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

Angelcots, The Sweet White Apricot

white apricots

Sometimes when I buy fruit at the Farmers Market the vendor will put a couple more pieces of small fruit in the bag after he weighs what I have selected. A nice gesture but sometimes its something that I don’t like (yes there are fruits I’m not crazy about.) or it might be something I may not have even tried before. That’s what recently happened. I carefully selected some white nectarinesDonut peaches and apricots placing them carefully in my market bag.  After weighing my purchase the vendor popped three small light colored fruits that were shaped like apricots into the bag, saying as he handed it to me, “they are very sweet, you would like them”. I was curious as to what they were but didn’t ask and didn’t think about them again until I was shopping at Trader Joe’s later that morning and saw a plastic container, in the fresh fruit section, with fruit that looked just like the ones I was given, that was labeled Angelcots. Humm, wonder if that could be the same thing he put in with the fruit I bought at the Farmers Market?

sliced white apricots

The difference in color between white apricots and Blenheim apricots.

Turns out it was. The fruit is truly angelic, tasting light, sweet and juicy.  After trying these sweet gifts, I wished I had a lot more than the three I was given.

Remembering the plastic container of Angelcots at Trader Joe’s I made a trip across town to get some and give them a try. Sure enough, they tasted the same and now I had more than three to enjoy. I ate them out of hand as snacks whenever I passed the kitchen counter where they lay seductively waiting for my visits and tried them cut into quarters topped with Greek yogurt and roasted sliced almonds for breakfast. They were gone all too soon but definitely not forgotten. You can bet I’ll be looking to buy more at the market this weekend if I can find them.

I hope you can find them at a market near you. If you do, give em a try. You just might discover why they were named Angelcots.

To learn more about the history of the Angelcot check out this Nov 2002 SF Gate article on Ross Sanborn the passionate pomologist, who after receiving the white apricot seeds from a cousin’s husband who was living and working in Iran in the late 70s, planted the seeds at his home in Lafayette, CA, and as they say “the rest is history”.

Angelcot article link

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.

Pentaluma FM banner

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.

A Great Interactive Site For Finding Information on California Markets, Farms, and Agricultural Events

I just found this great website called, California Agricultural Almanac,  that has all kinds of information about vegetable, fruit and nut specialty crops in California. Using interactive maps and data you can check out where to find locally grown produce, farms, farm markets and agricultural events. Give it a try for the area you live in or for the area of California that you might be visiting. As much as I love finding off the beaten path places, I can see where this is going to come in handy. This site is definitely getting bookmarked.

A One of a Kind California Farmers’ Market

While on vacation at Packer Lake in Sierra County I learned about a farmers market that is touted as the only “on-farm” farmers market in the state of California. Locals call it the The Romano’s Farmers Market, aka Sierra Valley Farms Farmers Market . It is not large, it hosts only 10 – 12 hand-selected vendors. It typically opens the first Friday in June and continues for 15 weeks until the second Friday in September. We were in luck it was only the first Friday in September when my sister, Gwen, and I decided to leave the solitude of Packer Lake and travel over to Sierra Valley and see what all the talk was about.

The farm sits on the northern part of Sierra Valley. This valley sits at approximately 4850 feet and is surrounded by mountains ranging in elevation from 6 to 8000 feet.  The former lakebed covers 120,000 acres and receives an annual rainfall of less than twenty inches, most falling as snow. It is what I call high desert, filled with grassland, sagebrush and extensive freshwater marshes that drain into the middle fork of the Feather River. It is an important area for migratory bird species that stop over in the fall and nest there in the spring.

It was in the 80s when we arrived around 11am and the wind, which can blow pretty hard here, was gentle, a perfect vacation day. We pulled in to a dirt parking lot, found a spot, grabbed a reusable bag from the back of my car and headed off to do some serious exploring. We had heard that the farmers market is presented among unique old farm buildings; an old grainery built in 1939, now houses a produce stand and walk-in cooler and the quaint farm store, that contains the checkout stand and hand made items for sale, is part of the old chicken shed. To say the setting is quite unique is an understatement.

We wandered through looking at everything from hand made pottery to some tasty looking bakery items, from gorgeous produce to some pretty interesting pasta and olive oils from Pappardelle Pasta (a pretty large company that sells directly at farmers’ markets and a few specialty gourmet retail stores throughout the country). For not needing anything and thinking we would just take a look, we walked out with one of the biggest pineapple heirloom tomatoes I have ever seen (and now that I have eaten the softball sized wonder I can say it was one of the best I have ever tasted), a small package of Southwestern Blend (Blue Corn Ziti, Red Southwestern Chile Lumache, Green Jalapeno Fusilli and Yellow Maize Amore) that I want to use in soup this fall, Smoked Mozzarella Ravioli,  a beautiful little cantaloupe, some lovely orange peppers and a couple of bottles of cold water from the cooler in the old grainery.

As we were leaving Sean Conroy, chef at Longboards Bar & Grill, Plumas Pines Golf Resort was setting up for a cooking demonstration. They evidently have one each week, something I have seen at urban farmers markets but out here in the middle of nowhere (sorry Sierra Valley folks), it was really unexpected, but a very nice touch.

Later I read on the market’s website that they also host a \”Dinner in the Barn\”, a four course gourmet meal featuring farm-fresh produce harvested specifically for the dinner. The setting is inside a historic rustic barn overlooking the farm fields. There is a farm tour before the dinner, which is catered by Moody’s Catering in Truckee. If they have one of these during the time I’m at Packer Lake next year I’d really like to go.

If you’re ever up in this neck of the woods during the summer months, seek out this market. It is definitely worth a visit.

Carson Farmers Market, Carson City, Nevada

My sister and I found the Carson Farmers Market, quite by accident, while traveling through Carson City on our way north to Reno. It is located at 3rd & Curry Streets and is open Saturday, from 8:30 until 1:30. There’s lots of shade, plenty of parking and some of the nicest people you will meet anywhere.

The first place we stopped was Lattin Farms. They have a really nice farm in Fallon. I know they grow incredible tasting cantaloupe so we stopped to see if we could pick one up. Since we were at the market late in the day they were sold out of the cantaloupe so we decided to try a melon called “Arava”.  It’s not a true cantaloupe but a cantaloupe honeydew cross, an early producing Galia hybrid that does well in growing seasons that are too cool or short for most melon production. Perfect for the short growing season in northern Nevada and where it originated in 1970, Israel.

The Galia-Arava is very aromatic and the flavor is more like a honeydew than a cantaloupe. It was juicy, sweet and tasty. You may be able to find this variety if your area has a short growing season. It’s definitely worth a try.

Another great find was Basque Chorizo from Butler Meats. After tasting a sample we deiced to buy some to have with our breakfast on Sunday. It’s not too hot, not too spicy, definitely just right. I wish we had bought two packages so I could have taken one back to California with me.

A definite stop on your market wander should be Carson City Confections. Especially if you like really good chocolate. We tried several creative  goodies and finally decided on the Ginger O’Snap (with fresh ginger) and Lemon Cream (with cashews and lemon zest). Sorry no photo, we ate them before I thought about photographing them. Obviously, they were very yummy!

This is a wonderful little market with lots of fresh local choices for produce and products. I’ll definitely stop by again.

Nevada Farmers Market resources:

Carson Farmers Market

Nevada Grown –  A resource for Nevada’s rich selection of locally-grown food.

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!

 

The Perfect Washington Coast Vacation Breakfast

On the first day my sisters and I were in Washington we stopped at Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish Co. to pick up some fresh seafood for dinner. To keep preparation simple we decided to get two cooked crabs. Before we got to the cottage we stopped at Sid’s Market in Seaview and bought fresh sourdough bread and a bottle of wine. What could be simpler and more delicious than chilled cracked crab, bread and butter and a good glass of wine? We ate until we were full but there was still some crab left. What do you do with left over crab? You make omelets for breakfast.

At the Astoria Sunday Market we picked up some fresh chives, goat cheese with dill and fresh eggs. Later that day, at Jack\’s Country Store, I found an avocado for a mere $1.79 that I splurged on. Living in California I’m really not used to that price for avocados. Jack’s, just up the road from where we stayed, is a real honest to goodness general mercantile. The floors are wood, there are rolling track ladders to reach the top shelves of the oak showcases and there is a beautiful stained glass ceiling. They carry everything from paint and hardware to hunting clothes, kitchenware, toys and pet supplies. It’s very much like the general store we shopped in when I was in high school in rural California a mere forty-something years ago.  It has everything including a grocery store where you can get avocados. They have a great catalog too. Take a look and be amazed. The stage was set. Omelets for breakfast were firmly on the menu for the next day.

I learned to make omelets by watching Julia Child on TV. Really, that’s where I learned and that lesson has served me well. Omelets are wonderful things. They can be simple or exotic. They can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And, you can use just about anything for a filling, even leftover cracked crab, and fresh goat cheese with dill, organic chives and avocado and if you serve it with toast made from leftover sourdough bread spread with Blueberry Lavender Pepper jam from the Painted Lady Lavender Farm,  you’ll  have the perfect Washington coast vacation breakfast.

Bon Appetite!

Astoria (Oregon) Sunday Market

Recently two of my sisters and I took advantage of low Southwest airfares and flew to Portland. When we left Sacramento it was raining and in the 50’s. We arrived in Portland to sunshine and 86 degrees. That was a rarity. It should have been the other way around. Eighty-six is pretty warm but we weren’t complaining.

First order of business was to head over to the car rental pick-up location and load up our rental with our luggage. Then it was off to one of my favorite farmers markets, the Portland market at Portland State University. Unfortunately, we arrived with less than an hour before closing and had just enough time to make a quick perusal of the possibilities for lunch. We sat under the beautiful big trees and ate our lunch as the vendors broke down their stalls and packed their trucks. Next time I’ll make sure I have a couple of hours of shopping time. Tummies full and anticipation high we headed back to the car for our leisurely drive from Portland to the coast, then north to Long Beach, WA and five days of a much needed vacation. If you’re ever in Portland on a Saturday between 8:30am and 2:00pm, check out the Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University. It’s open 8:30am – 2:00pm March 19 – December 17  and  9:oo am – 2:00 pm November and December. If the PSU market won’t fit into your visit there are markets happening in Portland everyday but Friday. You can find out more about locations, days and times here.

Sunday morning we decided to drive over to Astoria, a nice two-hour drive away and check out their Sunday Market. The Astoria market is easily the largest farmers market in the Columbia-Pacific region — and one the largest statewide, with up to 200 vendor spaces. In addition to its size it’s one of the few Oregon markets open on Sundays.  After a wonderful breakfast at Blue Scorcher Bakery & Cafe (They also have a booth at the market which sells yummy bakery items) we walked a couple of blocks to the market which was already very busy. The market is a mix of food (ready -to-eat and fresh), art & photography, handmade clothing, things for kids and pets, body care products, crafts and jewelry and plants and garden items. There is also a prepared food section where you can sit and eat and listen to some local music.  This isn’t one of those flea markets where products come from everywhere all products sold at the Astoria market are made or grown by the vendor, so you’re supporting local folks.

One of the most interesting things I found at the market was a young entrepreneur selling goat milk soaps. This bright young lady named  Mary told me her title was, Milkologist and Monster Master of Mary\’s Milk Monsters.  With a title like that and a smile like hers who wouldn’t take a few minutes to listen to what she had to say.  She told me she got into making soaps because her goats (her 4H project) give a lot of milk and she was looking for a new way “to make use of their hard work.” By adding her own hard work she has come up with a wonderful little business. You can find out more about how she makes her soaps and  meet some of her goats on her website. If you won’t be in Astoria anytime soon, you can buy her soap through her website. A very nice way to support a very engaging and energetic young entrepreneur.

After talking with Mary, and browsing, and shopping for non-food items for a couple of hours we finally got down to the business of buying food and bought chives, goat cheese, eggs, apples and some amazing goodies at the Blue Scorcher Bakery booth to take back to our little cabin in Long Beach.

If you are going to be up in the Northwest this summer take time to visit one of their Farmers Markets. You’ll meet some really nice folks, you’ll find fresh local foods and crafts and sometimes you’ll even meet someone you’ll never forget.

A Guide to North Coast Farmers Markets

Astoria – open 10am – 3pm, Sundays, from Mother’s Day through the second weekend in October
Commercial and 12th Street, Astoria, OR
astoriasundaymarket.com
 
Newport-open 9am – 1pm, Saturdays, May 7-Oct 29
US Highway 101 and Angle Street, Newport, OR
newportfarmersmarket.org
 
Lincon City – open 9am – 3pm, Sundays, May 1 – Oct 16
540 NE US Hwy 100, Lincoln City, OR
lincolncityfarmersmarket.org
 
Tillamook – open 9am – 2pm, Saturdays, June 11 – Sept 24
Laurel and 2nd Streets
tillamookfarmersmarket.com
 
Manzanita – open 5 – 8pm, Fridays, June 10 – Sept 23
Fifth and Laneda Avenue
manzanitafarmersmarket.com
 
Cannon Beach – open 2 – 5 pm, Tuesdays, June 14 – Sept 27
Midtown public parking lot
cannonbeachmarket.org
 
Seaside – open 1pm – 4pm, Saturdays, July 2 – Sept 24, except Aug 27
2315 N. Roosevelt Drive
no web address
 
Columbia-Pacific – open 3 – 7pm Fridays, May – September
Downtown, Long Beach, WA
longbeachwa.gov/farmersmarket
 
Scappoose – open 9am – 2pm, Saturdays, mid May – September
E 2nd Street entrance to City Hall parking lot on E Columbia Avenue
scappoosefarmermarket.com
 
Two Island’s Farm Market – open 3 – 6:30pm, Fridays, May – October
59 W Birnie Slough Road, Puget Island, WA
stockhousesfarm.com/farm.html