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

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.

Fabulous Fuyus

This morning I took a bike ride down the River Road, a paved two-lane road sitting atop the levee adjacent to the Sacramento River that doesn’t get much traffic, especially on weekdays. As I rode I could see the river lazily wandering on its journey to the San Francisco bay and beyond to the ocean off to one side and off to the other farmland, most of which is fallow now, dotted with a few houses and out buildings. This is one of my favorite rides and I don’t seem to tire of the scenery even when I have ridden the road for consecutive days. I usually see something memorable or unusual on these rides that cover 10 to 15 miles. And today was no exception.

As I was riding I was looking down towards one of the small farm houses admiring a beautiful persimmon tree heavily laden with fruit that was growing not far from the house when I noticed a couple of the low hanging fruits seemed to be moving. This was odd since there was no wind to speak of, so I slowed down, stopped and took a more focused look. What I saw was wild turkeys gathered beneath the branches pecking the fruit. I’ve seen turkeys many times on my rides but I’ve never seen them foraging fruit. The turkeys must have known that they didn’t have to worry about being chased off from their bountiful find since this farmhouse doesn’t currently have a dog in residence  and they were taking full advantage of the situation.

Turkeys aren’t the only ones who love fresh persimmons. A year ago I wrote about persimmons and what the term “true berries” meant and how I have grown to love these deliciously, crispy fruits. I have been buying them at the Farmers Market for weeks now and so far I haven’t tired of them. Sometimes I  chop them into small pieces add some chopped walnuts and a sprinkling of cinnamon and add it all to my morning bowl of oatmeal, but last night I used them in another favorite way, in a salad with baby spinach leaves and toasted pumpkin seeds all topped with a tasty little vinaigrette I had made using some Prickly Pear Cactus Syrup I picked up when I was in New Mexico in November. If you don’t happen to have any Prickly Pear Cactus Syrup vinaigrette available you could use vinaigrette made with pomegranate syrup or your favorite raspberry vinaigrette. You could also add any of the following to the salad; sliced red onion, pomegranate seeds, chopped Hazelnuts or candied pecans, sliced roasted beets or some goat cheese. They’re all delicious additions.

Poking around on the Internet I found the following recipes and uses for persimmons. They sounded too good not to share:

From KQED – Bay Area Bites

Fuyu Persimmon, Pear and Walnut Rolled Tart

Persimmon, Fennel and Almond Couscous

Fuyu Persimmon, Pear and Pine Nut Salad

From Destination Food

Pulled chicken salad with persimmon, witlof (endive) and avocado

and

WikiHowHow to Eat a Persimmon

Since finding a loaded tree that I can forage from hasn’t happened it looks like I’ll be picking up my fresh Fuyu this Sunday at the Farmers Market.

From Wikipedia – Persimmon

A persimmon is the edible fruit of a number of species of trees in the genus Diospyros in the ebony wood family (Ebenacae). The word Diospyros means “the fire of Zeus” in ancient Greek. As a tree, it is a perennial plant. The word persimmon is derived from putchamin, pasiminan, or pessamin, from Powhatan, an Algonquian language of the eastern Untied States meaning “a dry fruit”. Persimmons are generally ligh yellow-orange to dark red-orange in color, and depending on the species, vary in size from 1.5 to 9 cm (0.5 to 4 in) in diameter, and may be spherical, acorn-, or pumpkin-shaped. The calyx often remains attached to the fruit after harvesting, but becomes easier to remove as it ripens. They are high in glucose, with a balanced protein profile, and possess various medicinal and chemical uses.

Spring Artichokes

These beautiful artichokes spoke to me as I passed amongst the merchants at the Sunday Farmers’ Market. They knew I had just purchased some Spring lamb chops and wanted to be part of my Valentine celebration dinner. So not wanting to disappoint them, I put them in my basket and brought them home. I can’t think of a better combination than grilled Spring lamb chops and artichokes.

The other reason, and more likely the true reason I bought artichokes and lamb, was that I’m sick of eating chicken and chard. As much as I like both chicken and chard I figured that if I’m treating myself to a special Valentine’s dinner it should be something new and exciting, something special.

Since I haven’t written about anything for a week or so, I decided that today was the day and since I had the beautiful artichokes to inspire me, they are the subject of today’s post.

ARTICHOKE HISTORY

Historically artichokes have been around since the middle of the 9th century. Modern scholar, Le Roy Laduire, in his book Les Paysans de Languedoc (1966) has documented the spread of the artichoke:

“The blossom of the thistle, improved by the Arabs, passed from Naples to Florence in 1466, carried by Filippo Strozzi. Towards 1480 it is noticed in Venice, as a curiosity. But very soon veers towards the north-west…Arctichoke beds are mentioned in Avignon by the notaries from 1532 onward; from the principle towns they spread into the hinterlands…appearing as carchofas at Cavallion in 1541, at Chateauneuf du Pape in 1553, at Orange in 1554. The local name remains carchofas, from the Italian carciofo…They are very small, the size of a hen’s egg…and are still considered a luxury, a vaguely aphrodisiac tidbit which one preserved in sugar syrup.” Preserved in a sugar syrup, really?

French immigrants brought them to the United States in 1806 when they settled in the Louisiana Territory. Though the first commercial artichoke fields were developed in Louisiana, by 1940 they had mysteriously disappeared. The Spaniards later established them in California in the Monterey area during the later 1800s and that’s where the two I bought today came from. Every Sunday Contreras Flowers, who also sells at the Palo Alto Farmers’ Market, brings flowers and “cool weather” vegetables, from the Moss Beach area, to our market here in Sacramento and while they don’t meet the 100 mile “local” criteria that is spoken so much about lately,  they definitely qualify as fresh having been picked just yesterday. Today, nearly 100 percent of the United States crop of artichokes is grown in California. Worldwide they are also cultivated in France, Italy, and Spain.

Here’s a bit of artichoke trivia I found.  It’s from the site, What\’s Cooking America by Linda Stradley.

“In the 1920s, Ciro Terranova “Whitey” (1889-1938), a member of the mafia and known as the “Artichoke King,” began his monopoly of the artichoke market by purchasing all the produce shipped to New York from California at $6 a crate. He created a produce company and resold the artichokes at 30 to 40 percent profit. Not only did he terrorize distributors and produce merchants, he even launched an attack on the artichoke fields from Montara to Pescadero, hacking down the plants with machetes in the dead of night. These “artichoke wars” led the Mayor of New York, Fiorello La Guardia, to declare “the sale, display, and possession” of artichokes in New York illegal. Mayor La Guardia publicly admitted that he himself loved the vegetable and after only one week he lifted the ban.”

You can find more history and artichoke lore at What\’s Cooking America. There’s some very interesting reading here.

WHEN AND HOW TO BUY ARTICHOKES

The peak seasons for artichokes are spring and fall. You want to look for artchokes with a tight leaf formation, and those that feel heavy for their size. To test for freshness, press the leaves against each other and you should hear a squeaking sound. Browning of the tips can indicate age, but can also indicate frost damage.

Fall artichokes may be darker or bronze–tipped or have a whitish, blistered appearance due to exposure to light frost. This is called “winter-kissed” and many consider these frosted artichokes to have a more intense flavor and be the most tender.

Baby artichokes are not a separate variety but a “baby” version of larger artichokes. Their size comes from their location on the artichoke plant. They are picked from the lower parts of the artichoke plant where the plant fronds protect them from the sun, in effect stunting their growth. These tend to be the most tender and are most often more expensive than the regular mature artichokes.

COOKING THEM

Artichokes can be steamed, grilled or baked and can be added to just about anything from pizza to an omelet. Very often, they are served with sauces or herbed oils that the leaves can be dipped into.

Today I tried a nice recipe for grilled artichokes that I found in My Nepenthe by Romney Steele, a delightful cookbook and history of Nepenthe, an iconic historic restaurant on the California coast, that I received as a gift from a friend last year.

Grilled California Artichokes with Garlic Basil Aioli

(I didn’t serve them with the Garlic Basil Aioli but have included the recipe incase you want to try it. I really liked this recipe and will definitely try it again, next time I’ll try the  Garlic Basil Aioli too)

Serves 4 to 6

4 to 6 small or 3 large artichokes, stems trimmed

Juice of 1 lemon

1 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Handful arugula or mache (optional)

Garlic Basil Aioli (recipe follows), for serving

Lemon Wedges, for serving

Trim off the thorny tips of each artichoke and rub the cut ends with a little lemon juice. Place them cut side up in a steamer with ½ inch of water at the bottom. Steam the artichokes, covered, over medium heat, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until just tender (make sure that the water doesn’t run dry). Transfer them to a towel-lined plate to drain.

Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.

When the artichokes are cool, cut them in half and discard the thistly choke, leaving the heart intact. Drizzle the artichokes with the olive oil and fresh lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Grill over a medium-high flame, turning on occasion, until well marked and warmed through, about 5 minutes.

Arrange on plates with a tussle of arugula and dollops of the aioli. Serve with lemon wedges and the remaining aioli in a bowl for dipping.

Garlic Basil Aioli

Makes about 1 cup

2 clocves garlic, peeled

Salt

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ cup vegetable oil

½ cup olive oil

White pepper

2 teaspoons finely chopped basil

With a fork mash the garlic with a pinch of slat until it makes a paste. Combine half the paste with the yolk, lemon juice and mustard in a large bowl. Combine the oils, then add a drop or two to the yolk mixture, whisking well to emulsify: Slowly add the remaining oil in a steady stream, whisking rapidly to combine. Add a pinch of white pepper and the remaining garlic to taste, if desired. Stir in the basil.

More Recipies

You can find more recipes on the Artichoke Advisory Board of California‘s site, Simply Recipes, posted by Elise on Apr 16, 2007 (how to cook and eat) and My Recipes from Southern Living, 2009 (fresh grilled artichokes).

How do you cook and eat artichokes? What are your favorite dipping sauces, that includes what kind of mayonnaise if that’s what you dip into?

Versatile Cauliflower

It’s raining this morning, which is a nice break from the dense fog we have had lately. It’s nice to be able to see across the street even if the rain will ultimately bring more foggy conditions, I’m enjoying it.

This morning at the Farmers’ Market I picked up a beautiful head of cauliflower. It’s what some would consider on the small size, but because I am the only eating it, it’s just the right size. I also bought rainbow chard, carrots, celery and some apples to make into sauce.

I really like doing a little research on what I find at the market. I love learning more about things that have been part of my life for decades and about new things that I have just discovered.

While I have eaten cauliflower my whole life I never once considered the visual similarity between it and broccoli until I read the sentence; “Cauliflower and broccoli are the same species and have very similar structures, though cauliflower replaces the green flower buds with white inflorescence meristem” (An inflorescence is a group of flowers arranged on a stem that is composed of a main branch or a complicated arrangement of branches). I think this was so startling because I consider myself a very visual person and yet I hadn’t noticed something so obvious.  It was only when I allowed my curiosity to enter the process that I really saw the similarity. Now, I wonder what else is right in front of me that I’m not seeing?

Other interesting facts I found on my cauliflower quest were: its name is from the Italian cavolfiore, from cavolo cabbage and fiore flower and that it was introduced to France from Genoa in the 16th century. In today’s world there are four major groups of cauliflower; Italian (this is the ancestral form from which the others were derived), Northwest European (developed in France in the 19th century), Northern European (developed in Germany in the 18th century), and Asian (developed in India during the 19th century).  It was also noted that it is available in various colors beside white, including; green, purple, brown and yellow. To be honest, I haven’t tried the other colors. I have seen them in pictures and at a few gourmet markets. I’ve only eaten the white variety since that is what’s has been available at my market. But, if they do become available I’d definitely give them a try, especially if I can buy a small head.

This wonderful winter vegetable is low in fat and  high in dietary fiber and like many winter fruits and vegetables it is  high in vitamin C.

Cauliflower can be roasted, boiled (I don’t boil any vegetable except potatoes, I prefer steaming), fried, steamed or eaten raw. I’ve also read that low carb dieters use cauliflower as a reasonable substitute for potatoes. Hum, guess you would have to cook it until pretty soft to get the texture right when it’s pureed so that might be when they boil it. I still think I prefer the steam method. As you can see I haven’t tried it as a substitute for mashed potatoes.

steamed cauliflower with cheese sauce

roasted cauliflower with Parmesan

One of my childhood favorites is cauliflower that has been steamed till it’s just done then served with a simple cheese sauce. I have also tried it sliced, tossed with a good olive oil, salt and pepper then roasted until just browned then sprinkled with a nice Parmesan cheese. Another favorite is to slice the florets and steam them then toss with a pat of butter, salt and pepper.

Here’s a interesting way to fix cauliflower as a snack,  cauliflower popcorn. It’s an idea from Earth Eats by Annie Corrigan. They have all kinds of interesting articles on their site.

Another site with a yummy vegetarian version is Pinch My Salt, it’s steamed cauliflower with a curry butter and almonds. The recipe was adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

Cauliflower matches well with foods such as almonds and walnuts, bacon and ham, cheese, curry and hollandaise sauces, breadcrumbs, butter, lemon, mushrooms, herbs like chervil, chives, parsley and spices like nutmeg.

As you can see cauliflower is extremely versatile. No wonder it is used in cuisines throughout the world. If you haven’t given this highly nutritious, delicious vegetable a try you should. You just might grow to love it as much as I do.

SUMMER’S HARVEST

It all started this morning when I harvested more eggplant and squash. What to do with it? Last week I made Annie\’s Grilled Vegetable Lasagna again so I knew that was out. Then I remembered that I had a couple of yellow bell peppers that a friend had given me. So now I have eggplant, squash and peppers that need to be used in some way. What could I cook that would be a little different?

Then the idea popped into my head. A simmered dish using some nice free range chicken legs that I had just gotten on sale, diced eggplant and squash, sliced peppers, chopped onion, garlic and tomato, all flavored with some nice Madras Curry powder and fresh thyme.

The process; salt and pepper the chicken and brown in a little olive oil on all sides. Remove the chicken, add the eggplant and squash and lightly brown. Add the onion, peppers and garlic and cook until the vegetables just begin to soften. Add the tomato, about 1 tablespoon of Madras Curry powder (more if you really like the curry flavor to dominate) and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Add the chicken legs, pushing them down into the vegetables and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour. The meat on the legs should be easy to pierce with a fork and should come off the bone easily. When the meat was almost done I added about ¼ cup dried currants and continued simmering the mixture for about another 5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the vegetables, let cool a little, then remove the meat and chop into pieces. This dish, like all simmered dishes, will be more flavorful if you let it sit in the refrigerator, after cooking, for a day or so before you serve it.

I did eat a portion served over steamed brown rice today right after cooking it and it was tasty, but I know when I reheat it for dinner on Tuesday it will taste even better.

If you have a harvest you are wondering what to do with give this simple idea a try. You can use just about any combination of summer vegetables. I recommend using a dark meat cut of chicken or turkey if you do add meat since those cuts have more flavor and will add to the rustic taste of this stew. If you use white meat cook it separately, chop it and add it after the vegetables are cooked, otherwise the meat will tend to be dry. If you don’t want to use meat add some cubed tofu. If you don’t have your own summer harvest to deal with, pick up some fresh veggies at your Farmers’ Market. You’re sure to find a good selection there and you’ll be helping the farmers with their summer harvest.

Bon appetite!

NATIONAL FARMERS MARKET WEEK – August 1-7, 2010

THE OFFICIAL PROCLAMATION

By the Secretary of Agriculture of the United States of America

Whereas thousands of American farmers markets offer affordable and healthful products sold directly from the farm in their freshest possible state, increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables for children and families, which can help promote child health and reduce childhood obesity; and

Whereas farmers markets play a key role in developing local and regional food systems, support family farms, revitalize local communities, provide important outlets for producers and the opportunity for farmers and consumers to interact; and

Whereas the United States Department of Agriculture strongly supports farmers markets and other direct-to-consumer marketing activities for agricultural producers; and

Whereas farmers markets offer fresh healthy food via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program and address hunger through donations of unsold food;

Now, Therefore, to further awareness of farmers markets and of the contributions farmers make to daily life in America, I, Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, do hereby proclaim the week of August 1-7, 2010 as National Farmers Market Week. I encourage the people of the United States to celebrate the benefits of farmers markets with appropriate observances and activities.

In whitness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this 16th day of July 2010, the two-hundred thirty-fifth year of the Independence of the United States of America.

Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary

EXPERIENCE WHAT ALL THE BUZZ ABOUT “FRESH AND LOCAL” IS ALL ABOUT.  LINKS FOR  LISTINGS OF LOCAL FARMERS’ MARKETS, WITHIN THE UNITED STATES, CAN BE FOUND here or here.

I’LL BE THERE, HOPE YOU WILL TOO. BE SURE TO POST A COMMENT ON WHAT YOU FOUND AT YOUR MARKET. I’D LOVE TO SEE WHAT EVERYONE IS BRINGING HOME.