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

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Soup – The Perfect Food

The weather here in sunny Northern California has definitely changed.  Night temperatures have been in the 40’s, with the last couple of days barely hitting 60 with no sun to speak of.  Not exactly my favorite kind of weather. I much prefer the sunshine.  It’s these crisp fall days that remind me it’s time to start making one of my favorite meals again, soup. To my mind there is nothing better on a cold drizzly day than a hot bowl of homemade soup.

Soup was one of the things my mom often made during the late fall and winter months. It was the perfect way to feed eight growing children a healthy nutritious meal on tight budget. Sometimes it was made using beef bones, sometimes she used chicken or turkey and often it was with split peas or beans and veggies, lots of different veggies. Her soups were always delicious, filled you up and made you warm inside.

According to ehow\’s The History of Soup , soup making is considered to be as old as the history of cooking. Soup was and still is inexpensive to make; it’s filling and easy to digest making it the perfect food for young and old and all those in between.

I’m not much on canned soups. For me, they have far too much salt (needed as a preservative). But for many it is the only kind of soup they have ever experienced. I hope if you are one of those who has only experienced canned or processed soup you will try this simple soup recipe. It will provide you with a delicious soup in about a half hour. I know it takes more than opening a can but I promise you the little bit of work you do will be well worth the effort.

Chicken Vegetable Soup

First pour yourself a nice little glass of wine. Take a sip and then pour a little olive oil in a two-quart pot, add about a cup and a half of quartered crimini mushrooms and sauté until they just begin to brown. Remove to a bowl. Next add equal amounts of chopped carrot, onion and celery (this is called mirepoix) I added about a cup of each. Sauté the mixture until the onion softens, the celery and carrot may not be soft but that’s OK. Then add about a quart of chicken or vegetable stock (your preference homemade or canned, but be aware of the salt content if your using canned) a diced potato (firm red or white skinned variety is preferred) and some fresh herbs, I used sage, thyme and parsley and bring to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are just tender when you pierce them with a fork. With a potato masher, mash the mix a little to thicken the soup. Don’t mash too much unless you want a thick soup. At this point if you have mashed the stock and veggies a lot and want a thicker soup like chowder you can add some ½ and ½ and make it a cream stock and then add some diced cooked chicken or turkey. I didn’t go that route, but the more I write about it and think how tasty that would be, I may be trying that soon. Along with the chicken I added some leftover cooked green beans. Once it’s all together give it a good stir, let the chicken and green beans warm up and your soup is ready to serve. For a delicious topper I added some fresh sage leaves that I had sautéed in butter until they were crisp.  Shredded Parmesan cheese is also a nice addition to this soup but I didn’t add it this time.

Remember the mirepoix, it’s a basic for many soups and sauces.  Add some stock, fresh herbs, vegetables, grains, and meat if you wish and in about 30 minutes you’ll have an economical meal that will warm your soul and make you smile.

Ananas

I have had this post in a folder on my desktop for two months now and for whatever reason, none of them very good that I can think of, I couldn’t get it from my desktop to Anniespickns. Yes, work was pretty intense for a month or so, and yes I have been running around seeing all kinds of beautiful scenery and getting my gardens planted but the article was pretty much done, just sitting there. But in my mind it would take more effort than I was willing to give to move it to it’s final resting place, until this morning. I awoke at 5:05am and was sure that the correct time was 6:05am since the time change occurred earlier this morning. Then after I had gotten up, put on the tea water and awoken my Mac I realized that I was indeed up an hour earlier than needed, and this on a Sunday morning. So after I read a few blogs I follow,  the guilt of not dealing with my own blog got the best of me and I opened the folder marked ananas.doc and got to work. Here finally is the result.

Last year I grew Ambrosia melons in my little garden.  They are by far my favorite melon so my intention was to grow them again this year. I don’t get very many off one vine, I think I got 3 last year, but there is something very satisfying about being able to pick a melon out of your backyard then take it inside, cut it open and eat it. Well, when I was at the Davis Farmers Market this spring looking for melon plants I found one called Ananas, an historic heirloom variety, grown by Thomas Jefferson in 1794 and offered commercially in the USA in 1824.   It sounded interesting, so I bought one, with the hope that it would equal or surpass my beloved Ambrosia.

Into the ground it went. It flourished and grew, and spread throughout the squash plant and intermingled with the Persian Baby Cucumbers. I fed it and watered it and dreamed of the day when I would finally get to taste it. I started seeing blooms, then small melons the size of the tip of my pinky.  The melons grew larger as the summer wore on. The melons continued to develop but still were very green. Just before Labor Day I noticed that the first melon was starting to turn a lighter color and finally it turned yellow. I checked it to see if the stem would fall away from the melon several times before it finally did. There it was, my beautiful Ananas melon, ripe and ready to eat. Into the house I went. I cut it in half. The aroma was sweet and the juicy ivory colored flesh had a blush of orange color in the center where the seeds were. Now the test, my first bite. Well, the flavor didn’t blow my socks off but it was good. I harvested three melons from my little vine and enjoyed each of them but I think I will go back to my Ambrosia next year, unless something else peaks my curiosity.

Here’s a bit of information I found when I was doing a little research on the Ananas; “The Ananas melon is one of the most popular heirloom melons grown in the United States today and is also widely grown in the Middle East. Another common name for this variety is Pineapple Melon.” Interesting that it is supposedly one of the most popular heirloom melons grown in the US and I had never heard of it and the farmer who I bought the plant from was trying it for the first time also.  Melons are part of the plant family Cucurbitaceae, which consists of squashes, melons and gourds, including cucumber, and luffas and those with edible fruits were amongst the earliest cultivated plants in both the Old and New Worlds.  The fruit is often a kind of modified berry called a pepo (a modified berry with a hard outer rind). For more information on “true” berries including a good description of the term check out my post  “Persimmons are true berries – What?”.

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.

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?

Funny Looking, Fuzzy and Flattened = Sweet, Succulent and Seductive

Donut Peaches

This funny looking, fuzzy, flattened peach is described on the  Specialty Produce web site as “scrumptiously delicious and almost candy-like”. That’s pretty much what I thought when I tried these Donut peaches last year. So, when I saw them at the market Sunday I gathered them up cuz if I remember rightly they weren’t available for very long.

The minute I put them in my bag I knew I wanted to share how good they are with you. So, when I got home I took this picture, and then did a little research so I could find out more about them; like where they came from, their nutritional value, and any other little bits of information that might catch my fantasy. I love learning more about the foods I really like, especially their history.

While researching I found this great list of the “Top 10 Reasons to Try a Donut Peach” from Mother Earth News. I couldn’t agree with this list more if I had written it myself.

1. They taste better than other peaches. They’re sweeter, with almond overtones.
2. They are lower in acid than other peaches.
3. The pit doesn’t cling to the flesh, so it’s easy to pop out with your thumb.
4. The fruit’s thin, red skin has little or no fuzz, so it doesn’t have to be peeled.
5. Their small size lends itself to being eaten out of hand.

The last five reasons have to do with growing your own Saturn (Donut) peach tree(s). Good reasons, but since I don’t have room I’ll just leave that part up to the wonderful farmers who do and, who bring these little beauties to the market for me to enjoy. If you have room then maybe you’ll consider planting one. I can’t think of anything better than being able to sit under your own tree and snack away.
6. The frost-hardy, highly pest- and disease-resistant trees are easy to grow in most areas.
7. You can count on Saturn peach trees to produce an abundant harvest up to twice as many peaches as other varieties.
8. The trees bloom earlier in the spring than other varieties, and put on an absolutely spectacular show of pink blossoms.
9. Most of the nursery stock is now grafted to dwarf roots, making easy work of pruning and harvesting.
10. By planting a rarer variety of peach, you are helping to preserve biodiversity and maintain diverse seed stocks for generations to come.

Now a little history: Originally from Asia, flat peaches have been cultivated for centuries. In the mid-1800s, several varieties were exported to the US, and Chinese flat peaches, as they were called, became popular for a brief period of time. The fruits fell out of fashion, however, and the flat peach was considered an essentially lost heirloom variety until the 1990s, when it began to enter widespread cultivation again. Definitely my thanks go out to those who brought this little beauty back into cultivation.

Nutrition: Like other peaches they are low in calories and high in vitamins A & C. And, this one is low in acid, which is why it tastes so sweet.

And, the best information I found was that they are grown right here in California’s central valley. Local and yummy!

If you find them at your market ask for a sample. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how sweet and juicy they are.

Five Reasons To Care About Where Your Food Comes From

Five Reasons To Care About Where Your Food Comes From is a beautifully written article By Yvonne Maffei who blogs for Earth Eats a publication of Indiana Public Media. It is a must read for all you who care about what you eat and where it comes from.