Tim and I were invited by an old friend to harvest some of her family’s Fuyu persimmons for the Co-op. Despite filling 6 bags, about 75 pounds of fruit, I estimate we harvested less than 10% of this one tree’s persimmons. This family also shared their sweet, juicy Valencia oranges. Again, this is a fantastic micro-climate for fruit. (Google: plant an orchard!)The Bay Area has many of these persimmon trees, as they do really well in the climate there. Here in Los Angeles, Eagle Rock and Glendale have the most persimmon trees, from my unofficial tally. This sumptuous fruit only appears for a couple of months once a year, so Co-op members are enjoying them fresh as we contemplate making chutney. (The Fuyu can be eaten when firm, like an apple, and are not astringent like the Hachiya which must be soft-ripe.) Meanwhile, I dried some of them, and they are fantastic. I don’t have a dehydrator so I used my oven, set at 170, the lowest setting. I sliced a bit off the end, then into 1/4″ slices and placed on a baker’s cooling rack on a baking sheet. After 5 hours, I switched the pan positions, and after another 5 hours, took them out. That is a total of 10 hours in the oven at the lowest setting. Now we’ll be able to have persimmons in April – if I can successfully squirrel these delish morsels away!
Shan’s passion fruit were one of our favorite Co-op projects last year. This year her vine is producing an even more abundant crop! She calls them her ‘baskets of Easter eggs in the kitchen’.We use the whole fruit technique in our preserves and marmalade, in which the seedy center is scraped out and then the shells are boiled and peeled for the pectin-rich pulp. The only thing that goes into compost is the thin, papery shell and some of the seeds. To strain out the seeds, give the seedy juice a quick whirl in the blender, then put that in a strainer and let gravity extract all the juice. All we add to the tart juice and relatively tasteless pulp is sugar, as this whole fruit has exactly what is needed to set up a perfect preserve. Adding the chopped pulp gives it body and texture as well as pectin, and if someone has some oranges, those go in as well. Simply core, seed, and thinly slice the whole orange and boil it briefly to soften, then add that to the mixture. We use the standard ratio of 1:1, that is, 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of fruit. Like all preserves, it works best when done in batches of 6, or 6 cups of fruit boiled with 6 cups of sugar. You can see step by step instructions in an earlier post on this blog. If you have some passion fruit, first, congratulations, and second, try making preserves. Although there are several steps, it is actually relatively easy. And your house will smell extraordinary!
The Co-op received about 50 pounds of white nectarines, which were harvested fairly green. These are so delicate when ripe that it does make sense to harvest them early, but the flavor was not well-deveoped. In the past 3 years we have made preserves and jam with these, but this year I wanted to try simply canning the pitted fruit in a light simple syrup. Perhaps the canning process will develop the flavor? We’ll open a jar and taste the fruit in another ten days. If it doesn’t pass muster, they may be turned into chutney, or perhaps salsa.
The Co-op received a generous bag of perfectly ripe Meyer lemons. These had to be processed right away, as they were at their peak and would spoil quickly. A quick way to preserve lemons (or limes) is to make preserved lemons with salt, known variously as Moroccan preserved lemons or Indian lemon pickle. You’ll find smallish jars with impressive prices at specialty stores, but it is so easy to make your own. Wash thoroughly and slice off about 1/4″ at both ends. Slice nearly through, but leave one end intact, a bit like an open flower. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt in your clean jar, then sprinkle the open lemons with salt as you layer them in. Push down forcefully to press them and extract juice so that the uppermost lemons are covered in juice, then sprinkle with more salt. Close tightly, then let sit for 4 to 6 weeks. Periodically shake the jar. To use, simply rinse the lemons and finely chop the rind, and use instead of salt. Add to couscous or rice, or add to stews and dips. You’ll find lots of uses for anything seasoned with lemon and salt.
These lemons were also made into a marmalade base, using the standard citrus prep technique.
Using the golden 6 cup rule, 6 cups of the mix was cooked with sugar and then flavored.
For a tarter marmalade flavored with sprig of fresh rosemary in the jar, only 4 cups of sugar was added. Pomegranate molasses is a tart addition, so 5 cups of sugar went into that batch. When three tablespoons of orange flower water was added, the standard 6 cups of sugar, or 1:1 ratio worked well. All are good and fun to try, but honestly, with a Meyer lemon base, just about anything tastes brilliant!
oranges, dried cranberries, ginger, cloves and black pepper marmalade
You can find a loquat tree in nearly every neighborhood in Los Angeles. All the trees are bearing heavily this year, perhaps in response to the drought conditions. Sadly, much of this fruit will end up in green cans for green waste management, as there are more than even our hungry squirrels and raccoons can eat. But you can harvest and preserve this local crop, with just a little effort. Loquat fruits are mostly seed and not very juicy, but once cooked they do have a delightful subtle flavor, evoking almonds (from the seeds) and roses. Thanks to Co-op members and a dear friend of the Co-op, Nadine, for the loquat harvest. Nadine invited us to harvest her loquats, and Cyd (Co-op stalwart) and I went home with not only 50 pounds of loquats but armfuls of blooming iris and lilies from Nadine’s wonderful Hollywood Hills mediterranean garden. The best of Hollywood!
The Co-op had lots of ripe, sweet Valencia oranges a few weeks ago. A bounty of former orchards ripened in our back yards and there will be more. We literally gave them away in a box in front of Co-op HQ for any interested passers-by. My family’s birthday calendar and my culinary strengths (baking and preserves) happily coincided with this Co-op surplus. I made this cake twice in 10 days, and I recommend it to you as it is the happy confluence of easy and delicious.
Basically, this cake is excellent by itself and amenable to your ideas. It is so simple that you probably have the ingredients in your kitchen right now. It takes about an hour.
2 1/4 c flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
zest of 2 large or 3 small oranges (just the orange, not the white pith)
1 c orange juice (you can use the juice of those zested oranges, and add water to reach 1 cup)
4 ounces melted unsalted butter (1 stick), cooled
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with vegetable-oil spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Spray the paper too.
- In a large bowl or the bowl of your electric stand mixer, mix the flour with the sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest. Mix well at medium speed, then beat in the eggs, juice, and butter until blended, about 2 minutes. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes onto a rack to cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper.
- Either fill with fresh chopped strawberries, mangoes, or whatever you like, or make an orange curd filling.
- Orange Curd: In a medium saucepan, combine a cup of orange juice, 1/3 c sugar, 3 tbsp flour and about 2 tsp orange zest. Keep whisking constantly over heat until the mixture thickens and starts to boil. Take off the heat and whisk in a hefty tbsp of butter. Set aside to cool with a piece of plastic wrap over the top to prevent a skin forming.
- Italian Meringue Icing: This is a treat that my family loves, as it is lighter than a buttercream and really attractive. My grandmother Nonny made a wonderful 7 minute frosting, and this is right along that line.
- In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup sugar and 1/3 c water to a boil to the soft ball stage, or 240 degrees. (You will need an electric mixer for this, or someone to help.) Meanwhile, beat 3 egg whites with a pinch (1/8 tsp) cream of tartar to the soft peak stage. While you are beating the egg whites, slowly pur in the hot sugar syrup and beat continuously for about 8 minutes, until the meringue is smooth and glossy.
- To assemble the cake, split the layers and fill with the orange curd, then frost. I decorated this one with lemon balm leaves and a geranium flower. It is not overly sweet or rich, but fresh and yummy.