meyer lemons on the menu (again)

its that time of year again: the time when i steal 90% of the meyer lemons from the tree and piss my mother off. (theres no way she could have used them all).

once again the tree pumped out another plentiful crop of picturesque lemons. it amazes me how perfect-looking they are. most backyard fruit is drastically flawed – massive, mutant, black specked and hideous. not in my back yard. these things are pristine. this is not because my family has green fingers – its because we are lucky. last year the lemons were going into “perfect” lemon tarts. this year they have been upgraded to sweet AND savory dishes.

on the savory side – meyer lemon aioli, an accompaniment for deep fried smelt and salt cod brandade. every fully realized dish needs an acid component and this is especially true for super rich fried foods. a little hit of lemon in the aioli balances it all out quite nicely.

the pastry ladies whipped up a lemon curd which was then folded into whipped cream. i’m not sure why i’ve never done this myself before – its extremely easy and delicious. this delightful whipped cream was dolloped onto a slice of super moist and crunchy polenta cake and garnished with lemon zest and lavender.

pomegranates on the (bar) menu

in order to make a good cocktail you need good ingredients. other things you need to worry about are correct proportions, dilution, and temperature. it sounds easy enough but like most things in life: its easier said than done. one reason its hard to make a good cocktail is that classic cocktail recipes often call for ingredients that are hard to come by. orgeat, pineapple gum syrup, and grenadine are sweetening syrups that were readily available in the cocktail boom before prohibition but are difficult to find today.

after the industrialization of our food system we are stuck with products like rose’s grenadine (ingredients: high fructose corn syrup, water, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate, red 40, blue 1). thats a far cry from the real thing: pomegranate juice and sugar. the best bartenders in the world couldn’t make a good cocktail with that junk. at bar agricole we are lucky to use small hand foods syrups which are made with the best ingredients, just like the good old days. this winter i made some of my own grenadine with farm agricole grown pomegranates.

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there is a wild old pomegranate tree at farm agricole. one that is never watered or pruned. it grows in the narrow space between the house and the neighbors property and as a result grows very tall and spindly. despite its adverse growing conditions it still pumps out a huge crop of pomegranates every year that has basically been ignored in the past. they are not at all like the plump rosy colored pomegranates found at the store. their color is incredibly dark – almost black – with hundreds of tiny seeds clinging on to a minuscule amount on fruit. the flavor is intense and sweet and bitter all at the same time. i have no idea what variety of pomegranate we have but its definitely unusual.

this past season i harvested all the fruit i could (no easy task given the location and condition of the tree) and juiced it all with an old lever juicer yielding about 15 liters of juice. It took a ridiculously long time, made a huge mess, and dyed my hands black for about three days.

next time i’ll wear gloves.

i made the syrup by reducing the juice a little less than half and then adding an equal amount of sugar. the result is wonderfully rich and fresh with an incredible dark red color. i went through the trouble of canning the grenadine to make it shelf stable which was a total waste of time because the bar has gone through almost all 13 liters of syrup in about six weeks.

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there are countless cocktails that call for grenadine as an ingredient. the most well known (unfortunately) are tequila sunrise and shirley temple. some lesser known but infinitely more awesome cocktails are: presidente, scofflaw, monkey’s gland, ward eight, whiz bang, pink lady, jack rose, and mary pickford. a few of these have been on the menu recently at bar agricole.

jack rose: calvados, lemon, grenadine

presidente on the left: rum, vermouth, curacao, grenadine, orange bitters
monkey’s gland on the right: gin, orange juice, lemon juice, grenadine, absinthe

pea comparison

after the first few weeks of life there was a noticeable difference between the success of the varieties of peas. six weeks later the difference is baffling.

on the right are blue peas and on the left are tall telephone. the other varieties are doing ok but the these two are the definitely the extreme.

the blue pea plants are beautiful. there are flourishes of purpley color all over.

trellis

its interesting to see how different varieties of the same species are growing under the same conditions. theres not much variation among the fava plants (they are all doing pretty well) but the blue peas i got from baker creek exploded out of the ground with 95%+ germination and are continuing to grow at an astonishing rate. the other varieties of peas – not so much. a variety of pea called lincoln that i got from baker creek had about 50% germination and those that did germinate don’t seem to want to grow. for the peas that are doing well i needed to get a trellis in before the plants got too big. i picked up some fence-like material from home depot and cut it down to fit each bed which i think will do the trick nicely.

some of the peas started to grab on to the trellis within an hour of putting it in. amazing.

a clean slate

a few weeks ago was my one year anniversary of farm agricole. what i have learned in the past year has been invaluable. i’m excitedly looking forward to the coming year. i’m hoping to do a few things differently. my main priority is to farm smarter and work less. i’ve decided to grow fewer types of vegetables at a time to cut down on labor and to have larger individual harvests that will be of more value to the restaurant. this means two distinct plantings: one in fall and one in spring. i also plan to source my seeds from smaller companies so that i can grow some unique varities that are not available from our current suppliers.

the changes start now! i took a trip to petaluma, had a lovely lunch at the della fattoria cafe, and then bought some seed from the baker creek seed store (called the petaluma seed bank). baker creek is an all heirloom seed company started in 1998 by then 17 year old Jere Gettle. they incredibly have 1400 varieties available online and at a few brick and mortar stores in mannsfield missouri, petaluma california, and most recently wethersfield connecticut. i got some really interesting stuff – purple fava beans and blue peas to name a few. i’m looking forward to seeing how they do.

in the middle of october i started my fall/winter veggies. i stripped everything out of the garden, prepped the beds, and planted two different varieties of fava beans in five beds and four different varieties of peas in four beds. it was a lot of work. i wish i’d had a helper.

it looks so tidy. come springtime 2012 i should have an abundance of legumes to supply the restaurant. i then plan to plant all my summer crops. let the selecting begin…

tomatoes NOT on the menu

ok fine i give up. my tomatoes just aren’t good enough. bar ag has a standing order set up with heart arrow ranch (aka mendocino organics) for about 100lbs a week. my measly 20lbs just aren’t gonna cut it. their biodynamic tomatoes are unbelievably amazing. mine are just plain old amazing. oh well.

started from seed

in the ground

first ripe

so what to do with all these tomatoes? short answer: eat them. i planted mostly cherry tomatoes (sun gold and washington cherry) that are intensely sweet and flavorful. they make amazing sauce and soup – its just a little more work to deal with lots of tiny tomatoes instead of big juicy ones. i think its worth the extra effort.

about a month ago i decided to harvest all the ripe tomatoes i could find and can them to use in the coming (tomatoless) year. this was the first time i’ve canned something other than jam or marmalade and i think it went pretty well.

the harvest

tops

peeling

reducing

canned

at the end of the day we “put up” three and a half gallons of tomatoes. should last a while.

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i went on a two week vacation in the middle of september which coincided perfectly with the ripening of my large heirloom tomatoes (moskvitch and cherokee purple). when i got home i had to compost 80% of these tomatoes that were rotting on the vine. heartbreaking. the few that are ripening now are going in lots of sandwiches and caprese salads.

in the compost pile

beets on the menu

some of the beds became available a little too late for summer veggie planting so i decided to plant some beets. beets are one of those easy to grow veggies that don’t seem to mind when they are planted – just as long as its warm enough to germinate. they grew nicely except the leaves were quite raggedy – i’m sure due to the heat of summer. the bulbs, however are delicious.

the seeds i had were a blend of red beets, chioggia, and golden. the red and chioggia varieties germinated and grew very quickly and the goldens barely grew at all. i’ve only had one or two goldens out of the whole lot which is a shame as they are my favorite.

the beets have attracted a visitor – my new best friend: garrett the gopher. he munched on a few fennel roots leading to the death of the plant but he really gets excited about the beets. he manages to pull the whole thing below ground leaving a few inches of leaves poking out of a huge hole. i’m not sure how many he’s gotten at this point but there are only about ten beets left in the ground – soon to be eaten by me. i think it might be a tough winter for garrett, especially because i just got my gopher trap in the mail…..

over the weeks i’ve taken about 16lbs of beets into the restaurant and they have all been used in a dish that has been on the menu for a few months now. most menu items only last a day or two. it is simple and light and a real crowd pleaser.


roasted and sliced beets on rye bread with horseradish cream cheese, garnished with watercress dressed in a simple vinaigrette.

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