Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Around the Farm

We're enjoying this balmy weather out on the farm, although we would like we would like a little more rain before the dry season sets in. But this mild, warm, and sunny weather is great for the trees as their tiny fruits begin to grow. Excessive wind, rain, or hail can damage the delicate young fruits at this stage, scarring their skins or even knocking them off the branches altogether. So we're hoping this mild weather continues, helping us towards another bumper crop this summer.

The fruit we all love is just one part of what can be used from the tree. At our cafe in San Francisco's Ferry Building, we keep a stash of dried peach leaves on hand to add whenever we make iced tea. The leaves add a delicious subtle fruitiness, and keep well dried or in the freezer. We decorate with eye-catching displays of flowering branches brought in from the orchard.

Smash an apricot pit with a hammer and you'll find a small, tender kernel inside. This kernel is used to give the distinctive bitter-almond flavor to baking extracts and liqueurs like Amaretto. While you shouldn't eat these kernels whole, you can drop a couple of kernels into a batch of apricot jam to give just a hint of almond flavor. Later in the season, as the trees are pruned back, we might load up the barbecue with fragrant, clean-burning apple or cherry wood. (Applewood-smoked bacon is a particular favorite in the Bay Area, and with good reason, since the smoke produced by applewood enhances rather than overwhelms the pork.)

Now is a great time to get ready to preserve some of your summer bounty. Lay in a stock of fresh canning jars (available at many supermarkets and most hardware stores) or get a few big boxes of heavy-duty plastic freezer bags. Whatever you can't eat at its peak can be canned or frozen for later use, when the luscious peaches of July are just a memory.


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