Archive for the ‘California Agriculture’ Category



November 23, 2010

With winter almost upon us there aren’t many local seasonal fruits you can use on your Thanksgiving  menu, or for that matter the days after. Fortunately persimmons are now at their peak and the markets are full of them.

Although they are not quite as popular as Meyer lemons you occasionally see trees in backyards around the Bay Area.  A persimmon tree with full grown persimmons is a strange site. A big storm can remove all the leaves and the orange fruit hang like ornaments among the bare branches. It looks as if someone hung each individual fruit by hand to make the tree look less barren.

The name persimmon comes from the Algonquin Indians who lived on the East Coast of the United States and Canada.  California has a good growing climate for persimmons but top world producers are China, Korea, and Japan.

The two most common varieties you see at farmers markets and in grocery stores are Fuyus and Hachiyas. Fuyus are squat and look like a slightly flattened tomato. The acorn shaped ones are Hachiyas.

Fuyus can be eaten firm or soft. On menus you often see them thinly sliced in salads.  I like to combine them with Little Gems, pecans and either a hard cheese like Manchego or a soft blue cheese. This combination is delicious.

Persimmons are eaten dried too. The Japanese have a traditional method for drying persimmons that dates back hundreds of years. For an interesting article about a family in the Gold Country who makes hoshigaki, Japanese for dried persimmons, go to:

You have to ripen Hachiya persimmons before you can use them, which can take several days on the counter top. My trick is to put them in the freezer overnight and then defrost them on the counter. Freezing them helps break down the fruit and you have almost instant ripe persimmons. Once they come to room temperature they are soft and ready to use.

Some people like to eat ripe Hachiyas like an apple. Narsai David once told me they were one of his favorite fruits. Since they are full of Vitamin A and C, I tried to eat them straight but just couldn’t do it. Even when soft the tannins make them too astringent and bitter for my taste buds.

But for baking Hachiyas are great. My favorite dessert with persimmons is persimmon pudding. Served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some caramel sauce it’s a crowd pleaser.

Here’s my recipe.

Persimmon Pudding

Serves 8

About 5 ripe Hachiya persimmons

3 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to warm

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups of half and half (or 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of heavy cream)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.

Remove the stems from the persimmons and cut the flesh into pieces. Purée the persimmon flesh in a food processor until smooth. Strain the purée through a medium-mesh sieve to eliminate any bits of skin and seed. You should have 2 cups purée.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until blended. Whisk in the melted butter.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves onto a piece of parchment paper or into a bowl. Add the salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Slowly pour in the milk and cream, stirring until combined. Stir in the persimmon purée.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. The pudding will sink as it cools.

Serve the pudding warm, scooped into bowls with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.

It can be reheat it in a 325°F oven for about 15 minutes.


In Praise of Blue Chair Fruit

June 11, 2010


Last weekend my nephew picked up a case of apricots from a roadside stand on his way home from college near Sacramento. I turned them into two cases of apricot jam, that now join the case of strawberry jam I made from small Seascape strawberries.

I am proud of all my jars lined up on the counter, but that’s nothing compared to how much jam Rachel Saunders makes at Blue Chair Fruit.  Rachel worked in restaurants (mostly front of the house) for 10 years as she perfected her jam making skills. In 2008 she launched Blue Chair Fruit. Five minutes after you meet her who realize how serious and passionate she is about jam. When you talk to Rachel you want to make jam and eat jam.  You can’t get it out of your head.

Rachel and I both believe that jam making shouldn’t be a lost art. It really isn’t difficult and tastes so much better than what you buy in the grocery store. You need to start with good quality fruit, make it in small batches so the flavor stays fresh, and cook it just until it sets.

To make her incredible treats she shares kitchen space with Grace Street Catering in Oakland. (This is also the location of the pop up store mentioned in The SF Chronicle a couple of weeks ago.) Rachel, her 6 copper jam kettles, and several assistants transform cases of organic fruit into jars of jams and marmalades. Her suppliers include Blossom Bluff Orchards and Dirty Girl Produce. Last year she made more than 15,000 jars and 90 different kinds of jams and marmalades. This year she hopes to make at least 30,000. If you are impressed with the amount wait until you taste it. It’s amazing.

Her flavors vary from year to year depending on fruit availability. In my refrigerator right now I have Concord Grape and Damson Plum Jam, Spiced Bourbon-Tomato Conserve and Black Fig Jam with Almond, Citron and Clove. This year the late rains destroyed a lot of the apricots and cherries so you won’t be seeing as much of these.

Jam isn’t just a summertime thing for Rachel.  Her favorite jamming season is actually September when the Damson plums arrive but she keeps herself busy in winter too with citrus marmalades.

I met Rachel through our mutual book agent. She asked me to write a quote for the back of the book and after reading the galleys I was in jam heaven and had to meet her. When her book comes out in September you can discover her world of jam making. In the meantime you can purchase her jams at various Farmer’s Markets. Better yet, sign up for one of the classes she is offering this summer. You learn not only jam recipes but also the principles behind her craft. And she includes dinner.

Go to to find out more details.


Strawberry Fields-Almost

April 15, 2010

The winter rains have just about stopped and the sun has allowed us to shed a layer of outerware. This change in weather puts me in the mood for fruit and fruit desserts. Customers at Waterbar and Farallon want them too as there is a definite swing away from chocolate desserts ordered to those with fruit.  I am chomping at the bit to put something colorful and seasonal on the menu besides citrus and pineapple. Strawberries have started to appear in both farmers’ markets and grocery stores and while it is tempting to quickly put some in your cart-pay close attention. Their quality is hit or miss. Some are sweet and juicy (everything you want in a strawberry) while others are bland and mostly white inside with big woody hulls. Strawberries need a little more attention from mother nature before they are at their best. (Beware of long stemmed strawberries seen in quantity around Mother’s Day. They seem to be grown for their stem rather than the flavor of the berry. Ironic when you consider you don’t even eat the stem. Also the price of these goes up around that weekend.)

To get the berry flavor I want and to satisfy my strawberry cravings early in the season I either cook the berries in a crumble or roast the berries. Here’s a recipe for roasting strawberries. You can serve them with anything you would serve fresh sliced strawberries. They come out jam like but are whole so you can use them in desserts. There is quite a bit of sauce left over after you finish making the berries. Reduce it as the recipe states or you can use it to make another batch of roasted berries (I mix it 50-50 with fresh sauce ingredients). It is delicious served over ice cream without any berries. Hopefully this will tide you over until the really beautiful berries are in the market. As an added bonus the kitchen smells wonderful when they are in the oven.

Roasted Strawberries

3 pints (6 cups) fresh strawberries, hulled

3/4 cup Pinot Noir or other dry red wine

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cup light corn syrup

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Put the strawberries in a single layer in an ovenproof baking dish. In a bowl, whisk together the wine, balsamic vinegar, and granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in the corn syrup. Pour the liquid over the berries. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the strawberries shrink and are jammy in texture, about 5 hours.

Strain the strawberry liquid into a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook to reduce the liquid slightly. Let cool to room temperature and stir it back into the berries. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


Winter Citrus

January 19, 2010

Thank goodness for citrus in the winter. My dessert menus at the restaurants need some color and bright flavors. It even brightens up the pastry department and our moods. You can only handle so much rain and this week it’s not supposed to stop. I am not complaining about brown desserts as chocolate, caramel and nuts are all shades of brown but I need something to break it up. Ordinary oranges, limes and lemons are available as always but January also brings Meyer Lemons, Cara Caras, blood oranges, mandarins and kumquats. These varieties are only around now for a few months so take advantage of them while you can.

Cara Caras are very juicy pink fleshed navel oranges. They segment nicely for a plated dessert or served on top of cheesecake. Blood oranges (also known as Moro Oranges) with their deep red color are originally from Sicily and common all over Italy.  They make great sorbet. Both of these oranges are grown by Sunkist so are available across the United States. Meyer Lemons can be harder to find as they are not grown on a large commercial scale. In California they are called the backyard lemon as you can see the bright yellow fruit on trees in yards all over the Bay Area. I have nine small trees in the front of my house where the rhododendrons used to be. The lemons are a much better use of space. Only probably is I when I come up my driveway I love to see the trees full of lemons so I put off picking them. Cookbooks by California chefs call frequently for Meyer Lemons. This can be frustrating for people from other parts of the country as they can’t get them. (Last year I gave an East coast friend fifty Meyer Lemons for her 50th birthday.) Meyers are a thin skinned lemon thought to be a cross between an orange and a lemon. They are sweeter and less acidic than regular lemons. They work wonderfully in desserts. Sometimes I will add a little regular lemon juice to give Meyer lemon curd a little lemon kick.

Here is my favorite recipe using Blood Oranges.

Blood Orange – Vanilla Creamsicle

Emily Luchetti

Serves 6

Blood Orange Sorbet

2 3/4 cups blood orange juice, strained (about 12 blood oranges)

1 cup sugar

2 3/4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Large pinch of kosher salt

Vanilla Custard

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise with seeds scraped out

2 1/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream

1 cup milk

1/2 cup sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons plain gelatin

2 tablespoons water

 3 blood oranges, peeled and segmented

To make the sorbet: In a large bowl, combine the blood orange juice, sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Freeze until scoopable, about 2 hours, depending on your freezer.

To make the vanilla custard: Combine the vanilla bean, seeds, cream, milk, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until almost simmering. Turn off the heat and cover the pan. Let the vanilla bean steep in the liquid for 10 minutes.

Stir together the gelatin and the water in a small bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes. Strain the cream mixture into a bowl, discarding the vanilla bean. Stir the gelatin mixture into the cream with a heat-resistant plastic or wooden spatula. Let the liquid cool to warm, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. (Stirring prevents the gelatin from sinking to the bottom of the hot liquid.) Pour the vanilla custard into 6 ramekins. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours.

To serve: Unmold by dipping the bottom of the ramekins in a bowl of very hot water. Run a knife around the inside edge of each cream and invert onto a plate. Arrange the orange segments around the creams. Place a scoop of sorbet on top of the vanilla custard. (You can also serve it in the dish if you don’t want to unmold it. Put the segments and sorbet on top.) Serve immediately.

In Advance: The creams may be made a day ahead. Once firm, cover with plastic wrap. Teh sorbet can be made a day ahead too.


The Days after Thanksgiving- Favorite Food Magazines

November 26, 2009

Once the turkey carcass has been picked of any last remaining meat and the pie crumbs wiped from the counter, I like to spend the weekend after Thanksgiving catching up on reading. It’s time for some R&R after all the cooking and entertaining.  Inevitably I have a stack of magazines that have piled up over the last few months. I settle into the sofa with a blanket and I am set for the day. It may seem odd to read about food after a day of serious eating but not for me. Over the years magazines come and go in my house as I lose interest or they become predictable. I have four favorites that I wait impatiently for the postman to put into my mailbox each month.

One is California Country magazine published by The California Farm Bureau. If you want to learn about farmers, ranchers and agriculture in California, this is a must read. Printed without a big budget or advertising, California Country has articles about water issues, wineries, nuts, citrus, produce, flowers and anything relating to California agriculture. It focuses on big and large scale farms. Once you start reading California Country it sinks in how much food is grown in this state and how much the rest of the country (and the world) depends on California. One of the things I like best is you get to know the people who are involved in agriculture. They are dedicated, hardworking, fun and caring people. The magazine also has a companion television series shown within the state of California. If you can’t catch it on television you can see watch many of the episodes on their website.

Another favorite is Saveur magazine. Like other food periodicals it offers recipes but it doesn’t stop there. Regional and international foods are explored from cultural, historical and culinary perspectives. Saveur is about “real food, real places, real people.” The latest issue featured kimchi, a Jerusalem food market, as well as a turkey article celebrating and attempting to preserve heritage breed birds.

Another favorite monthly, but surely not in third place, is Vogue Entertaining and Travel from Australia. Each time I pick up this magazine I have to restrain myself from calling the airlines and booking a flight to Sydney. The first time I went to Australia in 1987 I was amazed by the food. It equals California in terms of style and ingredients but is also influenced by Europe and Asia. The food is simple but sophisticated. I want to eat every recipe in every issue.

My go to magazine when I want to get into the nuts and bolts of baking and cooking is Cook’s Illustrated. I admit I often read the last part of an article to see the best way to make something and then I go back and read all the versions that got them to the finished recipe. Kind of like reading the end of a mystery novel first. Chris Kimball and his crew are amazing at analyzing recipes in painstaking detail. I can make their recipes for a dinner party and not have to try them beforehand. They always work.

These magazines keep me inspired, cooking and well fed all year. For that I am thankful.