Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pumpkins at Davis Ranch

Orange Kabochas at Davis Ranch 
It's always fun going to the Big Crush in Amador county (The Big Crush)  because, in addition to visiting our favorite wineries at harvest-time, we get to stop at Davis Ranch Produce stand, just East of Sacramento. This is the big daddy of all farm stands and because grapes are crushed in October, we also get to see the astounding number of pumpkins the ranch displays in preparation for their Halloween Harvest festival. Here are some of the unusual varieties.

We Be Little pumpkins above, and Hubbard and Fairy Tale below

 Big Mack and Long Island Creme


Knucklehead,  Delicata, Wolf and Goosenecks
Turban, Hubbard and One Too Many
Lunch Lady, Wolf and Long Island Creme
Summit and Super Herc

Description of Summit Pumpkin
Homozygous resistance to powdery mildew. Large dark orange fruit. Good ribbing. The standard for large fruited hybrids. Handles are impressive for size, dark color and durability.

Many of the same varieties we observed at Davis Ranch were artfully displayed at CUESA'S annual Sunday Night Supper event upstairs at the Ferry Building, catered by Paula Le Duc this October.
                                                                                                                                               Photo courtesy of Marissa Rodriguez

                Enough ogling: let's smash those bad boys and eat  PUMPKIN BREAD!

Jenny's pumpkin bread with chocolate chips

This excellent pumpkin bread is a specialty of my friend Jenny Offenbach. It was her mother's recipe and she generously bakes it and gives small loaves to her co-workers at holiday time. The chocolate chips are optional, but I recommend the addition of some Scharffen Berger bittersweet baking chunks.

Mom's Pumpkin Bread                              
1/2 cup oil                                1 2/3 cups sifted flour
1 cup canned pumpkin              1 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs                                     1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup milk                             1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cup sugar                        1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350.
Combine oil, eggs, milk and pumpkin. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Gradually beat into wet mixture. Pour into greased loaf pans and bake
at 350 for 1 hour or until done. (Take out of oven before bread is fully cooked, so that a tooth pick
has some mixture on it when inserted.

Servings: 2 medium loaves

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


                                                                     Thousand Lanterns
                                                                      on a single tree
                                                                      breathless moment

                                                                                                 Fragment of haiku by Fujieda Teruo
                                                                                                 photo taken on Arch Street after first rain


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Personality Plus-The Richmond Farmers' Market

Each farmers' market has its own personality. In the Bay Area, San Francisco Ferry Plaza market draws a chic San Francisco crowd on Saturday mornings, restaurateurs of all kinds, foodies searching for top-quality organic goodies, and lots of tourists. It's a destination, recommended in all the guidebooks. The Berkeley markets attract the organic, sustainable crowd, and are quite political. They are also full of joyful foodies and restaurateurs, many of whom attend three or four different markets per week. The Richmond market, not far from Berkeley, is more ethnically diverse, catering to a less wealthy crowd consisting of Hispanics, Pakistanis, Asians and others who prefer affordable over organic produce. This market, adjacent to Richmond's City Hall, is a fascinating world unto itself; I marveled at the photo-ops that came my way one Friday morning.  Many of the farmers, who come from  the Central Valley, three hours away, provide a colorful pastiche of fruits and vegetables often unique to this area. The bargain prices are definitely unique!
Colorful fish mosaic on Richmond's City Hall

Red bells 3 for a dollar

Green bell peppers, same price

A melange of Asian greens

A mother and son at the flea market next door

Huge watermelons for $2.00 

Purple hull peas 

Cranberry beans, only $1.50 per pound
I filled a big bag with cranberry beans (which I had just seen priced around $4.50 per pound in nearby markets), and rushed home to shell them and make a  delicious succotash. Succotash, a great early fall dish, is actually the anglicized version of "msickquatash," meaning "an ear of corn" in the extinct Algonquin language of the Narragansetts. Recently my dish has changed from the childhood memory of canned or frozen corn and limas into a seductive combination of fresh cranberry beans, corn, bacon, red peppers and anything else I might have picked up at the market. Dressed with a garlicky vinaigrette and served still slightly warm, it is the perfect market day lunch or dinner,

Beautiful fresh, shelled cranberry beans—the tender early stage of dried beans

Here is the modest link to the to the Friday Richmond Market  Richmond Farmers' Market


     I first discovered Deborah Madison when she founded and cooked at Green's Restaurant in San Francisco's Marina district. I went often in the early days to sample her vegetarian pastas and drink in the exquisite view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the dining room. When The Greens Cookbook came out, it was a hit at my cookbook shop, and we all prepared the fabulous Zuni stew, spring vegetable ragout, Brazilian chocolate cake and other favorites from the restaurant. Even though she moved to Santa Fe, her books kept coming to us. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is my bible. I use it often as a reliable reference and as inspiration for new recipes. As I was writing about Bay Area markets, I spotted Local Flavors, Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets on my bookshelf and scanned it once again. As usual Ms Madison does a thorough job of traveling to markets all over the country, commenting, interviewing farmers, gathering recipes and providing stunning photos.  She is my idol.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Big Crush

The postcard arrived, I chose Saturday Oct. 6th, and off we went to Amador county for the annual Big
Crush. The  deep-purple grapes were lusciously ripe and heavy on the vines as we drove into Plymouth.

We picked up our tickets at Storey Winery, tasted a red Mission varietal we had never seen before (grown historically at the missions in the area), snacked on spanakopita, and with the help of a friendly local couple, mapped out our itinerary. Next stop, Amador Cellars just down the road.

Here the festivities included a live band, plenty of wine tasting and, out back, employees were crushing red grapes. While Dean was busy buying a case of 2011 Zinfandel futures, I started snapping pictures of the crush.

Grapes are transferred from a bin to the wooden press and lovingly patted down before crushing

While two men operated the wine press, an onlooker was sure the scene was enacted only for this event. He was quickly informed that this is the procedure and equipment the winery uses to crush and cellar all its grapes. After crushing, the crimson juice was carefully carried to the nearby wooden barrels and poured in through a funnel.

It takes many pails of juice to fill one barrel. This is how it's done

We then visited, picnicked, and tasted wines at Driven Cellars, Wilderotter and Helwig Vinyards. But the wines and the grape crush at Amador Cellars were the highlight of our fun-filled day in Amador County.

Allie inspects a bottle of Amador Cellars Bunkhouse Red and its bag when we arrive home