Bring on the ‘Cots!

Anyone who has ever purchased an apricot at the supermarket has probably already learned an expensive lesson: don’t bother. Occasionally, if you’re fortunate enough to find fruits that are organically and locally-grown, they may indeed taste okay—but you will surely pay a premium for the rarity. This is yet another good reason to buy your produce at the farmers’ market.

In order to develop their distinctive floral fragrance, sweetness, and velvety texture, apricots need to ripen on the tree. There is simply no other way. Unfortunately the tree-ripening process also leaves them soft and far too fragile to ship without bruising. This may be less of a problem for California locavores, but many of the apricot orchards that once blessed our state have been replaced by housing developments and high-tech office parks, seriously reducing sources for tree-ripened fruit. Due to increased land values and the related expenses, apricot growers who held their ground and stayed in business now must often rely on selling to large commercial canners, jam-producers, and other fruit preservers in order to remain solvent.

To meet consumer demand throughout the United States, scientists thought the answer was to develop bruise-resistant apricot varieties designed to appear picture-perfect for weeks at a time and withstand all sorts of abuse during shipping. Too good to be true? You bet. One bite into that tough, mealy little orb and you’ll know you’ve been had. It’s frightening to think there is an entire generation that assumes this is how apricots should taste

When you first encounter a golden pile of tree-ripened apricots at the farmers’ market, no doubt you’ll immediately want to eat your fill out-of-hand. Go ahead. Be greedy. Apricot season is short but sweet, making this a perfectly justifiable indulgence. But don’t forget to purchase a pound-or-two more to incorporate into family meals for the week. Start the day with apricot halves topped with Greek yogurt, a few California almonds, and a drizzle of local honey. At cocktail time, tuck a spoonful of goat or blue cheese into pitted apricot halves. Make your own compotes and chutneys to serve with pork or poultry, or add apricots to a Moroccan lamb stew.

The following free-form tart is called a galette in France or a crostata in Italy. Regardless where you live, this rustic dessert is a winner. If making a traditional pie terrifies you, this easy preparation provides all of the flavor with none of the angst. And no peeling required!

Perfectly ripe fruit is arranged on a pastry round, then the ends of the dough are folded up and over to create an edge that holds in the juices. If you feel the urge to get fancy, top the fruit with some toasted sliced almonds or a splash of amaretto before baking…but simple is usually better. Once apricot season comes to a close, you can make this dessert with berries, peaches, nectarines, or plums.

This pastry is a dream to work with, but when pressed for time substitute a sheet of prepared pie dough.

APRICOT GALETTE

Buttery Pastry Dough (recipe follows)

1 pound ripe apricots (8 to 12 apricots), pitted and halved or quartered, if large

6 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

  1. Prepare the dough and chill as directed. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

 

  1. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 13- to 14-inch circle or oval about 1/8-inch thick. (It’s fine if the shape is slightly irregular. There is also no need to trim the edges of the pastry; they should remain a bit ragged.) Loosely drape the dough around a rolling pin and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

 

  1. Arrange the apricots on top of the pastry, leaving a wide, 2- to 3-inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the apricots with the 6 tablespoons sugar and dot with the butter. Using your fingers, fold the pastry border up and over the filling, pleating the pastry as needed to fit. Brush the pastry edge lightly with water and sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar.

 

  1. Bake until the apricots are bubbly-hot and the pastry is crisp and golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes. Let the galette cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then use 1 or 2 wide spatulas to slide it carefully onto a wire cooling rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, cutting into wedges with a pizza wheel or sharp knife. Serves 4 to 6. This is best served the same day it is made, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

Buttery Pastry Dough

 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and refrigerated until firm

1/3 cup ice water

 

  1. In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Process briefly to blend. Add the butter and process for 5 seconds.

 

  1. With the machine running, add the ice water, processing just until the dough begins to come together. Form the dough into a smooth ball and flatten into a 6-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or as long as 2 days. Freeze for longer storage.

 

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

The Rosés of Summer

Summer is here! Time to let down your hair, slip on your flip-flops, and pop open the rosé. Rosé is the ultimate summer wine, enjoyed by savvy Europeans vacationing on the beaches of St. Tropez and other sunny destinations for decades. As the warmest months descend upon the Northern Hemisphere, great waves of rosé (called “rosado” in Spain and “rosato” in Italy) wash over the shores of Europe and fill the impatient glasses of the thirsty population.

Why rosé? Why not? Rosé is pink in color and beautiful to the eye, floral and perfumed to the nose, and fruity but dry on the palate. Its refreshing acidity is bracing and cleanses the mouth between bites of food. Rosé is made from red wine grapes and takes its color from the skins. Depending on which variety of grapes is used and how long the grape skins are left in contact with the juice, the resulting wine can range from a pale, onionskin color to a deep, almost red hue. The finished color has nothing to do with the quality or intensity of the wine.

As all wines are different, so are all rosés. They can range from light to full-bodied, fruity and tangy to crisp and bone-dry, zippy and light to lush and smooth. The differences are part of the fun and an excellent reason to try many different rosés all year long. Rosé is meant to be enjoyed young. Buy it and drink it, don’t save it for a rainy day or stick it indefinitely in your cellar. A rosé wine should be no more than 2-3 years old. Sparkling rosé is the only exception to the rule and has the ability to age in a temperature-controlled cellar.

Rosé pairs perfectly with just about everything but truly shines when paired with classic picnic foods such as cheese and charcuterie, sandwiches and quiche. Casual bistro food is a perfect fit with rosé. It is a delightful accompaniment to savory fried calamari, briny oysters, crispy French fries, and juicy hamburgers. While we think of rosé as a summer wine, served lightly chilled at the shore, it can easily be enjoyed throughout the year with heavier seasonal fare like stuffed pork tenderloin and roasted salmon.

The United States showed up late to the rosé party. In fact, the USA was a little tardy to the wine party altogether. Unlike Europe, which has a history of wine consumption going back thousands of years, the USA was not a wine drinking nation until the 1970s. Rather than wine, Americans favored cocktails a la “Madmen,” and beer, of course.

When the wines of California began gaining international acclaim, Americans wondered what the fuss was all about. We ventured cautiously into the new and exciting world of dry table wines. Vineyards in Napa went on to become world famous and USA production of wine soared. Today, wine is produced in every state in the union, ranging from classic European varieties to sweet ice wines to fabulous, fruit wines from states like Idaho and Hawaii.

So how did rosé make its way into our vocabulary? Slowly but surely. We started drinking sparkling pink wine back in the 1940s with sweet wines like Mateus and Lancers. But these were not “serious” wines. They were created specifically for the American market, rather like Coca-cola for the older crowd. Dry wines were not favored and wine pairing with food was unheard of at the time.

Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel blasted onto the scene in 1975 after a fortuitous winemaking error and the sugary pink wine went on to define rosé for most Americans. The success of white zinfandel made many Americans assume that all pink wines were sweet. Rosé as a class of wines became gauche and discerning wine sippers avoided it. Fortunately, Americans went on to greater wine sophistication and learned the joys of dry rosé. Today the United States is the greatest wine-consuming nation in the world and at last, rosé wines have gained their rightful place in the hearts of Americans.

Rosé is such a favorite now that most restaurants serve it by the glass and offer a few different bottles on their wine lists. Some historic French rosés to seek out include Tavel, from the Southern Rhone Valley and Bandol from sunny Provence. An all-time favorite produced right here in California is Bonny Doon’s Vin Gris.

The warm weather is upon us. Better stock up now. Cheers!

 

 

 

Tomatoes, Roses & Clematis

Q. I have two tomato plants growing in large pots. They’re doing real well, in fact you can almost watch them grow. But, I’m a bit concerned because they are so very bushy. Should I strip some of the growth off or just let them continue on?

 A. It is important for tomatoes to be bushy with lots of leaves. The foliage protects the ripening tomatoes from sunburn so the leaves act as a type of sunblock. Sunburn is a tan/beige spot that forms on the south and southwest side of the fruits. But, you can have too much of a good thing, so I’d be thinning the growth throughout the season. Plants will become very crowded and dense as they mature, especially when you’re using a tomato cage. Thinning lets in more light and increases air circulation throughout the plant, keeping the inside foliage from turning brown. Also, the dense foliage is a perfect hiding plant for the Tomato Hornworm. Hornworms on tomatoes are a problem June through September. The Hornworm is the larva stage of a moth. The adult moth lays its eggs near the center of the plant. Its only purpose is to eat—which it does twenty/four seven until it gets very large and drops to the soil where it goes through another stage of the metamorphosis and emerges as an adult moth. Signs of Hornworms are holes in the leaves and black droppings on the ground. You control them with BT or Captain Jack Dead Bug Brew. Both of these insecticides are safe to use on edibles.

Q. I have removed the spent flowers on my roses, but, I’m concerned because there are absolutely no leaves on the branches. Looking at them, one would think it’s the middle of winter. What has happened and will the foliage return?

A. The rainy periods in March and April is the cause of your problem. Roses are susceptible to rust, Black Spot and mildew. Black Spot causes the leaves to have yellow spots with black blotches, and as the disease progresses, the foliage drops off. Rust gives you orange spots on the back of the leaves, and mildew forms a white film on the foliage, stems and buds. These are air-borne diseases that attack when moisture remains on the foliage after the sun has gone down. There are plenty of products available to control these diseases but they don’t eradicate the problem. The best solution is Bayer Advanced All in One Rose Care. It’s a systemic control applied to the roots before the diseases show up, so, it’s ideal to use in early March when the new growth is about an inch long. It gives six weeks of protection against rust, Black Spot and mildew, and this should keep the foliage pristine through the end of the rain season. A fourth disease called Downey Mildew can also be troublesome when cool, damp conditions are present for an extended period. Downy Mildew is usually limited to the coastal areas where there is a strong marine influence, but there can be years where it’s widespread. This disease is often confused with Black Spot because of the similar yellow spots with black leaf blotches. The most distinguishing characteristic of Downey Mildew is the plant’s extreme and rapid (overnight) defoliation. But from your question, Black Spot is more than likely your problem and not Downey Mildew. Your biggest concern right now should be températures over ninety degrees for those plants in the afternoon sun. Without any leaves, sunburn is a big concern for the stems. You protect these plants by draping shade cloth over them until the new growth returns. The new growth should return in four to six weeks.

Q. Why is my Clematis growing poorly? The lower leaves have turned brown and a few of the ends are shriveling up. Generally speaking, most of the leaves on one plant look very poor. The Clematis next to it is thriving and getting ready to bloom. I’d like its neighbor to do the same. What should I be doing?

A. In solving this mystery, I’d investigate the planting depth. I’d remove some of the soil to locate the top of the first root. Clematis, and plants in general, are buried too deep if the top of the first root is more than a half inch below the soil surface. It is very common to plant in a bowl shape hole.  Unfortunately, the sides collapse quickly inward, burying the plant. Instead, the root ball should be at or above the soil surface after planting. You correct this by digging the plant up and raising the top of the root ball to the soil surface using a shovel and filling in the void under the plant with soil to prevent it from re-sinking. Mulch is added later to insulate the roots and conserve moisture. I believe the number one non-pest reason for erratic plant behavior, stagnate growth, and then plants dying, is clay soil and plants being planted too