Inspiration – A True Seedless Sugar Baby Watermelon

Dave's signNot only am I lucky enough to live within cycling distance of what I consider to be one of California’s best Certified Farmers’ Markets, the Sunday Downtown Sacramento Market, there is a wonderful farm stand about 5 miles down river from me for those times when I need to replenish either fresh fruit or veggies during the week.  From May until the end of October, Dave’s Produce becomes my mid-week “go to spot” for fresh produce shopping.

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Dave’s Produce belongs to Sacramento River Delta Grown an Agri-tourism Association of businesses adjacent to the lower Sacramento River. The group’s mission is to promote: Agricultural sustainability and profitability through Agri-tourism, and Agri-education, by providing public accessibility to local farms, while enhancing the public’s awareness of production agriculture, and enjoyment of the rural farming experience. The businesses are varied and include many of the wineries from the Clarksburg region, which I might add make some very nice wine. It’s a beautiful area and one I love exploring in all seasons.

Dave's farm standDave’s Produce is part of Vierra Farms which is where the farm stand is located. Here’s how they describe their location on their website: “Vierra Farms is influenced by the Sacramento Delta Region by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. Situated at the edge of the Sacramento River, Vierra Farms takes advantage of the coastal gap as the northern and southern coastal ranges meet at the Sacramento Delta. As temperatures rise in the central valley, cool maritime breezes are pulled directly across the Sacramento region creating a distinctive climate that helped create Vierra Farms’ premium mouth-watering watermelon and bountiful hard squash​ that has been provided to the greater Sacramento area wholesale, retail and food service customers for over the past 10 years.”

I have to say they are right on when they talk about premium mouth-watering watermelon, the squash too, but I want to talk about one of the varieties of watermelon they grow, Inspiration.

Inspiration watermelonInspiration is what is called a black watermelon, the name referring to the outside color of the melon. It is a true Sugar Baby seedless, early maturing watermelon with a brix of 9.5, Brix being a measure of sweetness , where 7.8 – 8.2 is somewhat sweet, 8.3 – 9.0 is sweet, and >9.0 is very sweet. The melon I bought was definitely sweet, seedless and juicy, a perfect summer melon. 

I think this particular watermelon is grown in other regions of the US and would love to hear from you if you have tried it or other black watermelon varieties this summer. I’ll be looking for it again out at Dave’s next season.

chopped watermelon

Chillin on a Hot Day

A forecast of 107°F more than caught my eye as I checked the weekend weather. Not liking what I saw, I quickly started checking where the nearest cool weather would be. The mountains were an option but coolest temperatures would be at the coast so that’s where I headed. Up early, I packed a lunch and left the valley missing both the heat and traffic arriving at Point Reyes National Seashore, via some interesting back roads, about two and a half hours later. I had made the right choice it was perfect in the areas I visited, avoiding the fog at one of my favorite beaches in favor of sun and some gusty winds but cool temperatures at Abbotts Lagoon an area I hadn’t visited in a while. The crowds were minimal, the wildflowers plentiful. The walk out to the beach was breezy but the winds at the beach itself were gusty which made for some great wave watching and it wasn’t hot or too cold, so I was happy to sit and enjoy my time there.

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After poking around Point Reyes for most of the day it was time to start heading back towards what I feared would be an inferno, home. After trying out a couple of new back roads I ended up in Petaluma and remembered that the Petaluma Farmers Market takes place on Saturday. I decided to swing by Walnut Park and see if the market was still going. It was, so of course I stopped to check it out. Getting out of the car I couldn’t help noticing the warmer temperature. It wasn’t exactly hot, not like it would be at home but it was definitely much warmer than it had been on the coast.

DSCN4186The market was in full swing with some great live music coming from the old fashioned bandstand that sits in the park’s center and a good variety of vendors selling fish, veggies, fruit and crafts eager to share their products.

musicians at Pentaluma

I like to cruise the whole market before buying, checking not only prices but also freshness and variety as I go. I had almost completed my observation round when I saw exactly what I wanted, ice cream. Not just any ice cream, locally made Nimble & Finn’s Ice Cream, made using organic Straus Dairy milk and cream and local produce. An ice cream that would bring back memories of homemade, hand cranked custard ice cream studded with fresh summer fruit. There were only five choices but there may as well have been ten. 

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They all sounded worthy of trying. Now all I had to do was make a decision. First, I tried the Strawberry Rhubarb sorbet but it wasn’t what I wanted, then I tried the Honey & Roasted Apricot Swirl. It was the perfect blend of sweet and tart, creamy and cold. I was in heaven. I carried my cone to a nearby table, in the shade, and sat people watching, which was by the way excellent, listening to the music and slowly enjoying every lick of my luscious ice cream cone. The perfect ending to a perfect get-away.

Honey Apricot ice creamMore on the Petaluma Farmers’ Market can be found here.

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National Farmers Market Week

August 7 – 13, 2011

The Secretary of Agriculture of the United States of America has proclaimed this week National Farmers Market Week.

If you’re interested in the proclamation’s formal wording. you can read it in it’s entirety on  the official USDA website,  2011 National Farmers Market Week Proclamation). There is also a great link to the National Farmers Market Search Engine and lots other links with data on Farmers Markets. But, information and data won’t inspire you like walking through and shopping at a local Farmers Market will.  Celebrate fresh and local fruits and veggies this week, visit a Farmers Market near you. You just may find out why visiting and shopping Farmers Markets is one of my favorite things to do whether I’m here at home or traveling.

If you’re looking for motivation beyond the need to shop for produce, here are a couple of past articles highlighting some of the markets I have visited while traveling. These articles will give you an idea of the diversity of Farmers Markets and why they are so much fun.

Astoria Sunday Market
Occidental Bohemian Farmers Market
Placerville Farmers Market
Kauai Sunshine Markets
Ocean Beach Farmers Market
Capay Valley Regional Farmers Market
Widnsor Farmers Market

If you don’t have time or desire to go to a Farmers Market why not have your fresh produce delivered to your door. You can find out more about Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) here.

Support local farmers and ranchers, buy direct!

 

Spring Garlic

You can see the cloves starting to form on this one.

Sunday I got to the Farmers’ Market later than usual, it was already packed with people but choices were still good. The first thing I wanted to do was find the egg guy and trade in my used cartons. It seems like the only time I remember that I’m going to take them back is when I am at the market buying more eggs. Very happy with myself for finally remembering. Egg cartons returned and a fresh dozen in my basket I was off to see what looked good as far as vegetables go. I bought a nice bunch of chard, a green that I much prefer to kale or mustard greens, some beautiful, thin asparagus, some very nice baby spinach, more Fuji apples, tangerines and the subject of this weeks post, green or Spring garlic.

Garlic is a species in the onion family and green garlic is simply immature garlic, which has been pulled to thin the crop. Garlic, onions, shallots, leeks and chives are close relatives. Since I love all garlic’s cousins I guess it isn’t any surprise I love garlic. I love it in its mature form and delight every spring when I can get it in its immature form.

Green garlic is much milder than mature garlic. To use it trim off the root ends and any tough part of the green leaves. Chop or slice the white, light green and the first few inches of the dark green leaves (using only the leaves that are tender).

I read that the sticky juice within the cloves of mature garlic is used as an adhesive in mending glass and porcelain in China and that garlic has been around for about 6,000 years and is native to Central Asia. I also read that it was highly prized in early Egypt where it was even used as currency.

Here’s a little dish I prepared tonight using some of my fresh Spring garlic, left over baked Japanese sweet potatoes (Satsumaimo), a little butter and baby spinach.

First I thinly sliced the garlic, then placed it in a fly pan with a little butter and let the garlic gently cook until it had browned and was a little crispy. This isn’t something you would want to do with clove garlic as the taste of the garlic would be bitter. That doesn’t happen with the young version.  I then added the cooked garlic and butter to the Japanese sweet potatoes that had been peeled and mashed with a fork. Once this was done I made some little patties from the mixture then added them back into the frypan with just a touch of butter and gently fried the patties until they were crispy and browned, then turned them and did the same to the other side. When they were browned on both sides I removed them added the spinach and a splash of chicken stock (you can use water) added a lid and cooked the spinach until it had just wilted. That’s it, another one-pan yummy treat. Perfect for a spring evening.

You can find a recipe for green garlic and baby Bok Choy from one of my March 2010 posts here if you’d like another idea on how I’ve used it. It’s also excellent in any egg dish, think cheese and bacon omelet with spring garlic. If you can find Spring or green garlic at your Farmers’ Market or market, give it a try. I think you’ll like it.

Turkey Vegetable Soup with Dumplings

I wonder how many of you are making turkey soup today? One of my favorite reasons to roast a turkey is to end up with the carcass and bits and pieces of turkey that I can make into a rich broth.

Since it’s a Sunday I was off to the Farmers’ Market early. The market was pretty quiet this morning with some of the farmers enjoying a holiday and some of the customers waiting until it was warmer out. It was a nippy 36° when I headed out around 8:30. On my shopping list, leeks & carrots for the soup. Not on the list but looked too good to pass up; onions, crimini mushrooms and a nice little head of broccoli to stir-fry later in the week. Also picked up some Sickle pears and Fuji apples.

Here’s the Turkey Vegetable Soup with Dumplings recipe I came up with today: You’ll need a couple quarts of broth (if you don’t have enough turkey, supplement it with chicken) and a couple of cups shredded turkey meat.  In large pan sauté 2 sliced leeks (about 1lb, white part only), 2 stalks celery and 2 carrots that have been rinsed trimmed and diced in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Cook covered, for about 5 minutes, add the stock and a few fresh sage leaves; bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in the turkey or you can do like I did and add it just before serving the soup. If you don’t have turkey you can make this with chicken and chicken broth.

For the dumplings: while the soup is cooking mix 1 cup flour, ½ cup cornmeal, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons finely chopped sage leaves in a large bowl. In another small bowl mix together 1/3 cup milk, 1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, beaten lightly together to blend and 1 tablespoons melted butter. Lightly stir the liquid mixture into the dry mix until it is just combined. Drop dumpling batter in 12 to 14 heaping tablespoon portions on the surface of the simmering soup. Cover pan and simmer over medium-low heat (do not allow the soup to boil) until a knife inserted into the center of a dumpling comes out clean, about 10 minutes.  Makes 6 – 8 servings. I really liked the dumplings. The texture and flavor were great. I’ll definitely try them again. The soup as always was good and will be even better when I reheat it for a meal later this week. I separated out the dumplings into a container of their own when I put away the leftovers. I’ll probably try steaming them or heating them in the microwave to reheat them.

If you’re not sure how to make turkey stock here is Aunt Maymie’s turkey stock recipe: 1 turkey carcass (broken into pieces so it will fit in the pot) and whatever bits and pieces are left of the turkey. If there’s dressing still stuck on the carcass I just leave it.  If you didn’t use the giblets for gravy now is the perfect time to use them, except the liver. I think the flavor of liver is too strong so I never use it, I give it to the cats. One likes it raw the other likes it cooked. Anyway, once you have the carcass in a stock pot add one whole onion stuck with two whole cloves, a couple of carrots cut into large chunks, a couple stalks of celery (leave the leaves on if the stalks have some), a few sprigs of fresh parsley, fresh thyme sprigs and a few leaves of fresh sage. Next I cover the carcass with water and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and simmer until the carcass is falling apart (an hour, sometimes a couple of hours). Let the stock cool down then strain through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth that has been placed over a large bowl. You may have to ladle the stock a little at a time depending on how big the sieve is. You can use the stock right away or freeze it for future use. It’s hard to say how much broth you’ll end up with. The final amount will depend on how big your turkey was.

Fall Brings Heirloom Pumpkins To The Table

While photographing at the Farmers’ Market this morning I spotted some interesting squashes and pumpkins. I was drawn to the beautiful colors and the fact that whoever harvested them left plenty of interestingly twisted stems on them. I was especially drawn to a salmon colored one with peanut shell-like warts all over it and a pinwheel like set of stems on top.

I stuck up a conversation with, what turned out to be, the mother of the farmer who grew them. She said it was her daughter-in-law’s idea to grow a variety of heirloom squash and pumpkins and sell them to florists, restaurants and others who might be looking for unique and beautiful squashes and pumpkins that you could create unique centerpieces with, hence the effort at harvest to leave a good amount of stems on them.  The pumpkin that I was most interested in is called Galeux d’Eysines, or “peanut pumpkin”.  She showed me the clipping from the seed catalog and pointed out how expensive the seed was.  Intrigued with our conversation I started research as soon as I got home.

Some of what I found; “Galeux d’Eysines – meaning “embroidered with warts from Eysines” (a small city in the southwest of France). It has pale salmon-orange skin covered with amazing veins of protruding warts” ‘Galeux d’Eysines’ undergoes an almost magical transformation in the garden. The fruits form, usually a maximum of four to a vine, and look like any ordinary winter squash. They are round, and green, and completely unremarkable. But then, something happens. In late summer, the green squashes start to take on the palest pink blush, and, before long peanut shaped warts cover the surface.” The warts are caused by the build-up of sugars in the  skin. Each squash is different, and the number of warts, as well as the ultimate color of the squash, varies by when you harvest it. You can harvest as soon as it turns pink, or you can let it stay on the vine until it turns a deep salmon color. The flavor also develops the longer it stays on the vine. The texture of the pumpkin is silky, but it holds up well in sautés or when roasting. The flavor is best described as somewhere between a pumpkin and a sweet potato. It is also very tasty in soups and stews and delicious as pie.

I’m definitely going to have to try this one. But, first I need to find a couple of partners to share with. At an average size of 10 – 15 lbs that’s a lot of pumpkin, even for someone who really likes pumpkin.

Arkansas Black Apples

This morning I found one of my favorite apples for sale at the Sacramento Farmers’ Market. It’s called Arkansas Black. I was first introduced to it about fifteen years ago at the Davis Farmers Market. Ever since then I keep a watch out each fall for it’s brief, but welcome, return. Evidently there aren’t too many farmers raising this variety, which is said to be a direct descendant of the Winesap and originated in western Arkansas in the mid-19th Century. Thanks go out to whoever brought it to California’s fertile soils. They obviously had good taste when it came to apples.

The Arkansas Black is a large, late season apple with a distinctive dark red skin encasing yellow flesh that is firm and crisp with a tart aromatic flavor that mellows as the apple ages. Generally a very dark red on the tree, occasionally with a slight green blush where hidden from the sun, the apples grow darker as they ripen, becoming a very dark red or burgundy color. With storage the skin continues to darken.

I love just eating them out of hand but they are also good for cider making, applesauce and baking. Here’s a tasty, yet simple, little cake to try them in.

Fresh Apple Cake

2 cups chopped apples

½ cup sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

½ cup oat flour

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon cardamom

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour an 8 x 8 inch pan. In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar and apples, set aside. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom and salt.

In a large bowl, stir together the oil, egg and vanilla. Add, the apples and sugar, mix well. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the nuts. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 – 35 minutes, or until cake springs back to the touch. When cool,  dust cake with sifted powdered sugar or serve warm with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream.