SWEET AS NECTAR, THAT’S WHY.

Although I said my next post would be about Anderson Ranch and what I saw on the marsh boat trip, I didn’t feel like writing about that today. Today my interest was focused on a question that came up when I was putting away my Farmers Market purchases from this morning. The question: Why do I always pick white nectarines and peaches over the yellow varieties? I know it’s not because I don’t have a choice. I do. They are almost always displayed side-by-side at the Farmers Market. They are both right there in front of me yet just about every time I come home with either white nectarines or peaches. Most often it’s white nectarines.

From what I have read the main difference between yellow and white nectarines is the amount of acid they contain. This holds true for peaches, the fuzzy-skinned version of the nectarine, too. Lower acid = sweeter fruit. The word nectarine means “sweet as nectar” and some say that is most likely the origin of the name. You can’t say that about the yellow fleshed versions, which tend to have a tangy taste.

Actually, nectarines are a cultivar group of peaches belonging to the same species as peaches. Genetic studies have concluded nectarines are created due to a recessive gene, whereas fuzzy peach skin is dominant. Peach seeds may occasionally grow into trees that bear nectarines, and nectarine seeds may grow into trees that can bear either nectarines or peaches. Because it’s impossible to know which fruit will grow on trees grown from nectarine seeds, nectarine branches are grafted onto peach trees to guarantee the tree will only produce nectarines.

According to several articles I read, the history of the nectarine is unclear; the first recorded mention is from 1616 but they probably had been grown much earlier. Early records of the peach however, occur in central and eastern Asia as early 2000 BC. From there the peach was brought to India, then through Persia, until it reached Greece around 300 BC. It is said that Alexander the Great introduced it to Europe after he conquered the Persians. Romans began cultivating peaches in the first century AD and they were brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, and eventually they made it to England and France in the 17th century. One publication mentions nectarines being raised on a farm in Jamaica, Long Island, New York as early as 1768. However and whenever by whoever, I’m grateful they arrived here. They are one of my summer favorites.

So now you, like me, know probably more that you wanted to know about nectarines and peaches and I know I always choose white nectarines because they are “sweet as nectar”.

For those of you wanting to try your nectarines in a baked treat, here’s a yummy little recipe from Donna Hay’s book, Entertaining. I found it while poking around looking for nectarine facts and it seemed like the perfect recipe to try. She describes these Little Nectarine Cakes as “being perfect partners for a morning cup of coffee or an afternoon latte”. Taking her advice I mixed up a batch and put them in the oven. As they baked their aroma filled my kitchen and then then the timer rang. They were ready. I carefully moved them from the oven to the cooling rack and let them sit for around ten minutes, then I  gently took them out of the pan and before I knew what was happening I broke off a nice piece and popped it in my mouth. It was still hot and moist and oh so tasty. I know, no  self discipline. Not only no self discipline, no remorse either.  I’ll try the next one with my morning coffee tomorrow.  I definitely recommend you try them warm from the oven or reheated. They would also be good served warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or perhaps whipped cream with a little orange or lemon zest. The only changes I made were;  I substituted Greek yogurt for the sour cream and added sliced almonds to the topping. You could also substitute other fruits like apricots, plums or peaches if you don’t have nectarines.  They’re easy to make and delicious.

Now that the nectarine questions are answered maybe I can get motivated to finish the Road Trip post. That won’t be as much fun as this post was since there’s no warm cake to look forward to. That is unless, I make more.

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Clear Lake Road Trip – Kelseyville and Vigilance

After a short drive off the main highway I arrived in downtown Kelseyville. It’s a small (pop. around 3000) town and I found the people to be very  friendly. After a nice walk around the block long main business area I popped into Studebaker’s, a cute little deli,  for a lemonade, then sat outside enjoying its refreshing taste and the local sights.

It’s history says, Kelseyville was established in 1882 and is named after Andrew Kelsey, the first American settler in Lake County. A quirky trivia bit about Lake County I found while researching is that it is the only one of California’s 58 counties that has never been served by a railroad. Evidently it was too hilly to build one.

The area surrounding the town has long been known for its farming. Vineyards and wine making were established as early as 1870 but prohibition in 1920 ended that era of farming and the vineyards were torn out and replaced with walnut and pear orchards, which remain as prominent crops today. In the early 1960’s vineyards were again reintroduced with around around 100 acres being cultivated in 1965, to a total of over 8800 acres today. Many of the vineyards in Lake County today support sustainable farming practices.

The last Saturday in September, the town hosts the Kelseyville Pear Festival. It features craft booths, entertainment, a quilt show, art and antique tractor shows and begins the day with a great street parade. Sounds like that might be another good reason for a road trip. Pears raised in this area are delicious. Yum, I’m thinking pear pie, but then that’s another story.

From Kelseyville I begin the drive towards Anderson Marsh my next destination before I meet my sister, Gwen, for the birding-by-boat trip. As I’m driving I get a glimpse of Anderson Marsh off down the hill to my left. I turn off on the next road looking for a spot to stop and take in the view and find a parking area beside an old barn. The barn I learn from a farmhand who is just leaving the parking area is part of the Vigilance Winery, and that just down the hill a little is the tasting room and they are open. Well, I have snap peas, chèvre and the bread with me, they have wine and a picnic area with an incredible view. Easy decision. I head down the hill to do a little tasting

They are indeed open and since it’s still before noon, early for most wine tasters, I have the place to myself. The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable. The winery is owned by Clay & Margarita Shannon who believe in and practice the art of farming using sustainable practices helping to preserve the land for future generations.  The name, Vigilance, (alert, watchful, keenly aware, careful, observant) reflects their spirit and commitment to winemaking.  The tasting starts with their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, a very nice white that is light and fresh tasting. Definitely a good start. I taste six wines and decide to buy a couple of bottles; the Savignon Blanc I tasted first and a 2010 Cimmaron, a delicious blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, all grown sustainably in Lake County.

I take a glass of Cimmaron to the picnic table and enjoy it with the peas, chèvre, bread and the view. It was all as tasty as I had imagined. I hated to leave but Anderson Ranch was calling and if I wanted to walk some of the trails there before I met Gwen I would need to get on down the road.

Next up: Anderson Ranch

Clear Lake Road Trip

I set out early, with Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake entirely in California, as my destination. I have several things in mind as I travel up through the Capay Valley; enjoy a leisurely two hour drive through some outstanding scenery, check out yet another Farmers Market, explore the south side of the lake around Kelseyville, and do a little birding.

Late spring is the perfect time to visit Clear Lake if like me, you like watching birds. The marshes surrounding this part of the lake attract large quantities of waterfowl many of whom like the Western grebe are exhibiting courting behaviors. There are also several large egret and heron rookeries in some of the tall trees that line the shore. I’ve also heard there might be a Golden eagle nest that is visible if you approach by boat and have binoculars. Hopefully I’ll be lucky on both counts as I have reservations to go out into the marsh area by boat in the afternoon and I brought binoculars.

But before I go birding, I head to the Lake County’s Farmers’ Finest Saturday Morning Market at Steele Wines to take a look around and hopefully pick up picnic supplies for lunch.

It’s a beautiful morning and the local population has turned out to shop and catch up on the local news. The market is small compared to what I am accustomed to, but with a good variety of very friendly vendors, and music for those of us who are willing to stop for a while and enjoy it.

Keeping in mind I wanted something I could take and have for lunch later, I purchased some lovely snap peas from Sky Hoyt. He says he grows these in a green house because it’s just too cold to grow them outside. The one I tasted was crisp and sweet.

Yerba Santa Goat Dairy had some tasty fresh herb chèvre  and I thought that it would taste pretty nice with the peas so into my basket it went. So peas and cheese, what else?

That’s when I found the most incredible loaf of savory bread I have ever tasted.  It’s called GREAT Bread and is made from organic winter wheat flour, whole wheat flour, sundried tomatoes, eggplant, roasted garlic, fresh rosemary, and asiago and parmesan cheeses. I know now why the named it GREAT,  I’m still dreaming about it weeks later. The leftovers made incredible toast.

Farmers Market exploration complete I headed back down the road to Kelseyville in search of the Main Street Bakery, the vendor I bought the bread from, and to see what the little town of Kelseyville was all about.

Next up: Kelseyville and the marsh.