Eat Good Food

Pan Bagnat Sandwich Recipe

sandwich

Pan bagnat, or “bathed bread,” is the Provençal sandwich found at every bakery and market in the region. A sandwich in name but packed with tomatoes, local bell peppers, black Niçoise olives, anchovies and tuna, pan bagnat is basically a salade Niçoise on crusty bread. What’s not to like!

Here’s how to make your own.

Pan Bagnat

2 ripe tomatoes, cored and thinly sliced crosswise
1 (5-oz.) can olive oil-packed tuna, drained
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1⁄2 cup arugula
1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 rustic baguette, split
1 small bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced crosswise
2 hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced crosswise
8 salt-cured anchovies, briefly soaked to remove salt, then dried
1-2 tbsp Nicoise olive powder
Freshly ground black pepper and Kosher salt, to taste

Sprinkle tomato slices liberally with salt and transfer to a colander; set aside to drain for 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, break up tuna with a fork. In another small bowl, whisk together oil and mustard; set dressing aside.

Scoop the insides from the bread loaf and reserve for another use. Place tomatoes evenly over the bottom of the bread and then top with arugula, fennel, and red onion; spread tuna over top, then top with egg slices, anchovies, and Nicoise olive powder.

Pour dressing evenly over ingredients, and season with salt and pepper; cover with top of bread, pressing lightly. Wrap tightly and allow time for flavors to mingle before slicing in quarters.

Recipe adapted from Saveur Magazine

Eat Good Food

In Season: Summer Produce

Summer is a glorious time of year to be a cook.

Farmers’ markets and home gardens are bursting with gorgeous fruits and vegetables at their peak: juicy ripe tomatoes, just-picked sweet corn, jewel-like berries, fragrant peaches, and many more. In fact, summer meals are often more about careful shopping or timely harvesting, than choosing a recipe and sticking to it — and they require far less cooking.

In our guide to summer produce, we offer tips for buying, storing, and preparing the best of the season, plus suggestions for how to use them.

BEANS
Beans — both snap and shell — come from the same plant species (Phaseolus vulgaris) but from different varieties within that species. Snap beans are whole immature pods, still very tender, while shell beans are the seeds inside more mature pods. Any snap bean variety will produce seeds that can be shelled, but the pods of most shell bean varieties are too tough to be eaten.

Both snap and shell beans give substance and texture to summer dishes. Blanched snap beans tossed with shallots and tomatoes or with pasta and pesto make colorful, tasty dishes. A fresh shell bean gratin cooked with tomatoes and greens makes a light, satisfying main dish. And snap beans and shell beans together are essential ingredients for soupe au pistou, the Provencal version of minestrone served with pesto (“pistou” in Provence).

You’ll find good snap beans from early summer until frost. The peak season for shell beans is midsummer into fall.

Snap Beans
Snap greens can be green, yellow, or purple. The slender French green beans known as haricots verts are worth seeking out. Small enough to use without snapping in half, they’re beautiful in salads or as side dishes.

Kentucky Wonder and Blue Lake beans are heirloom varieties with a crisp-tender texture. Romano beans and other flat, wide snap beans are especially good in soups, where long cooking coaxes out their sweet, nutty flavor.

Yellow beans are perfect for pickling, as they’ll retain their color in vinegar. They’re also pretty when mixed with green or purple beans.

How to Buy
Look for crisp, firm snap beans that feel heavy and plump. They should break with a good, clean snap when bent. Avoid beans that are dull or limp.

How to Store
Snap beans will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. Store them in a paper bag or wrapped in a towel.

How to Prepare
To prepare beans for cooking, check to see if they are stringy. If they are, snap off the top and tail of each, pulling down to peel the strings. If not, the tops and tails can be cut off. To cook snap beans, boil them quickly in a large pot of salty water until crisp-tender.

• Shelling Beans
Fresh shelling beans are one of the great treats of summer eating. Shell them and cook them in soups or simply braised as a side dish — they have an extra creamy texture and wonderful fresh earthy flavor. Some favorites include flageolets, black-eyed peas, Cranberry beans, cannellini, and lima beans.

How to Buy
Shell beans are at their best when the pods are full and slightly soft, indicating the beans inside are mature but not dry. Avoid pods that are withered or have brown spots.

How to Store
Keep shell beans at room temperature for a few days, or up to a week in the refrigerator in a paper bag to allow for a little air circulation.

How to Prepare
Shelling beans are very easy to shell. Ripe beans should be plump enough so that the pod pops right open with a light squeeze. You can then “zip” the beans out by running your finger down the inside of the pod.

Shelling beans are great in soups and stews. Unlike their dried counterparts, there is no need to soak them before using. Most fresh shelling beans require 20 to 30 minutes to cook, so add them to recipes accordingly. Fresh shelling beans are also delicious braised. If you have pesto, it is a wonderful seasoning stirred into these beans. 


BERRIES
One of the season’s most anticipated delights, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are in season from late spring through the end of summer. Strawberries arrive first, with a season that lasts from April through September, depending on the part of the country; blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries show up at the markets after, with golden and black raspberries usually appearing last.

Versatile and sweet, berries make a bright addition to cakes, cobblers, crisps, pies, sauces, and other cooked dishes, but when berries are truly at their peak, their flavor is perhaps best enjoyed simply eaten out of hand.

How to Buy
Choose brightly colored, plump berries that smell fragrant; avoid soft, shriveled, mushy, or moldy fruit.  Look for strawberries that are deeply red without traces of white.

How to Store
All berries are fragile and highly perishable, especially when perfectly ripe. Store unwashed berries in the refrigerator in a towel lined basket or bowl.

Some hardier berries, like blueberries, will keep for up to five days; more delicate varieties, like raspberries and strawberries, deteriorate fairly quickly after harvest — the culprit primarily being mold, and are best used within two or three days.

How to Prepare
Most berries don’t need washing, but if dusty, rinse them quickly in cold water and gently pat dry with kitchen towels just before using.


CORN
Native to the Americas and brought back to Europe from the New World, corn has played and still continues to play a vital role in the livelihood of many native cultures. It has been utilized for not only sustenance but shelter, fuel, and more.

In the kitchen, corn’s enduring appeal lies in its sweetness — some varieties have nearly 40 percent sugar — and its versatility. We associate fresh corn with the height of summer, as it peaks from mid-summer to early fall.

Corn is delicious in a myriad of preparations: soup, soufflés, salads, or simply grilled and eaten with a smear of butter and a sprinkle of salt. The two most popular varieties are yellow — which tends to have larger, fuller-flavored kernels —  and white, which is smaller and sweeter.

How to Buy
Buy corn that’s as fresh as possible; as soon as it’s been picked the sugars begin converting to starch, which diminishes its sweetness. Freshly picked ears will have a moist stem end where they were cut, and will look full and vibrant, with plump kernels and bright green, tightly closed husks.

How to Store
If you cannot serve immediately, corn should be stored in the refrigerator, unhusked and wrapped in a damp towel.

How to Prepare
Corn should be shucked at the last minute as exposed kernels are prone to drying out. Remove the husks and pull any wispy corn silks away from the bare ears; if the silks are difficult to remove, rub the ears with a soft towel or a small vegetable brush. If serving on the cob, boil no more than two minutes in unsalted water. If a recipe calls for fresh corn kernels, cut off the stem end, rest it firmly on a board, and slice the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife.


EGGPLANT
Eggplant (Solanum melongena), also known as aubergine, is a species of nightshade grown for its edible and highly versatile fruit. The plants, compact with grey-green leaves and small purple flowers, are beautiful at all stages of growth.

Besides the large, dark purple globe variety, eggplants come in a range of sizes, shapes, and colors, from smaller Italian eggplants to slender, mild Asian varieties to meaty, dense white-skinned eggplants and more.

Eggplants are versatile, and can be grilled, roasted, stuffed and baked, sautéed, or fried. The smaller Italian varieties are especially good sliced and grilled, served at room temp with olive oil and basil. The larger globe types can be baked and scooped out for dips or soups.

All eggplants share an affinity for strong Mediterranean flavors, and pair well with garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and basil — all ingredients essential to one of the most well-known eggplant dishes, ratatouille.

How to Buy
Ripe eggplants are shiny and firm. They should feel heavy for their size, with the fuzzy green cap tightly attached.

How to Store
Keep eggplants in a cool, dry place and use them within a day or two. You can store them in the crisper drawer for a few days if needed, but these subtropical fruits don’t generally fare well in cold storage.

How to Prepare
Peel older eggplants; on younger, smaller eggplants, the skin is edible. Rinse them, trim the cap, and cut them just before using — they tend to discolor quickly. Salting them won’t “draw out” their bitterness, but it will help mask the slightly bitter taste of older/larger eggplants, and the salted slices will absorb less oil.


MELONS
Summer produces many different types of delicious, succulent melons, a cool and welcome sight on hot days. Here in Northern California, where our local farmers grow rare and heirloom varieties until perfectly ripe, the sweet and subtle tastes of melons can be savored all summer into early fall. Bursting with juice and flavor, these stars of summer are dead-ripe and delicate, nothing like the bland, hard melons found off-season in supermarkets.

Melons are members of the Cucurbitaceae family, which makes them relatives of squashes and cucumbers. Although often grouped together, most sweet melons fall into two broad categories: Citrillus lanatus, or watermelons, and Cucumus melo, which include muskmelon, cantaloupes, and honeydews. Many of the melons with sweet orange flesh and netted skin sold as “cantaloupes” are actually muskmelons. Real cantaloupes, not widely grown in North America, are smaller and more spherical than muskmelons, and have a harder skin.

How to Buy
Melons need heat to turn sweet, so mid-to-late summer and early fall are their prime seasons. Seek out symmetrical melons with a “filled-out” look. Weight offers hints about taste: a melon that feels heavy for its size holds lots of juicy flesh. Melons don’t become sweeter after harvesting, but the texture and aroma can continue to improve.

For netted (reticulatus) melons like muskmelons that have rinds covered with a netlike tissue, choose ones that are fragrant and give slightly to pressure. Uniformly distributed netting and a musky aroma are signs of ripeness.

Smooth-skinned melons such as honeydew do not give off their aroma until they’ve been cut open. Look for ones that are heavy for their size and feel for a bit of give at the end opposite the stem.

Ripe watermelons have skin with a waxy bloom, dull not shiny skin, and the lighter colored part of the rind, where the melon rested on the ground, should be yellow or creamy, not green or white. Look for smooth, symmetrical melons with no flat sides, bruises, cuts, or dents. A dull, hollow sound when you tap the melon signals that it’s ripe.

How to Store
Store whole melons in a cool spot. If cut, place slices in lidded container and refrigerate up to four days.

How to Prepare
For melons, slice in half and scoop out the seeds with a large spoon. Cut as desired, and serve with or without the tough outer skin. Slice watermelons into quarters and cut the flesh as desired, with or without the rind. Melons can be served very simply, sliced and draped with thin slices of prosciutto, added to salads, or halved and filled with a sweet Muscat wine such as Beaumes-de-Venise. Watermelon makes a refreshing drink called agua fresca when the flesh is blended with ice and a bit of sugar, and the leftover rind can be turned into a sweet pickle.


OKRA
Okra originated in Africa, but is a staple in cuisines across the globe, from the Middle East to the Southeastern U.S., where its seeds were carried to North America on slave ships over three centuries ago. Known in many English-speaking countries as ladies’ fingers, ochro or gumbo, okra is a flowering plant in the mallow family. The vegetable is prized for its edible green seed pods which, when cooked, release a gelatinous substance that serves as a thickener for soups and stews such as gumbo. Okra is also commonly braised, roasted, and — especially in our southern states — fried. It is wonderful pickled and has a flavor that works well when stewed with other summer favorites like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

How to Buy
Choose firm, springy pods the size of your pinkie, no larger than your index finger, about 3-5 inches (larger pods can have a woody texture), with a rich green color and a fine coat of sticky white hairs.

How to Store
Okra is very perishable and should be refrigerated in a brown paper bag and used within a few days.

How to Prepare
Before cooking, wash the pods and cut off the stem ends.


PEACHES AND PLUMS  

Stone fruits, members of the genus
Prunus, consist of flowering trees bearing fleshy, pitted fruits. Nothing says summer quite like the sweet, juicy flavors of stone fruits, and peaches and plums are among our favorites as they flourish here in Northern California. At their peak of ripeness, peaches and plums are delicious simply eaten as is, but they also can be baked into pies and crisps, made into jams, added to salads, and roasted, poached or sautéed for both savory and sweet dishes.

How to Buy
Peaches and plums are at their peak during July and August, and are best picked at the peak of ripeness. Select fruit that yields to the touch and has a fragrant aroma. If the fruit is rock-hard, don’t buy it. Stone fruits will continue to ripen after they are picked, but peaches that are picked too green will never ripen properly.

How to Store
If your fruit is not quite ready to eat, store on the kitchen counter where they’ll continue to ripen off-tree. Perfectly ripe fruit is best eaten as soon as possible, but you can refrigerate for two to three days to slow down the ripening process. Always allow fruits to come to room temperature before eating.

How to Prepare
To pit, cut along the seam in a full circle around the pit; then twist in opposite directions to separate the halves. Remove the pit with the tip of your knife. To remove the skins  from peaches, blanch for 30 seconds in boiling water, plunge into ice bath, and peel skin.


PEPPERS
Peppers are warm season vegetables that belong to the species Capsicum annum, and come in a wide range of shapes, colors, sizes, and heat intensity. Peppers can be divided into two groups, the sweet peppers and the chili peppers. Both of these types are at their peak from midsummer through the fall.

The most well-known sweet peppers are large, thick-fleshed, and mild tasting bell peppers, all of which start out green. As they reach maturity they eventually turn red, orange, black, or yellow, according to the variety, and grow sweeter — the longer a pepper stays on the vine before being picked, the sweeter it is. Besides the common bell pepper, there are small, round, red cherry peppers; heart-shaped pimento peppers; and slender Lipstick peppers, among others.

Peppers can be enjoyed raw in a salad with onions and tomatoes, used as toppings for pizza, or cooked kabob-style on the grill. They pair well with tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant. Roasting them over fire enhances their sweetness and adds a wonderful, smoky flavor, especially delicious when marinated with olive oil, garlic, and basil.

Chilies, or hot peppers, are usually smaller than sweet peppers, and less meaty. There are many different chilies, some of the most common being jalapeños, anaheims, and serranos. Whether red or green, these chilies have a clean, hot flavor that tastes good with sweet vegetables such as carrots or corn.

How to Buy
Whether selecting sweet peppers or chili peppers, look for peppers that have smooth, glossy, skin, with no brown or wrinkled spots. Choose peppers that are firm and weighty for their size. Always favor ripe, colorful peppers over the immature green peppers.

How to Store
Unwaxed peppers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Be sure they are completely dry before storing as moisture will hasten deterioration.

How to Prepare
Wash the peppers. If you’re not roasting them whole, first remove their ribs and seeds, then mince, chop, or slice as needed. To roast peppers, place them as close to the heat source as possible, and turn frequently so the skins blacken evenly. Once charred, place in a container to steam and help loosen the skin, which should slip off easily when the peppers are cooled.

Be careful handling chili peppers as the oil from the membranes, skin, and seeds can be extremely irritating.


ZUCCHINI AND SUMMER SQUASH
The name summer squash distinguishes the more delicate varieties of the Cucurbita (or gourd) family from their heartier and longer-lasting relatives, the winter squash. The entire vegetable, including the seeds and skin, is edible and the soft flesh has a sweet, buttery flavor. While zucchini is perhaps the most common variety, crookneck and straightneck squash, globe squash, and pattypan squashes are just as delicious.

Summer squashes are well known for their abundance in backyard gardens and farmers’ markets. If you grow your own, be sure to harvest the edible blossoms —  they make a wonderful appetizer when stuffed with mozzarella and herbs and lightly fried. Summer squash can be eaten raw as well as roasted, grilled, steamed, pan-fried, and baked into breads and cakes.

How to Buy
Thin-skinned summer squash varieties are harvested when their seeds are small and their skin tender. When buying summer squash, choose small to medium summer squash that are heavy for their size with firm, unblemished rinds with bright color. Large specimens can be woody, bitter, and lack flavor.

How to Store
Yellow squash is more fragile than zucchini, so cook it as soon as possible after buying. In the meantime, store squashes covered in the refrigerator.

How to Prepare
When ready to use squash, rinse and dry with a towel.. Trim the stem and flowering end, but do not peel.

 Learn more with our post: Stocking the Summer Pantry.

Eat Good Food

Plum Varietals and History

Shown above, clockwise from 11 o’clock: French Plum, Italian Plum, Flavor Queen, Flavor Grenade, Howard’s Miracle. Center: Elephant Heart.

 

Plum varietals and history are varied and fascinating, particularly in our climes. Midsummer is peak plum season in California.

Part of the genus Prunus, plum varietals share characteristics with other stone fruits such as apricots, cherries, nectarines, almonds, and peaches.

Typically harvested in August, plums prefer a warm but dry climate, but need winter’s chill (trees exposed to temperatures under 45 degrees Fahrenheit) to produce fruit.

The American plum industry developed largely due to the efforts of 19th century Sonoma County botanist Luther Burbank, who traveled from the coast of Cape Cod to Santa Rosa in the 1870s and developed more than 100 varieties of plum.

As one of the nation’s largest producers of plum varietals, Healdsburg’s history is interwoven with the success of the plum. Once known as the “Buckle of the Prune Belt,” today Healdsburg’s former plum orchards are mostly re-planted to grapes. Today the plummy legacy lives on in the local collegiate Prune Packers baseball club.

Below are some of our favorite plum varieties, with ideas on how to best capture their flavor right now, at the height of plum season.

Bavay Green Gage
Considered the ideal dessert plum in Europe, the Green Gage was developed in 19th century Belgium. The smooth-textured amber fruit with rich candy-like flavor is excelled fresh, dried, or cooked. Not to be confused with an Asian plum called “Green Gage,” on this continent the Bavay varietal performs best in coastal California.

Catalina
Catalina plums are large, juicy, sweet, and deep purple in color, in both the skin and flesh. A market favorite with very little tartness at skin and pit, they are one of the best plums for fresh eating. This vigorous, productive tree does not need much winter chill to produce springtime flowers.

Elephant Heart
This plum’s given name is a direct reference to its shape, noticeable weight, and deep purple red color. Elephant Heart plums yield a short shelf-life when ripe and are thus best utilized for fresh eating. Complementary flavors include vanilla, nutmeg, tropical fruits, figs, berries, citrus, and chiles. Savory pairings include cured pork, roasted lamb, and crudo-style fish and shellfish, cumin, basil, cilantro, hazelnuts, and cheeses such as burrata and manchego.

Utilizing hand-pollination,  Luther Burbank created the Elephant Heart plum from a Japanese variety in the early 20th century. It remains a boutique variety still grown by a limited amount of small farms, as it requires being hand-picked and -packed.

Emerald Beauty
With bright red skin and amber-colored flesh, the Emerald Beauty is known to produce large crops of fruit. Ripe fruit continues to sweeten on the tree, becoming exceptionally sweet, but remaining crisp and crunchy.

French Prune
California’s leading dried plum variety, the French Prune is a dark red-to-purplish fruit with tender, dark amber flesh. Medium-sized and egg-shaped, this fine-textured fruit has a rich, sweet flavor. These prune plums are also excellent for drying in the oven or electric dehydrator, or outside using our solar dryer.

Howard Miracle
Howard Miracle trees bear good crops of large crimson and yellow sweet juicy fruit with notes of grapefruit or pineapple.

Italian Prune
Italian Prune plums are considered a multi-purpose fruit, as their ability to create a high concentration of fermentable sugars makes them the ideal candidate to create prunes. For more on drying plums, please read Drying Herbs and Fruits. They are also a commercial fruit crop used for the processing of cheeses and distilled alcohols, including brandy and wine. When cooked, the flesh turns fuchsia pink in color.

Shiro
Early blooming, yellow Shiros belong to the category of plum trees known as Japanese, and can be substituted for ume in preparing umeboshi. The medium sized greenish-yellow fruit is juicy and moderately sweet with a pleasing, mild flavor. A heavy bearer, Shiro grows clusters of plums all throughout the tree, and low-chill requirements make this plum well-suited to mild-winter locations.

Pluots
Developed in 1989 by Ziegler Genetics of Modesto, CA, pluots are a result of hybridizing plums with apricots. Called an interspecific cross, pluots have differing amounts of plum and apricot parentage and come in various sizes and colors of skin and flesh. Like most stone fruits, pluots thrive in regions such as the San Joaquin Valley and the eastern Mediterranean coast, where winter temperatures are cool but not cold and the summer season is long, warm, and dry.

Pluots have the initial appearance of a mottled plum. Their colorings range from red-skinned and pale amber-skinned to ruby-fleshed and blazing gold-fleshed. Most pluot varieties are extremely sweet, often spicy, low-acid fruits with a juicy, chin-dripping tender firm flesh.

Pluots, like other stone fruits, are best enjoyed fresh at their peak of ripeness. They may also be baked, roasted, sautéed, puréed or cooked for jams, compotes, ice creams, and reductions. Complementary flavors include vanilla, nutmeg, tropical fruits, chocolate, citrus, basil and chiles. Other favorable pairings include pork, lamb, grilled shellfish, and crudo-style seafood.

Dapple Dandy
The large, firm Dapple Dandy has a distinctive skin color that is pale green to yellow with red mottling and a creamy pink flesh. Dapple Dandy offers a spicy, plum-apricot flavor and a good acid to sugar balance.

Flavor Grenade
As the name suggests, this pluot has an explosive flavor. The pink to red blush of the fruit is most pronounced in colder climates, and the texture is much like an apple, even when the fruit is fully ripe.

Flavor King
This pluot has 70 percent plum and 30 percent apricot heritage, and combines tastes of both parents with a higher sugar content. Flavor King has dark red-purple skin and sweeter, softer, and grainier flesh than a plum. The fruits are juicy and have a fragrant aroma, yet lack the tart flavor many plums have on the skin and near the center of the fruit.

Flavor Queen
Flavor Queen has yellow-green skin and amber yellow flesh. The flavor is immensely sweet — a real treat for dessert. Superb texture with a juicy apricot aftertaste.

Red plums and most pluots make a lovely base for a summer shrub, the refreshing drinking vinegar that we adore. Learn to make your own with the surprising addition of shiso leaves!

Preserve the Season

SHED Shrub Recipe

This SHED shrub recipe shows you how to concoct your own colorful elixir.

A Colonial-era beverage devised to stem waste and refresh field workers, shrubs are seasonally-based drinking vinegars made from fresh fruit, sugar, and aromatics.

We like shrubs because they are an easy and fast way to preserve the season and capture fruit at the height of flavor.

While we’re busy harvesting plenty of plums (and pluots) out at HomeFarm, we recommend any of the sweet, juicy varieties such as Elephant Heart plum, Catalina plum, or Flavor Grenade pluot to use in this summer shrub.

These succulent plums pair well with shiso leaves, an easy-to-grow herb in the mint family that is usually planted in the spring and harvested in summer and fall. Also called Japanese basil, shiso occurs in both red-leaved and green forms. Red shiso is used for coloring the pickled plum, umeboshi.

Plum Shiso Shrub

2 cups chopped red plums (or pluots), tightly packed
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups (unseasoned) rice wine vinegar
10 red shiso leaves (substitute fresh purple basil)

Core and chop the plums and combine with salt and sugar in a non-reactive bowl, jar, or crock. Cover vessel and macerate the fruit mixture at room temperature for three days, stirring gently twice a day.

After three days add the vinegar and shiso leaves and refrigerate for two weeks. Strain and pour the cordial like syrup into a glass bottle or jar with a lid or cork.

Plum shrub syrup can be added to sparkling water for a refreshing, gorgeous pink drink. Add two tablespoons of shrub syrup and ice to a glass, top with six ounces of sparkling water, and garnish with a shiso leaf.

Plum shrub syrup is also delicious stirred with cold sake (Japanese rice wine) and a slice of fresh cucumber. Enjoy!

This syrup will keep at room temperature for about a week and will last six months under refrigeration.

Preserve the Season

Making Nocino

Delicately nutty and subtly spiced, nocino is an Italian liqueur made with green, unripe walnuts. Making nocino is a simple way to preserve summer’s earliest harvest. (more…)

Farming, Foodshed, Healdsburg, Preserve the Season

Sun-Drying the Harvest

At the end of a meandering lane at the southern tip of the Dry Creek Valley is a diverse fruit orchard where preserving the harvest is still done the old-fashioned way — by sun-drying.

SHED_GRADEK_03

It is a grove of sweet-smelling stone fruit and flowers where, in the height of the summer, bees buzz around seven-foot-tall sunflowers and the task at hand is solar preservation. Brothers Ken and David Gradek run the farm, where their family planted peach, plum, nectarine, and apple trees more than 60 years ago. Brother Dale is visiting the day that we arrive. The men explain that they started drying the fruit because, David says, “our mom couldn’t bear to see any fruit go to waste.”

As he halves nectarines with his paring knife, Ken explains that solar drying is a slow and laborious process that reduces their harvest while extending its life; six pounds of fresh fruit yields only one pound of dried. Each peach and nectarine needs to be hand-picked at its peak ripeness before being washed, sliced, and sulfur-cured and then laid on redwood trays in the sun for several days.

SHED_GRADEK_12

Once upon a time, when Healdsburg was still known as the “buckle” of the Prune Belt, fruit drying was a major part of our agricultural economy. Today, the process has all but disappeared. The brothers found antique redwood field drying racks from the prune era on their property and repurposed them for their operation. “When we found them, they had square nails,” Ken says. “There’s no two of them alike.”

SHED_GRADEK_08

Like any farm task, this one is weather-dependent. In sunny and dry conditions, the fruit will dry in three days. It must then be cured outdoors over a smudge pot of burning sulfur, a centuries-old technique that preserves the color in the fruit and protects it from bacteria, yeast, and mold. The Gradek brothers sell out of their fruit – both fresh and dried, every year.

SHED_GRADEK_19

David, Dale, and Ken Gradek

Photos by Caitlin McCaffrey