This week, we’re celebrating our heritage of good food plants, especially heirlooms and anything growing in our own gardens. Each of the past two years, since the National Heirloom Exposition began, Edible East Bay’s art and garden editor, Helen Krayenhoff, has come home from the event in Santa Rosa absolutely delighted. “I plan on going again this year. Worth the drive,” she says. We’re also excited about the apple festival in Hayward, the tomato workshops in Sunol, and some good reading on seeds and heritage plants. Enjoy!
Tuesday–Thursday, September 10–12 11am–8pm Santa Rosa Fairgrounds
This exposition, launched just three years ago, has become a significant player in the world of heirlooms and is growing larger in scope each time it is held. This year, the emphasis is on increased awareness of label GMO campaigns across the country. More than 100 speakers offer a variety of informative and educational presentations on subjects as diverse as seed saving, genetically modified organisms, home gardening, food politics and policy, farming, marketing local foods, among others. Important names include Vandana Shiva, Patrick Holden, Ronnie Cummins, Andrew Kimbrell, Jeffrey Smith, William Woys Weaver, and many more. The event resembles a county fair, but one that emphasizes heritage breed and varieties. Look for a livestock show, gardening- and food-related exhibits, and a giant pumpkin contest. It’s also a trade show for the heirloom seed and food industry; a celebration of historic agriculture, horticulture, and food traditions; a chef demo and tasting event; and a big party with live music. Adult admission is $10 each day or $25 for all 3 days. The not-for-profit event benefits school gardens and other educational projects and offers free admission to anyone 17 years old and younger. There are special Kid’s Day activities on Wednesday, September 11. Purchase tickets at theheirloomexpo.com or at the gate. Info: call Paul Wallace at 707.773.1336 or email info(at)theheirloomexpo(dot)com.
Grow Great Tomatoes!
August 31 and September 11 & 14 Hands-on workshops at Baia Nicchia Farm in Sunol
Pay a visit to an expert tomato breeder, learn all about his craft, and get tips for growing your own great tomatoes. Fred Hempel, founder of Baia Nicchia Farm, has been breeding tomatoes for the last decade, farming tomatoes since 2006, and selling seeds through his company, Artisan Seeds. In addition to receiving a host of growing tips, you’ll learn about the basics of tomato breeding for farmers and gardeners, tomato seed saving, and new varieties being developed by Artisan Seeds. Plus you’ll get to sample some of those new Artisan Seeds varieties and enjoy a farm lunch with ample vegetarian/vegan options. Tomatoes and other produce from Baia Nicchia Farm, are prominently featured in many of the best Bay Area restaurants. Fred’s breeding work was recently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Baia Nicchia Cherry Tomato Salad
This salad is an example of Italian-style quality via simplicity, where the emphasis is on the quality and harmony of a small number of ingredients. It features warm-ripened cherry tomatoes, which are typically available July to October in the Bay Area. Look for Sungold, Black Cherry, Sweet 100, Blush, and Lucky Tiger varieties. We have left the usual Parmesan or Romano cheese out of our pesto, since the salad already includes burrata cheese. Also, we leave out the garlic, because the last thing we want to do is have a strong flavor competing with the complex flavors of the summer-ripe cherry tomatoes at the center of the dish. For the pesto: 2 cups fresh Napolitano basil leaves ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil ⅓ cup pine nuts For the salad: ½ pint warm-ripened cherry tomatoes, halved 1 tablespoon Napolitano basil pesto (see recipe below) ½ pound burrata cheese (Gioia burrata is a great choice), cut into small pieces Salt Pepper To make the pesto: Process basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, and pine nuts in a food processor or pound to a paste by hand. To make the salad: Spread 1 tablespoon of the pesto onto a serving plate and then arrange the cut-up burrata and halved cherry tomatoes over top. Lightly salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature. Note #1: After years of telling people to not refrigerate tomatoes, we have discovered that cherry tomatoes are the exception. Full-flavor, sweet cherry tomatoes are best if picked fully ripe (but not overripe) and refrigerated gently to hold the tomatoes at peak flavor. Note #2: Napolitano basil can be grown easily during the summer throughout the Bay Area. The leaves are most flavorful and tender when the plants are grown in ¾ shade with morning or afternoon sun. A large pot on the patio makes a great place to grow basil.
A Hayward Heritage of Apples
Saturday September 7, noon–4pm Garin Regional Park, 1320 Garin Ave, Hayward Other than a charge for parking, admission is free.
How many varieties of apples are at your local supermarket right now? Chances are only a few. They would be the most popular: fugi, gala, delicious, granny smith, pink lady… with many coming in from other parts of the world or brought out from last year’s harvest storage. If your store stocks local, seasonal produce, you might be lucky enough to enjoy the tasty, but short-keeping gravenstein, a favorite pie apple being harvested right now. Coming up on September 8, there’s a great opportunity to tour an East Bay orchard that harbors around 300 heirloom apple trees bearing, among others the Red Baron, Emma’s Apple, King David, and the sweet Hudson’s Golden Gem varieties. The latter was a favorite of Richmond resident and antique apple enthusiast Emil Linquist, who offered his potted trees to the East Bay Regional Park District in 1985 for planting at Garin Regional Park in Hayward. A special treasure of the park district, the orchard at Garin is now mature and is tended from March through October by a group of dedicated volunteers, who monitor ripening in anticipation of the annual apple festival at the park. Visitors can expect to taste 15 to 20 unique apple varieties as they celebrate the East Bay’s farming and pioneer past through fun festival activities like hoisting hay bales, cranking handmade ice cream, or helping operate the cider press. Naturalist staff from nearby Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont will give talks about the ranching lifestyle of previous centuries. Live music, dancing, crafts, and old-fashioned games make it a satisfying family event. And the good news is that, other than a charge for parking, admission is free.
Plant It to Save It
Reviews by Kristina Sepetys
Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter by David Buchanan (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012) The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food by Janisse Ray (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012) Last week my North Berkeley neighbor Al Kennings passed away at 102. He was a fine plantsman who, among other horticultural accomplishments, created and maintained the rose garden at St. Mary Magdalen Church on Berryman Street. Shortly after I moved in, he came by to introduce himself, bearing a bunch of fragrant lilies plucked from his own front garden and presented in a metal coffee can. Already in his 90s, he was still a tall, strapping man whose physical fitness bore testimony to his hardscrabble life growing up in eastern Oregon where he dreamed of being a sheep herder. Plants were a hobby that he acquired later in life, during a long career in the California dairy industry. Al was a little gruff and very opinionated but never failed to greet me with a warm smile. We quickly discovered a shared interested in gardening. Al wasn’t a landscaper or designer. He was a grower who planted every square inch of his property with mostly flower specimens. I’d watch him out back in his ramshackle potting shed with a corrugated metal roof, hunched over pots and plants, jury-rigging irrigation systems, concocting fertilizers, and engaging in various other arcane botanical activities. Over the years he’d come knocking, bearing some of the fruits of his labors to commemorate birthdays and other special occasions: brilliantly colored, prize-winning dahlias, soft pink peonies, yellow spring daffodils, velvety roses. In summer months, he shared surplus zucchinis, tomatoes, and other produce. Sometimes, to encourage my curiosities and gardening efforts, he might reach over our hedge to give me a handful of seeds, an old paper bag of freshly dug bulbs, or a few cuttings. Perhaps it’s these memories that have drawn me into two engaging personal memoirs about preserving and protecting seeds and heirloom fruits and vegetables. “Heirlooms” are defined as plants that date back at least 50 years and haven’t been altered by modern production methods like genetic modification. In Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter, David Buchanan, a pioneer in the heirloom seed movement in the early 1990s, shares his personal journey from Washington State to Portland, Maine, through gardens, farms, abandoned orchards, and farmers markets to “discover meaning and stories in forgotten foods.” Buchanan describes his work farming rare fruits and vegetables as a search for what individuals can do to preserve heirlooms and restore the “creative connection with land and plants that, until the last few generations, was at the heart of most people’s lives.” His mantra is “Plant it to save it.” Janisse Ray is a naturalist, activist, seed-saver, seed-exchanger, and seed-banker who has gardened for 25 years. She’s also an inspiring, lyrical writer who, in The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, tells absorbing, detail-rich stories of ordinary gardeners working to save heirloom, open-pollinated varieties of fruits and vegetables. If you read these books, you’ll learn that we’ve irretrievably lost thousands of seed varieties; Ray claims it’s a full 94 percent of what was available at the turn of the 20th century. And even more will be lost to the mono-cropped dominion of agribusiness unless people grow, save, and exchange seeds. According to Buchanan, “even the smallest garden can express something nearly forgotten, become a pocket of diversity in a world that looks and tastes increasingly the same.” Images and excerpt used by permission from Chelsea Green. Excerpt: Chapter 19: How to Save Tomato Seeds By permission from The Seed Underground How to save tomato seeds Pick nice tomatoes that would be perfect for a mean kid to mash up. If they’re large, slice them in half at the equator. Hold them over a canning jar. (Try not to use plastic for anything. Plastic is bad stuff.) Milk the pulp, meaning the gelatinous matrix that suspends the seeds, like frog eggs, into the jar. If you’re working with cherry tomatoes, you’ll have to hold the whole tomato between your fingers and squeeze. The only thing left will be the skin. Put the jar lid on, give it a shake, and label it with the name of the variety inside. If you don’t label the jar, you will forget what it contains. If you have two tomatoes you’re saving, you think you can sit Yellow Mortgage Lifter on the right and Pruden’s Purple on the left and remember what’s what, and pretty soon you’re wondering if Yellow Mortgage Lifter was on the right or the left. Just do it. The tomato hull can still be eaten. I think sauce is a good idea at this point. Fermenting, which is what you are doing with the goopy mess in the canning jar, is the best way to save tomato seeds because the process dissolves the gel—which contains chemicals that inhibit germination. Fermentation causes the seeds to germinate more quickly when you plant them the following spring. Fermenting also breaks down the seed coat where seed-borne diseases like bacterial canker, spot, and speck can lurk. Let the mess stand for two or three days in a warm location, longer if the temperature is below 70°F. The books say to stir daily but I don’t. When a layer of blue-gray mold covers the surface of the tomato-seed funk, the process is complete. Occasionally in hot weather (seven months a year here), I have had the seeds start to germinate inside the goop, which means that I’ve left them too long untended and they think they’ve actually been planted and it’s time to race off again into plant-building and fruit-making. Don’t be like me. Look at the underside of the jar. The viable seeds will have sunk to the bottom. Pick off the scum, then fill the jar with warm water and begin to pour off the now-rotten goop, being careful not to pour out your seeds. You may have to add water or rinse seeds off the insides of the jar and pour again, slowly. Viable seeds keep sinking to the bottom. Do this until you have mostly seeds and water in the jar. Now dump the seeds into a large metal strainer whose holes are smaller than the seeds, rinse, drain for a few minutes, then spread them on a screen or on a plate covered with newsprint or a clean rag (don’t buy paper towels). Leave the seeds until they dry. Label—very important!—and store.
Seed Matters is a nonprofit organization based in Emeryville, established by the Clif Bar Family Foundation in 2009 to create and protect resilient organic seed systems. Today, Seed Matters is a coalition of organizations and companies that advocate for the improvement and protection of organic seed to ensure productive crops for the health of people and the planet. Seed Matters has funded more than a dozen organic seed research and education projects. The organization supports projects that conserve crop diversity, protect farmers’ roles and rights as seed innovators and stewards, and reinvigorate public seed research and education. Visit their website at seedmatters.org, where you can find helpful background, statistics, additional resources, as well as additional information about their grants, fellowships, and how to start a community seed program.