in an informal spiral in the center of the dough. I skipped the almond paste recommended in Bauer’s recipe (although I bet that would have been amazing), and I dotted the peaches with some room temperature butter. Then, I folded up the sides. I’ll admit, as you will see from my picture, the sides of my crust were not pleated very neatly. Actually, considering the melt-y nature of my crust, I felt relieved that I was able to fold up the sides at all. The egg wash was the last step before baking. Then, I shimmied my galette onto a baking sheet using a spatula, and I popped it in the oven. 

Despite some of its aesthetic pitfalls, the peach galette was delicious. I definitely recommend doing this recipe with ripe in-season peaches (or your preference of stone fruit). This beautiful summer fruit was just begging to grace the center of this flaky pastry. Great first galette experience, and it left me hungry for another one. 

Fig, Honey and Goat Cheese Galette

This Fig, Honey, and Goat Cheese Galette by Liren Baker on Kitchen Confidante is amazing! This dish is a decadent blend of sweet, creamy and tangy flavors and textures. It is also a great way to feature figs. Figs often get overshadowed by stone fruit in the summer. I’ve looked forward to them every summer since a rental home I lived in several years ago had a Black Mission Fig Tree in the front yard. My roommates were less inclined to pick fruit than I was, so I got to enjoy the lion’s share of the figs. Disclaimer- the figs I used for this galette were from Trader Joe’s. 

For the goat cheese, I visited Corti Brothers, a specialty grocer in Sacramento, and I picked up Laura Chenel’s Honey Goat Cheese. I am pretty sure many local grocers carry this brand in their specialty cheese sections. I added additional honey to the Honey Goat Cheese for some extra decadence. If you are in the Davis-Sacramento area, I recommend using PURE Orange Blossom Honey. They are a local family-owned apiary and raw honey seller from Winters, CA. They sell at several farmers markets, Nugget Market, and on their website.

I had prepared the dough for the crust ahead of time, and I kept it in the freezer for a few days until I was ready to use it. The dough was actually based off of the recipe from the peach galette. I made a second dough and froze it just in case. The frozen dough needed to defrost overnight in the refrigerator, so I had to plan ahead for the galette the night before baking it. The defrosted dough was actually much nicer to work with than the dough that had only chilled for one hour in the refrigerator. The previously frozen dough kept its shape better when rolled out, and it did not get as sticky as the first one. This also meant it pleated more neatly when the sides were folded up into the center. 

The Fig, Honey and Goat Cheese galette was delicious! We topped it with thyme leaves from out herb garden and drizzled the individual pieces with more PURE Orange Blossom Honey. Bon appetit! 

Hopefully this has inspired you to try making your own galette! I would love to hear about your baking adventures. Please share recipes, thoughts, and pictures in the comments below!

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