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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Pre-fall Inspiration – Pear-Ginger Muffins for Breakfast

Cottonwood leaves

Inspired by this morning’s cool breezy weather, falling yellow leaves and the abundance of fresh pears at my local Farmers Market I made Pear-Ginger Muffins for breakfast. In addition to fresh pear you add dried pears, which add rich texture, intense flavor and moist tenderness. The use of wheat pastry flour and chopped pecans added the nuttiness I so love in breads.

The smell of them baking was intoxicating. I heated water for tea, Good Earth Original Sweet & Spicy Herbal, the perfect accompaniment for my pre-fall celebration and waited.

Pear-Ginger MuffinsThe timer rang, they tested ready, now another small wait before taking them from the pan. They looked fantastic but as always the truth would be in the tasting. Finally, it was time. I carefully slipped the knife down alongside the muffin and worked it slowly around the edge until the muffin popped out. The moment of truth was here, I gently broke the muffin open, I was taught that you never cut hot bread, placed a pat of sweet butter on a piece and popped it into my mouth. The celebration I had anticipated was perfect.

Has your weather started showing signs that fall is on the way? Are you ready for the change? We have had a nice summer, not too much hot weather, but I think I’m ready for some nice cool mornings and milder days.

Pear-Ginger Muffins

Yields 12 muffins

4 oz dried pears

1 Bosc, Bartlett or Anjou pear

2 cups all-purpose flour (I used wheat pastry flour)

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon nutmeg

2 eggs

2/3 cup granulated sugar

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup unsalted butter-melted

1/3 cup finely chopped candied ginger

½ cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)

In a small bowl, cover the dried pears with boiling water and let stand 15 minutes. Preheat an oven to 400°F and butter standard muffin tins (I like using my Texas muffin pan yields 6 large muffins).

Drain the pears well and pat them dry with paper towels. With scissors or a sharp knife, cut the pears into ½” pieces. Peel, core and finely dice the ripe pear. In a medium bowl, stir and toss together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla, butter, ginger and fresh and dried pears. Add to the dry ingredients and stir just until the batter is blended.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake until a wood toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 15-18 minutes (another 5 mins for the larger size). Cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pan.

Fresh Peach Cake

Edith's peachesA recent trip to my sisters netted me not only a great turkey roasting pan and rack at a charity garage sale for $1 but a nice bunch of fresh peaches.

We invited my sisters neighbor, Edith to dinner the second night I was there. We had picked lots of veggies from Judy and Edith’s large shared garden that morning and planned to roast them and serve them with fresh sliced tomatoes, also from the garden,  and a rack of lamb we would BBQ. For dessert,  Chocolate Zucchini Cake.

As the sun began to drop behind the Sierra Nevada mountains to the west and the air began to finally cool the warm afternoon temperatures, we enjoyed our garden fresh feast, outside on the patio.  Before Edith left she reminded Judy that her peach tree was loaded with fruit in need of picking and that we should come over in the morning to pick some before I headed home.

So early the next morning we walked over to Ediths’ and picked peaches. Edith was right the peaches were plentiful and ready for pickn. The turkey pan was just the right size for my share of peaches allowing them to ride home in the back of my car without becoming bruised.

DSCN4706Once home, I decided to use some of the peaches to make this Fresh Peach Cake. With grandchildren coming to stay, I knew I would have plenty of help eating it.

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Fresh Peach Cake – from Food Network Magazine, June 2011

1/4lb (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream ( I used Greek yogurt) at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced (You could use nectarines, pulots, plumbs, or even berries. I think the peaches measured out to not quite 3 cups.)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar for 3 to 5 minutes on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream and vanilla, and mix until the batter is smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon.

3. Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. Top with half the peaches, then sprinkle with two-thirds of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches on top and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.

4. Bake the cake for 45 – 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Another cake-like recipe I especially like that uses fresh fruit is one I highlighted in June 2010 for Pudding Cake. You can find that recipe here. I don’t know why it wouldn’t work with peaches. Both of these cakes are good with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you’re serving them for dessert. In fact, the Peach Cake would taste just like shortcake if you spooned some fresh sliced, sugared peaches around it and topped it with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Why didn’t I think of that sooner. Next time.

Camp Toast With Maple Syrup Poached Fruit

Mt Lassen reflection

Mt. Lassen reflected in Summit Lake

Recently friends asked me to join them at Lassen Volcanic NP for a few days of camping. How could I say no. Lassen is one of my favorite places to camp and this time we would be at Summit Lake.

toast & fruit on camp stoveWe shared cooking meals so on one of my turns I made one of my favorite summer breakfast recipes, french toast with fresh fruit poached in Maple syrup.

nectarines & blueberries in syrup

The fruit, this time, was white nectarines and blueberries sauteed in a little butter then poached for just a little while in maple syrup.

french toast

The french toast was made by soaking a piece of whole grain, seeded bread in a mixture of one egg beaten with one-half egg shell of milk until the mixture is absorbed into the toast, then cooking it in a little olive oil and butter until it browns on each side. To test for doneness touch it with your finger, if it springs back, its done.

fruit and french toast

To serve pour the fruit and syrup mixture over the toast. Another tasty addition is to add a dollop of Greek yogurt and light sprinkling of cinnamon to the top of the fruit.

Another idea I have tried when cooking french toast at home is to use a Belgian style waffle maker. The toast cooks quicker and the holes contain the syrup. Actually I have grown to prefer french toast cooked this way. But, when camping a cook stove and a frying pan works just fine. Throw in some gorgeous scenery and you have the perfect camp breakfast.

The Power of Procrastination

Play-DohI’ve always said that a tight deadline can bring on some pretty creative ideas and for me procrastination is usually what creates the deadline. I’ve known I was going to a 4th of July potluck party today for about a week now but didn’t press myself to decided what to take until that tight deadline started showing it’s ugly head. OK, the deadline is here. “What are you going to take?” I ask myself. Well, I have lots of fruit that could be used in something. So I start thinking about the fruit, that leads to cobblers and then it hits me. What about the Berry and Peach Cobbler I make each year when I’m with my family at Packer Lake? “Perfect idea”, if I do say so myself. But instead of putting heart shaped pie crust pieces on top I’ll use stars. The problem is I don’t have a star cookie cutter. Or do I?

After fretting about the star cutter and wondering who I could borrow one from or where I could buy one on very short notice I remember where I might have one. So its off to my closet where some toys my grand children play with are stored to find the Play-Doh stuff and sure enough, there was a star cutter. Love it when it works out that way.

Berry and Peach Cobbler

Cookie cutter in hand. I’m back in the kitchen peeling peaches, mixing berries, sugar, lemon juice and tapioca. Now the fun part cutting stars from the pie dough (store bought this time but works just fine) and placing them on the fruit. A nice brushing of melted butter, a sprinkle of cinnamon and turbinado cane sugar and it’s into the oven and wait.

Here’s the final results and judging how incredible the house smelled this morning I can tell this is going to be a hit.

You can find the recipe for the Berry and Peach Cobbler here.

HAPPY 4TH EVERYONE!

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.

Foraging Breakfast On My Morning Ride

There is a certain fig tree growing along a sometime part of the trail that I ride my bike along on summer mornings that becomes a passionate object of my curiosity each year starting late July. Really it’s an obsession that started several years ago when I stopped and tasted its succulent sweet fruits. This part of the trail also has an abundance of wild blackberry so during the late summer months you can not only get a nice ride in, you can forage a pretty sweet breakfast too. The blackberries are wonderfully sweet and abundant until the scorching days of August when only those fruiting in partial or full shade can survive. It is these times when the hunt for a wild blackberry breakfast on the trail becomes more challenging that the fig tree starts bearing ripe fruit, and this year, much to my delight, it’s loaded. From the look of things from my last couple of visits it doesn’t appear that that many fig aficionados are as interested in it as I am. I can’t say that for another tree that sits along the river road that I have only been able to get one or two ripe figs off of so far and I’m positive it isn’t the birds that have plucked the ripe ones. This situation is upsetting because it’s a fifteen mile round-trip to that particular tree and when the pay off is two figs it’s kinda depressing. It’s not that the ride is awful, it isn’t it’s a beautiful ride, it’s just my expectations are high all the way there. To find two or nothing is not what I call a good pay off.

This morning I needed to go back to the tree along the bike trail to look for the clip to my garage door opener that was missing when I got home. I always carry it clipped to my bike shorts so I can easily open the garage door as I approach the house.  I was sure that’s where it had popped off, or maybe that was only my excuse to myself to visit the tree again. So, before I went to the Farmers Market this morning, I headed in the opposite direction, down the river road. First to the fig tree along the road, not to look for the garage door opener clip, to look for figs. No surprise here, there were tons of hard green figs but only two ripe enough to eat, which I did. I guess I should be grateful there were two.  Satisfied that there were no figs to be had, I headed back down the road to the tree along the bike path which I know how to also access via a near by country road. I didn’t dare go to the tree first, I went to the area I had put my bike down yesterday and hunted for the garage door opener clip. A through search found nothing but weeds and gravel. My mission, or should I say my excuse for coming complete, I headed straight to the fig tree where I saw lots of ripe juicy figs just waiting for me. I didn’t have anything to put them in but the pockets in my fleece jacket I was wearing so that’s where they went. I ate and picked and stuffed my pockets until they were filled, then popped a few more into my mouth. All of this was accomplished carrying my handy little camera that I had brought along to take a few pics of the figs on the tree. Hands sticky, pockets sticky and stuffed with figs and fig sap adorning my camera I headed back to the car, a very happy girl.

I found this recipe the other day and for the life of me I can’t remember where. A Google search says it’s from Asweetspoonful.com and was published in Sept 2010, so that’s whom I’ll give the credit to. I made a few changes; I cut the amounts in half and I used regular pie dough instead of the pate brisee (which if you have the time would definitely be the better choice). I also used the figs I picked which were not black Mission figs and only sliced the figs in half not in slices and sprinkled the whole galette with turbinado sugar after the crust was brushed with the egg wash. It’s a nice way to celebrate this beautifully delicious fruit but I the way I like them best is straight from the tree, early in the morning.

You can find the recipe: Rustic Fig and Almond Cream Galette here