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

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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

What Makes it an Heirloom?

sliced heirloom tomatoes

Sliced heirloom tomatoes

Ever wonder why certain tomatoes are called heirloom while others aren’t. You can look to the definition of the word heirloom, “A valued possession passed down in a family through succeeding generations.”, for the answer.

heirlooms at the farmers market

Heirloom tomatoes being sold at the Sacramento Farmers’ Market grown by Lawrence Farms in Oroville, CA.

Heirlooms are grown from seeds that have been collected, saved and passed down through generations. Every heirloom tomato variety is genetically unique and inherent in this uniqueness is an adaptation to specific growing conditions and climates.

Black Cherry tomatoes

Black cherry heirloom tomatoes growing in a pot in my backyard. These are larger than the typical cherry tomatoes you might think of and when fully ripe, dark in color like the Cherokee.

Supermarket hybrid tomatoes, on the other hand, have been carefully crossbred to produce characteristics like; resistance to pests and diseases and firm flesh and thick skin so they can be machine harvested. Most hybrids are harvested while green and are ripened to redness with ethylene gas.

Abraham Lincoln heirloom

The other heirloom I’m growing this year is Abraham Lincoln. It’s medium in size and will be bright red when fully ripened. I can hardly wait to try this one.

Heirlooms often produce less fruit per plant and when grown organically they are more susceptible to fungus which can make them crack and split.They also tend to be soft skinned requiring hand harvesting. Heirloom crop yields tend to be one-third or less that of hybrid tomato crops. So, more labor to produce them and less production due to their genetic makeup, in most cases, equals higher prices when we buy them. But, if you grow them yourself you still might have the disease problems inherent in the variety you try but you’ll probably get more than enough delicious tomatoes to make you smile for the summer and you can save some seeds to use next season. I’d call that a win, win.

grilled cheese with tomato and basil

Grilled Gruyere cheese sandwich with sliced heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil leaves on a seeded wheat bread. The perfect lunch for an atypical rainy California summer day.

For me the test for any tomato is taste. If it looks perfect but doesn’t taste like a tomato, what’s the point in eating it? Give me a heirloom that is raised locally and allowed to ripen on the vine. That’s what I call a tomato. Oh, one more thing – Please, please don’t put your tomatoes in the fridge. It just kills their flavor.

Veggies for Breakfast

Zepher squash blossomsMy garden is thriving and has already started producing squash. Many folks don’t like summer squash, but I do and have learned, over the years, to use it in various ways. This spring I planted two kinds of squash, Zephyr, which I have planted in the past and Papaya Pear which is advertised as fast growing, high yielding plant that bears small, rounded yellow fruits. So far the Papaya is exactly as advertised. It’s also very tasty.

DSCN4168On the mornings I pick squash, which right now is about every other day or so,  I use it in a veggie scramble. It’s a great way to incorporate fresh veggies into your morning meal.  This mornings combination included; chopped sweet onions, sliced crimini mushrooms, grated summer squash, cubed Halvarti cheese, and two eggs. I topped the finished scramble with chopped garlic chives and crumbled sage leaves that had been sauteed in butter and olive oil until crisp. The best thing about a scramble is you use what you have on hand. The only constant is the eggs.  If you’ve never considered using fresh veggies in a scramble for breakfast you should give it a try. It’s a very yummy way to start the day.

The squash, garlic chives and sage came from my garden. The mushrooms, onions, and eggs came from my local Farmers’ Market.

What a difference a month makes.

Koralik Russian Heirloom Cherry tomato

Well it’s warming up here in the Central Valley and the garden is growing quite nicely so thought I’d give you an update. Tomatoes are ripening and I have enjoyed several of the little jewels as I wander through the garden early in the morning. My favorite time in the garden is around 6 or 6:30am. It’s perfect then, not too hot or cold and it’s quiet with only the songs of the birds to break the stillness.

The first fruit from the Ichiban Japanese eggplant is ready to pick, which I’ll do in the morning and the Astia zucchini has been producing just fast enough that I don’t have to eat one a day. They are nice little (I pick em small) squash and are a really good dipper for the edamame hummus that I have been buying at Trader Joe’s. I haven’t tried any cooked yet. They taste too yummy raw.

 Here’s the difference a month can make. On the left is how they looked on May 9 and on the right June 10.

Here’s a look at the rest of my little plot.

On the left is my bean tepee which is growing green, yellow and purple pole beans, the squash is a zucchini called Zephyr. I’ve grown this one for a couple of years and really like it. Two thirds of it is yellow and the blossom end is light green. Quite pretty. If you look closely you can see one just to the right of the chives.  Squished just past the squash are Persian Baby cucumbers (Green Fingers), an Ambrosia melon and a Romanian Sweet Pepper, that isn’t really taking off like everything else. Think it needs more heat, which is forecast for this week. The little green berry basket is protecting some parsley seedlings from the snails. Herbs are thyme by the beans, chives by the squash and tarragon by the cukes and melon. Tarragon is supposed to be a good companion plant for just about everything so we’ll see how happy the melon is when I taste it later this summer. There are already several 1″ melons growing so that’s a good sign of things to come. The beans have only recently started blooming and I’m looking forward to seeing some sets in the next week or so. The other plants in the foreground are; Sweet Alyssum, Snow in Summer and Santa Barbara Daisy, which was recently clipped to encourage a second bloom and also give the melon and cukes room to spread. Later in the season the squash will flow out over the Snow in Summer which it did last year. That arrangement didn’t seem to hurt either plant.

The beans, cucumbers, container zucchini and parsley were all grown from seed from Renee’s Garden, local seed company. The other plants were from starts I picked up at various local Farmers Markets. The size of the plot is 4′ x 10′ and this is it’s second season as a veggie garden. Last year I had beans, squash peppers, melon and cukes too but this year I rotated the positions of the plants putting the squash where. A mini crop rotation if you please. I also added organic manure before the rains last winter and let it soak into the ground not mixing it into the soil until this spring. Think I’ll try to plant a cover crop of legumes or clover this fall and see what that’s like. Must be why I love gardening so much, there’s always something to learn and it’s always an adventure.

How’s your  garden doin?

It Won’t Be Long Now

I’ll bet you think I’ve lost my mind. Well maybe I have but I was so excited this morning when I checked my Russian Heirloom cherry tomato to see that there are tiny tomatoes on it, that I couldn’t wait to shout it to the world. I have tomatoes! Well, I almost have some. It won’t be long now.

This year, I am trying a new variety called Koralik. I bought the plant in Sebastopol on a day my sis and I spent antiquing and nursery hopping. Definitely a great way to spend a Spring day. Anyway, I usually buy the cherry varieties since I grow them in a container. I did learn one thing after I had purchased and planted it that I wish I had known before. The little plastic tag that has the information on it said “Organic Russian Heirloom red cherry – Determinate plant: bears loads of cherry-sized fruit with great flavor. Wonderful for all locations. Only 60 days!” The thing I learned is what “determinate plant” means. Determinate are varieties that grow to a compact height. Determinates stop growing when fruit sets on the top bud. All the tomatoes from the plant ripen at approximately the same time (usually over period of 1- 2 weeks). They require a limited amount of staking for support and are perfectly suited for container planting.

So the good news is that the tomato won’t require staking and it is perfectly suited for container planting. The not so good news is that it sounds like all the fruit will ripen at about the same time so I’ll be overwhelmed with cherry tomatoes for a couple of weeks then I won’t have any. That wasn’t what I had planned on, but looks like what I’ve got. Such is life. Live and learn.

This is the vegetable container part of my little garden. The Koralik tomato is in the pot at the back, an Ichiban Japanese eggplant (Abundance, July 2010) is on the right and a container zucchini, Astia, planted from seeds from Renee’s Garden is in front. The zucchini is also a new selection I am trying this year.  An upgrade to my garden this year is the addition of the wheeled pot stands. They are fantastic. I can move the pots easily to change their location or just to rotate them so they grow more evenly. They even have little brakes you can set so the wheels can’t move. Definitely a luxury I should have given myself long ago.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest I think I’ll get back out there and check on what the snail population is munching on. And that is a whole other story.

(note: the sprinkler that is sticking up in the front pot is not how I’m watering the pots. They are on an automatic system that works off my in ground sprinkler system. I think I stuck that one in there so I wouldn’t misplace it. Good thing I took this picture cuz now I’ll remember where it is next time I go looking for it.)

Monday’s Two-fer

Ok, so it’s been forever since I’ve posted. I could sit here and give you a hundred reasons why I haven’t but I’m not going to. I’m only going to say that this winter has been very mild, in fact it is Spring here in California’s Central Valley and has been for over a month. I have Spring fever so bad that I can hardly get anything done that doesn’t have to do with fiddling around outside and since blogging and cooking are indoor activities they are both down the list of fun things to do, at least to my thinking lately. But as sometimes happens, guilt shows up and I start to rethink my priorities. A very nice email from a blogging friend in Texas, Jack Mathews of Sage to Meadow, recently arrived. It was Jack’s choices for his 2011 Prairie Sagebrush Awards for blogging. The award recognizes bloggers Jack follows for their excellence in writing, photography and art on the blog. He included Anniespickns. That heated up the guilt. An award for blogging should be given to those who blog and that hasn’t been me lately.  It was also a nice reminder to myself that I do miss the writing, the research and discovery and I miss interacting with you, my readers.

So as I started to think about dinner tonight a post was born.

Monday’s Two-fer

Sometimes its just time to gather the leftover this-n-thats from the fridge and either toss em or get creative. Tonight was one of those times. Luckily the this-n-thats were worth saving so I got creative. I sliced the handful of Brussels sprouts, about the same amount of crimini mushrooms; some pieces of fried bacon along with half an onion then added a few cloves from some baked garlic.  First I fried the mushrooms, next the onion, then the sliced Brussels sprouts. Chop the bacon and garlic and toss with the other ingredients and there you have it. I had a little brown rice that I warmed up and served with this. That’s what you call a two-fer, clean fridge and full tummy.

There was even enough natural light coming in the kitchen window to shoot a quick photo.

How I learned to Love Brussels Sprouts – Anniespickns