How to Store Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

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Did you know that apples should be stored at room temperature for the first seven days and then go into the refrigerator? That ginger should be stored only at room temp? Preventing food waste is a topic getting a lot of attention thanks to a new documentary, Just Eat It. Estimates are that 40% of all food ends up in the dumpster.

UC Davis has an incredible resource for preventing food waste in our homes in the form of a pdf you can print out and post on your refrigerator. We’ve linked to it before, but it’s worth repeating: Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Better Taste.

021 The Queen of Quince

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A conversation about the ultimate slow food, quince, with Barbara Ghazarian, author of Simply Quince and Simply Armenian. If you have room, you should definitely make room for a quince tree. If not, you should work with this amazing fruit. During the podcast Barbara discusses how to prep and cook quince. We also talk about savory dishes made with quince and take a detour into a discussion about muhammara. We also discuss:

You can find out much more about quince on Barbara’s website: queenofquince.com. You can connect with Team Quince on Facebook and on Twitter: @gotquince

If you’d like to plant a quince tree check out the selection of bare root trees at Bay Laurel Nursery. Order soon as they sell out.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Why You Should Grow Pomegranates if You Can

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If I could only have one tree I think it might be a pomegranate. Why?

  • Pomegranate trees have beautiful, bright red flowers in the spring and handsome yellow leaves in the fall.
  • They grow fast.
  • They have few pests.
  • They are drought tolerant.
  • They produce delicious fruit.
  • Require low chill hours.
  • They live long–200 years or more.

The big downside for, probably, most of the readers of this blog is that pomegranates are frost sensitive. And the fruit will split if it rains in the fall. But if you live in a warm, dry climate you need to get one!

The variety we have is Wonderful, not all that exciting as this is the variety at the supermarket. If I had to plant one again I’d probably choose a more exotic pomegranate. That said, Wonderful is still wonderful–big, juicy and delicious.

The time to order your bare root fruit trees is now! Our favorite source, Bay Laurel has a nice selection of pomegranates. Just order now for winter delivery, as they sell out. Pomegranates can also be propagated easily from cuttings and, along with figs and olives, are just about the only fruit trees that aren’t grafted.

Do you have a pomegranate tree? What variety do you have?

An Ancient Quince Recipe

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The Karp’s Sweet quince in our front yard, despite struggling in terrible soil, has finally started producing. This year we got about three pounds. Some of the fruit gets sunburned (note to self–put up some shade cloth next year!). But I’ve been able to cut out the browned part.

Each year the question comes up as to what to do with the fruit. You can eat Karp’s Sweet quince raw, but the texture is still quince-like, which is to say somewhat gritty and course. And each year I promise I’ll pick up a copy of Barbara Ghazarian’s comprehensive book Simply Quince, but somehow I never get around to it.

Last year I tried to make quince jelly, but overshot the jell point and ended up with jars of delicious tasting, but disagreeably hard quince gum. And Kelly just threw out my burned membrillo from last year.

This year Kevin West, author of Saving the Season came to the rescue with an ancient (the first known reference to a sweet preserve) and simple recipe by Pliny. The full recipe is on West’s website,  but to summarize you simply cook quince in equal parts honey and water until it turns red. The addition of a small amount of cracked pepper cuts the sweetness ever so slightly. You can then process the jars in a hot water bath. The end result is quince slices preserved in honey. It turned out great and, without having to worry about the jell point, reduced the anxiety level associated with preserving my entire harvest at once.

Do you have a quince tree? What do you do with the fruit?

017 Heirloom Expo Recap

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On the seventeenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and Erik discuss Erik’s recent trip to the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, California. Some of the things and people we mention during the podcast:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Frida Paints Luther

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Sometimes an artist’s works are reproduced so much that familiarity obscures meaning. Da Vinchi and Andy Warhol have fallen victim to this. I’ve seen Frida Kahlo’s portrait in Mexican restaurants so often I’ve come to associate her work with combo platters and Margueritas.

A slide in John Valenzuela’s Heirloom Expo lecture of Kahlo’s portrait of horticulturalist Luther Burbank reminded me of how great an artist Kahlo was. That Kahlo painted Burbank also says something about people’s priorities in the 1930s.

Kahlo liked to blur the boundaries between human consciousness, the vegetable and the animal. In her portrait of Burbank she touches on themes of life, death and transformation. You could write a book about what’s going on in this painting.

Burbank’s work lives on inour backyards and orchards in the form of the fruit varieties he developed. I’ll view his Santa Rosa plum in our front yard differently after encountering Kahlo’s virtuosic painting.

Pakistan Mulberry Fever

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Let me just say Pakistan mulberries. Now let me say it again. Pakistan Mulberries.  Let’s all repeat that as a mantra.

What are they? The tastiest fruit in the know universe. Imagine a longish, very sweet but ever so slightly exotic tasting berry. The problem: they go bad so fast that you practically have to eat them off the tree. The other problem: we have no more room left to grow a Pakistan mulberry tree. Thankfully fruit tree guru Steve Hofvendahl sold me two small strawberry cartons full of them over the weekend.

Now I need a regular Pakistani mulberry fix. If I wanted to plant one Bay Laurel Nursery has several varieties. It’s mostly a warm climate plant but some varieties do better in lower temperatures.

Here’s what Steve had to say about his six year old tree which he thinks is the “Cooke” variety:

It has totally thrived and become huge.  I have to top back huge vertical branches every year after harvest season and tie limbs down laterally.
And the harvest goes on and on and is not easy, you cannot shake the tree without bringing down loads of green fruit and stubborn ripe berries won’t fall.  You have to hand pick and it takes about 2-3 hours of combing over the tree from all the different angles with the orchard ladder.
Then I soak ‘em in a vinegar water solution and rinse and lay in flats refrigerated and finally weigh the good ones up, the not so good ones get made into delicious juice for jellies and my Jamalade with cumquats and/or habanero.
So it would probably maybe still be worth it to you but know what you are maybe getting into!

Again, the taste is so amazing that if I had the room I’d say it’s worth the hassle of harvesting.

Note from Mrs. Homegrown:  I wanted to add that the odd things about these mulberries is that they have a green stem which runs all the way through the center of the fruit, so when you eat them your sort  of scrape the fruit (drupes?) off the stem with your teeth, then discard it. Not that this is a problem–they’re delicious! I guess the stem is necessary to support their length.

From the Archives: Loquat Leather

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Judging from the reaction to Mrs. Homegrown’s post yesterday it looks like some folks have a loquat obsession. Welcome home brothers and sisters.

At the risk of tooting my own loquat horn and repeating an old blog post, Mrs. H neglected to mention my controversial 2012 loquat leather experiment and recipe. You’ve still got to de-seed the damn things but at least there’s no need to skin them. Plus it makes use of booze.

I’ll admit it’s not a thrilling fruit leather but it’s not too bad.

Mrs. Homegrown chimes in:

My philosophy is simply that if one is going to go through the trouble of making fruit leather, preserves, pies etc., one should use outstanding fruit. The flavor tells in the end. After all, the starving times are not upon us. Even Erik can’t get super excited about this fruit leather–as I recall it tasted mostly of lemon and booze.

Then again, some people may have outstanding loquats–it sounds so from the comments on the last post. The ones we have access to just aren’t fantastic for preserving–too watery, too light. I just learned that there are over 800 cultivars of loquats, so there’s going to be lots of different loquat experiences.

Loquat season is here!

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photo courtesy of wikimedia

Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) season is upon us here in our neighborhood of HaFoSaFo (that is, one special corner of Los Angeles).

This post will not have much relevance to those of you who do not live in a subtropical or mild climate, but for those of you who do, I highly encourage you to get to know the humble yet mysterious loquat.

Loquat trees abound in our neighborhood, and I don’t know if this is a purely local phenomenon or not. Loquats are hardy evergreen trees with thick, glossy leaves that remind me of citrus leaves and magnolia leaves and avocado leaves all at the same time, meaning it’s vaguely tropical looking.

They don’t seem to require much water or pruning–so they do well under benign neglect, though I’d suspect the fruit is best on trees which are not completely ignored.  This is the time of year when the fruit comes ripe, and it’s always kind of an exciting time because the loquats bridge the “fruit gap” between winter citrus and stone fruit.

The thing about loquats is that they are really suited only for fresh eating. And I mean fresh off the tree–they don’t keep long after they’ve been picked, which is why they never appear in stores. We’ve tried to figure out things to do with them, but they defy preservation because they are made mostly of water. They are also small, have skins which are impossible to peel (you just eat the skins), and large pits, all of which makes processing difficult. Yet they can be really tasty. The best ones taste a little like citrus honey and have a nice floral fragrance. Their light, watery flesh is refreshing on a hot day

(If anyone has figured out something to do with loquats other than eat them out of hand, please do let us know! The best we’ve been able to do is to infuse them in vodka, and that was not all that thrilling in the end.)

They are highly prolific, too. So right now all of the loquat trees in the ‘hood are studded with hundreds upon hundreds (thousands, maybe?) of little yellow-orange fruits. These fruits seem to be nuisances to most homeowners–I rarely see a tree which looks as if it’s being harvested, or if it is, the harvesting does not make a dent in the bounty. After all, how many fresh loquats can you gobble down in a day? All of which is to say I feel no guilt about snagging loquats off of accessible trees as I walk around.* On-the-hoof snacking is one of the pleasures of walking at this time of year!
Ripe loquats tend to be a little larger and fatter than the unripe ones, and the color is darker. They also have a tiny bit of give under the fingers. You’ll get a sense of how to tell which ones are best with experience. I usually rub the fuzz off the skin before eating, which, in my book, counts as washing. Beware the pits! Some trees have better fruit than others, so if you try a loquat and find it less than thrilling, try fruit from another tree. You may find a new favorite seasonal treat.
ETA:  Days after posting, I just got around to reading the Wikpedia entry on loquat. (ahem) Turns out there are over 800 cultivars of loquat, some of which are bred for smaller seeds and sweeter fruit, others which are bred for white or orange flesh, others which are bred for backyard production, meaning they fruit in waves, a bit at a time, while others are bred for commercial production, meaning their fruit appears and ripens all at once.  Some trees are meant to be ornamental. Methinks some of the trees in our neighborhood are commercial producers, and others downright feral. All of this is to say that there is going to be a huge variation in the loquat experience from place to place–which is reflected in the comments below.
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*Re: fruit foraging: I consider it fair/legal to snag fruit from street trees, those trees growing on the strip of public land between the street and the sidewalk, and fruit which overhangs the sidewalk. Now, of course, you don’t want to be a jerk about this–I pay attention to context, and won’t take fruit that people seem to be using, or which seems precious in any way. (Loquats I classify as a weed/borderline nuisance.) It’s never okay to step onto someone’s land to take fruit.

Also, I would never take vegetables from any part of a yard, public or not. That’s just different. To take a random example, I would never, say, help myself to someone’s giant squash.

And it’s important not to be greedy. I don’t take more than one fruit from a tree at a time (or maybe two or three, in the case of loquats). But if the tree is burdened with fruit and rotten fruit is splattering on the sidewalk, it seems more a favor than anything else to take one or two.

Of course, it is always best to ask the homeowner for permission. In the case of loquats, we’ve done this in order to harvest them in quantity for our preservation experiments. Homeowners are usually happy to share, even let you onto their land, to make use of their fruit. It turns out most folks just don’t know what to do with the bounty of fruit trees, or just don’t have the time/equipment/mobility to deal with harvest. In return, if you get permission to take lots of fruit, you can return some to them in the form of preserves or whatnot. This keeps the good will flowing.

How to Plant a Fruit Tree

It’s bare root fruit tree planting season here in California and this video, from the Dave Wilson Nursery, shows you how to plant your trees once they arrive in the mail. One quibble–it’s been proven to be not a good idea to amend soil when you’re planting a tree. Other than that, this is how we’ve planted our trees and they’ve all grown well.

And I wish that I had done the radical pruning you see at the end of the video. Cutting the tree to knee height will give you a shorter, more manageable tree.

You can find more home orcharding videos on the Dave Wilson website.