Category Archives: food

Odd and Unusual Edible Berries

Berries. Delicious delectable berries. These incredibly delicious little morsels of flavor have lately been on my mind. They are sweet, yet packed full of nutrients.

Maybe more importantly to my little tale of planning and planting a farm, I happened to purchase acreage in what is known as the “berry basket” of the California Central Coast. The farms in my immediate neighborhood grow endless amounts of berries in the fields surrounding us. These berry farms range in size from the relatively small independent growers to huge national giants like Dole and Driscoll with 1000s of acres of berries.

berries

Now, we simply don’t have enough land to profitably grow a single mono-crop at scale and make a profit. Not to mention, mono-culture, well, it’s kind of boring. However, the thought of growing berries has been growing in my mind as a way to use the obvious climate and soil attributes of the land we happened to purchase. Strawberries in neat plastic wrapped rows as well as endless fields of hoop houses filled with raspberries and blackberries are all over the hills and flats of Pajaro Valley. Berry growing obviously works here.

Strawberry_Fields_by_Rosalind Mitchell
Strawberry Fields – Image by Rosalind Mitchell

 

And berry shrubs are tough little bastards. They are relatively pest resistant, disease free, will grow in sun to part-shade as well as a variety of soils. Fruit tees, by contrast, can be really finicky, demanding, and downright wimpy. Fruit trees seem to be quite attractive to all sorts of bugs, blights, scabs, worms, moths and other forms of pestilence.

So, I have been researching unusual types of edible berries that should grow around here, and have come up with a short list (mmm maybe not so short list) of 25 or so varieties I want to try. The research has been a blast, because there are just a ton of weird sounding edible berries out there, and they all can be mine! Goumi, aronia, salal, chernika, goldenberries, gaulnetya, whortleberries – all these things to eat that I have never eaten before, how crazy exciting!

One part of the general grand scheme for this property is to plan and plant out a few rotating test gardens, where I carve out an eighth to a quarter of an acre, and plant many varieties of a theme, to see what thrives and what fails. Edible flowers, rare culinary herbs and a hop and grape trellis are all in the experimental plans. But I shall definitely be starting these plots first with a berry patch, probably as soon as next month, February. There just happens to be a circular area in front of the house dominated by a beautiful old Monterey Cypress. I think it should cast the right amount of filtered shade that some of these berries crave, and also generate the acidic soil many of them prefer as well. Also, it’s RIGHT in front of the house, and the ground is looking kind of barren and sad at the moment.

So, I am not going to bore you with the minutae of each of the 26 or so berries and cultivars I plan to order (for those interested in the nitty-gritty details, the planting diagram and full list of berries are listed below). Instead, I’ll just briefly describe the three with the most entertaining names – salal, adonia and whortleberry.

Salal_berries_by_Darren Giles
Salal – Image by Darren Giles

 

Salal is actually native to the American West, and I have definitely seen it on trail hikes and wondered, can I eat that and will it be yummy? Or will I die a terrible and agonizing death? Now, I know – eat it. Both the berries and the young leaves are edible and supposedly tasty. The Latin for salal is lovely too, Gaultheria shallon.

Salal_(Gaultheria_shallon)_Leaf_and_Flowers_by_Wing-Chi Poon
Immature Salal – Image by Wing Chi Poon

 

Aronia is also known as chokeberry, but since that is a rather unappealing name, we will go with the latin. There are also often an astringent berry, but delicious when cooked or preserved. Aronia makes a for a pretty ornamental bush, and the berries themselves are lovely to see. The Wikipedia page for aronia also has some interesting factoids about their incredibly high levels of anti-oxidants and polyphenols.

Aronia_berries
Aronia – Image from Wikipedia

 

Whortleberry , well, the name alone had me, is the single item on my list that has actually been somewhat hard to track down for purchase. It is originally from Nepal and is related to blueberries and cranberries. It’s supposed to be tasty, and good for butterflies and bees as well. Also known as  Vaccinium nummularia for the purists, this berry is not available at either of two favorite nurseries for this kind of thing: Raintree and One Green World. However, a bit of deep searching led me to the quite charming Bovees Nursery in Portland, which has not only my elusive Whortleberry, but a few other edible vacciniums I have never encountered before. I think I will now add Red Bilberry (Vaccinium parvifolium), which they also carry,  to my complete unusual berry ordering list below.

Vaccinium_parvifolium_jko0928107-by_Wallace W. Hansen
Red Bilberry – Image by Wallace W. Hansen

The little diagram below is a rough sketch of how I plan to lay out my berry patch. The actual planting will probably vary a bit, based on where we run irrigation, but I did want to at least make sure my planned orders would make sense.

Berry Patch 2

And this is my complete ordering list with links to their sources. If anyone else plans to order these berries, or other varieties, please let me know so we can compare growing notes.

FOR THE SHADE

Salal:
http://www.raintreenursery.com/berries/salal/
plant in shade 4 ft apart

Highbush Cranberries:
http://www.raintreenursery.com/Berries/Highbush_Cranberries/
8′ feet apart

FOR THE SUN

Blue Honeysuckle:
http://www.raintreenursery.com/Berries/Blue_Honeysuckles/
plant 6 feet apart

Aronia:
http://www.raintreenursery.com/Berries/Aronias/
full sun 4-6 feet apart

Goumi:
http://www.raintreenursery.com/Berries/Goumi/
full sun 7′ apart

Sea Berries:
http://www.raintreenursery.com/Berries/Sea_Berries/
7′ apart in full sun

PART SUN PART SHADE

Goji Berry:
http://www.raintreenursery.com/Berries/Goji_Berry/
full to part sun, 8-10 feet tall
order 4 plants

Currants, Black Red, Pink & White:
http://www.raintreenursery.com/Berries/Currants/
4′ feet apart, sun or partial shade

Gooseberries:
http://www.raintreenursery.com/Berries/Gooseberries/
sun or part shade, 3-4′ apart

Elderberries:
http://www.raintreenursery.com/Berries/Elderberries/
10′ feet apart in sun or part-shade

Chilean Guava:
https://www.onegreenworld.com/Chilean%20Guava/ChileanGuava/1336/
part shade, 3-4′ apart

Chernika:
https://www.onegreenworld.com/Chernika/550/
3′ apart, 1/2 day to full sun

Chilean Wintergreen (3 varieties):
https://www.onegreenworld.com/Chilean%20Wintergreen/389/
2-3′ apart, part-shade in hot climates

Pilgrim Cranberry:
https://www.onegreenworld.com/Cranberry/Pilgrim/1344/
6′ apart, full sun to part shade

Gaulnettya:
https://www.onegreenworld.com/Gaulnettya/WisleyPearl/1434/
3′ apart, part-shade

Early Blooming Honeyberry:
https://www.onegreenworld.com/Early%20Blooming%20Honeyberry/642/
4-5′ apart, part shade in hot climates, full sun further north

Late Blooming Honeyberry:
https://www.onegreenworld.com/Late%20Blooming%20Honeyberry/661/
4-5′ apart, part shade in hot climates, full sun further north

Lingonberry:
https://www.onegreenworld.com/Lingonberry/RedPearl/1580/
1′ apart, part shade in hot climates, full sun further north

Whortleberry:
Part shade, 1′ apart
http://www.bovees.com/comp%20plants%2011-30-2013.html

Red Bilberry
Part shade, 4 ft apart
http://www.bovees.com/comp%20plants%2011-30-2013.html

 

A Plenitude of Persimmons

I am slightly obsessed with persimmons. They never really registered in my consciousness  before I moved to California. Turns out there is a native variety in Indiana where I grew up, but I didn’t notice the trees as a kid, only the ubiquitous and delicious persimmon pudding made from them. But those Midwestern natives are a different tree entirely from what I encountered when I moved to California. Here, people grow Japanese persimmon varieties which produce gorgeous orange globes in late November, hanging from otherwise bare trees in a late and exuberant showing of abundance.

Persimmons on a Tree
Persimmons on a Tree

As many of you probably know, there are two basic varieties of persimmons, astringent and non-astringent. Fuyu is the most common non-astringent variety and is delicious just eaten raw like an apple or cut up in salads. A fuyu, pomegranate seed and walnut salad with fresh greens is my definition of late fall farm-to-table delight. And then there are the astringent varieties of which Hachiya is the best known. The astringent varieties are a bit harder to consume. They have to ripen just to the point of being over-ripe to become truly sweet and lose their mouth puckering astringency. Quite frankly, by the time they are perfectly ripe, the texture of the fruit resembles, well, snot.

However, I had once sampled a Japanese treat called Hoshigaki, which is an ancient method of turning these astringent problem children of the Fall harvest into the kobe beef of dried fruit. I had to try it. The process of making hoshigaki is not for the faint of heart. In short, you peel unripe fruit, hang them delicately from a bit of the remaining stem and calyx, then massage them gently every day or so for 4-6 weeks. So very Japanese. My neighbors who have a lovely and old Hachiya persimmon were kind enough to gift me with two dozen persimmons to try my hand at making Hoshigaki. And so, I started out with a few gorgeous fruits hanging in our windows to dry.

(Jason had asked me to make curtains, but I don’t think this exactly what he had in mind.)
PersimmonsHanging

Well, when I told our neighbors how much fun I had making my first foray into Hoshigaki, they got excited too. And gave me, oh, about 200 more persimmons. Yeah, 200.

A Plenitude of Persimmons
A Plenitude of Persimmons

Two hundred persimmons; that’s a crazy amount of persimmon. So I went crazy too, and started hanging them all over the house. You have to duck to get into some rooms of our house right now, no joke. And I *still* had fruit left over. To make Hoshigaki, you really need to start with completely unripe fruit, and after a few nights of peeling and hanging, some of my gifted persimmons had started to go mushy on me.   So in desperation, I looked for some other persimmon recipes, and stumbled upon a few for persimmon fruit leather aka fruit rollups. Genius! So, I converted a dozen or so of the riper persimmons into these little morsels, and they turned out quite well. Very tasty, and rather pretty in the morning light as well.

Persimmon Rollups
Persimmon Rollups

Here is the very simple recipe for persimmon fruit roll-ups I settled on by the third and final batch.

Spiced Persimmon Holiday Roll-ups

Ingredients

  • 4 very ripe hachiya ( or any other astringent variety) persimmons
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Blend pulp of persimmons with spices until smooth, just a minute or so.
  3. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  4. Divide spiced pulp in half and pour onto prepared baking sheets.
  5. Spread into an even layer with a spatula.
  6. Bake for 3-4 hours until mostly dry and slightly cracked around the edges.

The hoshigaki are mostly dry now, and are beginning to taste tasty! I think I need to massage them more rigorously the next time I try this particular form of food preservation. I have not gotten the promised bloom of powdered sugar on the outside either. I think it might be too dry in our house, but the fruit I hung outside just got moldy in a few days. I will need to wait another week or two for most of them to be fully dry, and since I finally have a break in my work schedule, I plan to give them a bit more attention.

PersimmonsDrying

The other persimmon fun I have been having is selecting the varieties of the trees we will plant in our orchard. This is the list of what I wanted, but alas, one of these growers is in Florida and cannot ship to California. If any friends outside of California, care to order them, plant them, and let me know what you think, that would be most awesome. The final item in the list is a Black and Blue persimmon from Korea. It looks so exotic and enticing, but I can’t have it. Drat.

Fuyu
Hachiya
Izu
Saijo
Tanenashi
Korean Persimmon
Tam-O-Pan
Ichi-Ki-Kei-Jiro

Not for California, alas:
Gionbo
Sheng
Matsumoto
Black and Blue Korean Persimmons (so pretty!)

 

Apricot & Bounty

We were at the farm-to-be the other day, and I got a bit over-excited about the apricot trees there, just coming into an absurd abundance of fruit. Now these three trees have not received much love, or fertilizer, pruning, or even watering, yet they are covered in the most tasty tasty fruit. The sight of those drooping branches over-weighted with ripe sweet gemstones gave me hope that even novice farmers like us could coax some food out of this 8 acres of dirt we are about to buy.

When the current owners gave me permission to pick as much as I wanted, well, I went a little overboard. Now I love apricots above all other stone fruit (except maybe Rainer cherries), but still, no same human or family of humans can eat 10 pounds of apricots before they go bad. And I don’t like canning, all that sugar is not for me. So then I felt a wee bit sheepish and even panicky, since wasting such beautiful fruit seems a serious crime.

bowl-of-apricots

Bounty is never a cause for panic, though, only reason for generosity and celebration. I have given away most of the apricots by now, and tonight, I made a truly tasty apricot salsa to go with the fresh halibut from our local fish CSA, Local Catch Monterey Bay.

I get great pleasure from giving things away. Those who know me well, know that I love to craft odd little things, leather pouches, silks scarves, random foodstuffs, and hand them out for birthdays and random events. As I get older, I have lost most of my  desire to shop and consume. Producing, making and gifting give me far greater joy. But perhaps that is another post …

In the meantime, I give you all my simple recipe for the apricot salsa, which is just an adaptation of my favorite mango salsa. I think it would work well with just about any pit fruit, and I can’t wait to do a cherry version. These types of pit fruit salsas  go well with most fish, chicken or even pork dishes.

apricot-salsa

Apricot Salsa

Apricots, 1 cup pitted and coarsely chopped
Red bell pepper, 2 tablespoons finely chopped
Red onion, 1 tablespoon finely chopped
Olive oil, 1 tablespoon
Fresh basil and/or mint, 2 tablespoons freshly chopped
Salt, a pinch

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl and serve.