Satsuma Dried Plum/Prune
The classic French prune is a dried Ente Plum. In the United States the Ente is called the d’Agen Plum in honor of the area in France from which it was exported. Sadly my Ente Plum tree succumbed to some manner of blight and I needed a ‘Plan B’ for making prunes. Here are Satsuma dried plums.
Satsuma was developed by Luther Burbank in the early 1900s at his farm in Santa Rosa. Burbank’s multi-volume journal describes an astounding body of work over two decades that resulted in more than a hundred new plum varieties. He employed plum breeding stock from Europe, China, Japan and America to create large, sweet plums with yielding flesh that were meant for fresh consumption. Burbank developed a technique of hand selecting seedlings he felt were promising. During his plum career he examined over three million seedlings.
Some orchardists have described “Satsuma” as Burbank’s most exotic plum variety. It is a deeply colored red plum with flesh that is nearly as dark as the skin. It is sweet but it also has a rich, wine-like flavor. Typically Satsuma is a productive tree although its fruit tend to be small unless thinned.
My tree is now five years old and it is beginning to produce a modest crop. I’ve dried the plums in a casual but natural way without pretreatments. They have come through with their rich, sappy flavor intact. They were, however, a pesky chore to stone.
On her last visit to California my mother picked out a Satsuma dried plum from a tasting in Sebastopol saying that it was “much better than any prune.” Mothers know.
(Brassica napobrassica )
There is something about a wrong name that invites a second look. It might be a simple typographic error like the one that hit CNN recently. (Wolf Blitzer stood in front of a larger-than-life portrait of Osama Bin Ladin while an urgently colored message crawled across the screen reading “Where is Obama Now?”) Or it could be one of those more-sad-than-cute kiddy names that suggest the parents can only spell phonetically. Then there are those wrong names that are factual errors. Examples include “democratic elections”, “jumbo shrimp” and “Gilfeather Turnip.” It does make one think “What’s it all coming to?” when someone names a rutabaga after himself and calls it a turnip.
The late John Gilfeather of Wardsboro, Vermont is described as a “lanky bachelor of few words.” Mr. Gilfeather gained local fame in the early 1900’s for growing turnips and in particular a unique variety of uncommon tenderness and sweetness. Gillfeather’s turnips are robust but slow growers and unlike other ‘turnips’ their white flesh remains tender in even the largest specimen. Many note that early Vermont frosts only increase their mild, sweet taste.
Gilfeather never offered a biography of his creation but, of course, he was a Vermonter and thus taciturn by nature. Some non-Vermont people (“tourists” is the subtle pejorative used in Vermont) have noted its resemblance to German varieties but no one has produced a twin to prove the point.
Gilfeather lore suggests that Gilfeather had insights beyond those of most farmers. He understood the necessity of protecting his market and he allegedly trimmed the tops and roots from the ‘turnips’ he sold to prevent propagation of the Gilfeather type. Near the time of his death Gilfefather’s precautions were apparently breeched by unidentified neighbors and his namesake continues to be grown and some seed is available on a small scale.
The most curious root of the Gilfeather story remains unexplored. How it is that he called a rutabaga a turnip is unclear. Botanically rutabagas and turnips might be called cousins and in some varieties and names get a bit blurred. But this is one rutabaga that looks like a turnip about as much as a Vermont barn looks like a Manhattan skyscraper. Perhaps John Gilfeather had a streak of that high Vermont humor.
The Gilfeather Turnip has recently been honored as an addition to Slow Food’s Ark of Taste.
These Gilfeather Turnips were organically grown in my garden in the Valley of the Moon.
Seed Source: Fedco Seeds, Vermont
Shishigatani Pumpkin (aka Hyoutan-Nankin)
Shishigatani Pumpkin is one of several vegetables introduced to Japan during the early Edo Period (~1804). These vegetables became part of a religious and culinary fabric of the Kyoto region and they are referred to as “kyo yasai.”
Shishigatani is an area north of Kyoto which until the 20th century was a combination of forests and agriculture. The name “Shishigatani” means “deer path” and is linked to an ancient story of a priest who became lost in the forest but was rescued by a deer who showed him a path back to a temple.
Like many other Japanese vegetables Shishigatani Pumpkins play other roles than that of food. It was used as an ornamental object and as medicine. It was believed to prevent summer paralysis (polio) if eaten in the mid-summer. A festival in Japan that celebrates its medicinal use continues to this day.
Shishigatani Pumpkin has a very unusual gourd-like shape with a deep green color. Its surface is with irregular bumps. Its flesh tastes moderately sweet and it has a rich mouth feel akin to a sweet potato.
Shishigatani Pumpkins are rare outside of Japan. Only two seed sources can be found in the United States and each claim to be the sole source for Shishigatani.
This Shishigatani Pumpkin was organically grown in my garden in the Valley of the Moon.
Seed source: Kitazawa Seed Co. http://www.kitazawaseed.com
Vegetables of Interest 2007
(Solanaceae capsicum annuum )
Shishito Peppers are a sweet, thin-walled pepper from Japan. They are alledged to have been introduced to Japan by the Portugese several hundred years ago. The original variety was hot and was thus named “Shishito” which mean “Chinese Lion.” Through selection the heat in the peppers was eliminated and today’s Shishito is mild.
I’ve grown Shishito several times and the plants are smallish (~20 inches) and compact. The peppers have numerous longitudinal irregular grooves which give them a ‘wrinkled’ appearance. One nickname for Shishito is “Wrinkled Old Man Pepper.” Each plant can produce dozens of peppers although in my garden they tend to be late producers.
Shishito have a delicate, mild flavor. They are excellent when prepared simply by grilling or stir frying. They are the taste equal of Padron peppers when fried and served with sea salt. They can also be eaten raw or pickled.
Shishito peppers can occasionally be found in specialty markets here in the United States where there are large Japanese communities. These Shishito peppers were organically grown in my garden in the Valley of the Moon. With luck and proper covers I can continue a modest harvest of Shishito until mid-November.
Vegetables of Interest, 2007
Pimientos de Padrón
Sometimes a simple, local saying captures more than long hours of trudging through scholarly sources. A notable shortcut of that type is the Galcician observation, “Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non." (“Padron peppers: some are spicy and others are not.”)
Padron are a famous heirloom pepper from Galicia which is a region in northern Spain. It is one of two peppers that play defining roles in some fabled Spanish dishes. Padron’s partner in this pepper dynasty is the Piquillo pepper.
The origin of the Padron pepper isn’t clear. Some sources claim it to be the oldest pepper in Spain and insist it to be a direct descendant of the first peppers brought from the New World by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Its enthusiastic local following in Galicia, however, place its introduction at least a century later and credit its introduction to Franciscan monks.
The fame of Padron peppers is tied to a simple tapas dish. Whole small Padron peppers are fried in olive until lightly blistered. They are then drained and seasoned with coarse sea salt. Eat one. Eat two. Eat a plateful.
Aside from their unique taste, the fun of eating Padron is that some are spicy and others are not. The ratio of hot-to-sweet Padrons isn’t a constant. Most are sweet and all tend to become spicy if allowed to grow much larger than say a ‘big thumb.’ Legend has it that old, “experienced” women can feel a hot one. (Let your imagination drift with that for a moment.) But whatever the precautions a few moderately hot Padrons will make it onto the plate. No matter. It’s the perfect excuse for a sip of wine and a follow-up sweet Padron.
One of my heroes of casual American writing, Calvin Trillin, wrote a short piece about Padron peppers entitled “Pepper Trail.” You can find it and other wonderful stories in “Feeding a Yen.” If you read it and don’t acquire a yen for a Padron, you’re not alive.
These Padron peppers were grown organically in my garden in the Valley of the Moon.
Vegetables of Interest
Rocoto Pepper (aka Locoto Pepper)
Rocoto Peppers are a small hot pepper native to Peru and Bolivia. Rocoto is a species of pepper that differs in numerous ways from our common peppers and chilis (C annum). The Rocoto (C pubescens) has furry, dark green leaves and blue flowers. It is a perennial plant with a tall (3 +’) shrub-like habit.
Rocoto peppers are small and have a strong resemblance to a tiny bell pepper. There are both yellow and red selections of Rocotos. The pepper walls are thick and each pepper has an abundance of black seeds. Rocoto peppers are typically hot but the heat is balanced by a rich flavor.
Rocoto peppers are cooked in numerous ways or they can be used fresh in salsa. In Bolivia they are often stuffed with cheese or meat and then baked.
Rocoto Peppers have been cultivated for hundreds of years in South America but they are largely unknown here in the United States. Recently Rocoto peppers imported from Mexico were found to be infested with larvae of the Mexican fruit fly. Imports are now limited and heavily monitored.
The Rocoto plant can tolerate cool temperatures and can grow in filtered light. While they are perennial they do need winter protection where frost occurs. Here in Northern California they require a winter greenhouse and appropriate spring pruning.
These Rocoto peppers were grown in my garden in the Valley of the Moon. They are currently enjoying the company of a flowering citrus tree in warm green house.
Seed Source: Redwood City Rare Seeds
Vegetables of Interest, 2007
Complex magic is often found in simple pairings: Hepburn and Tracy. Burger and fries. Sinatra and Cahn. Fresh crab and white Burgundy. To that list I would add “Pottimaron and Carrot”. The sweet chestnut-like squash flavor of Potimaron is a rich foil for the higher note of carrot. Its “orange interpreting orange.” Its fall in a spoon. Its perfect.
Potimaron is a French winter squash that belongs to the C Maxima species. The origins of the species lay in South America but they now have world-wide distribution of numerous varieties each with their own shape, color and table manners. Coming from France you would predict a squash of taste and refinement. And you would be correct. Pottimaron (when properly matured and cured) are sweet, rich and with a distinct note of nuts, chestnut especially (the name “Potimaron” is derived in part from “marron” which means ‘chestnut’ in French).
The plant is vigorous but not overbearing in habit. In my garden, however, it seemed susceptible to any number of ailments. Still, the young fruit were tasty as ‘quick picks’ and the mature fruit are already making eyes at my crop of winter white carrots. This bodes well some magic in the soup bowl next month. (Does anyone have a spare fine chinois?)
This Potimaron was organically grown in my garden in the Valley of the Moon.
Seed source: Seed Savers
C Lindquist, 2007
Inchelium garlic is an heirloom “softneck” or “artichoke” type garlic that is claimed to be the oldest strain of garlic grown in North America. It was found on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State and it is believed to have been grown by San Poil Indians before the arrival of Europeans in the 1700s. The word “Inchelium” is a San Poil word meaning the joining of a big water with a small water. It is also the name of a small Indian town on the reservation.
Inchelium is a robust plant and seems well adapted tot he Pacific Northwest climate. It produces a large bulb of about 2-3 inches in diameter. The bulb’s outer layers often have purple streaking that slowly fade with curing. The flavor is robust with a lingering spice on the palate.
Inchelium won the Rodale garlic taste off in 1990. Charges that San Poil Indians made up most of the judging panel have never been proven.
Recently Inchelium garlic was placed on the “Ark of Taste” of the Slow Food Foundation and it is classified as an “endangered” plant variety. It is the only American garlic to have made it onto Slow Food’s Ark.
Inchelium garlic is not grown commercially to any extent worth noting. It has however become increasingly popular amongst garlic collectors and home gardeners in the West and Pacific Northwest. It commands a premium price when it can be found. Ron Eglund charges $14 a pound for Inchelium garlic and he sells out. Luckily my business acumen has enabled me to give away all that I grow excepting a few head for next year’s crop.
These Inchelium garlic were grown organically in my garden .