August 22, 2012

Saving Tomato Seeds


In this small handful of organic heirloom-tomato seeds, I hold both a bit of history and of future promise.  I am holding a piece of the plants I once nurtured and the ones I will tend next season.  The seeds came from the fruit of one season's work and will grow into the fruit shared from another.

As an organic farmer, I can't help but be impressed by the natural world around us and this connection to the heirloom crops of years ago. 


Yes!  Heirloom tomatoes are self-pollinating and true breeding, allowing you to save seed and grow the same plant again year after year. This attribute is a rarity in the modern world of hybrid varieties bred for disease resistance, uniform size and long shelf life.


In our first tests, we tried small batches of 20 tomatoes.  The resulting germination rate was very good, 97%, with each tomato yielding 150 seeds or so. 



Here's our Vintage Wine tomato seed-saving story and how you can can save tomato seeds for planting another season. 

Step One: Cut mature, very ripe tomatoes in half and squeeze the seed and juice into a container.

Here we cut 2 pallets of very ripe Vintage Wine tomatoes, about 900 lbs. of fruit, into large buckets. 



Step Two: Let the seed and soup juice sit for a few days. Your container will come to life and bubble with yeasts and other microbes at work during the fermentation process. Fermentation is good - it kills disease causing bacteria and harmful fungi, as well as digests the gelatinous, anti-germination coating that surrounds each seed.

Pictured above is approximately 70 gallons of soup!



Step Three: Thoroughly rinse the seed clean, and let it dry very well. Keep the seed dry while in storage.

Here we have a pound and a half of seed, which is enough to plant 20 or 30 acres of tomato plants!


Step Four:  Plant the seeds the following spring! If you select the year’s best fruits and grow their seeds next year, your plant population will be more strongly adapted to your area. Progress with each repetition!

See seed name listed as “Capay 1.”  These are the seeds we saved, now all grown up. They were made out of Capay’s air, soil and water and have gone another season in those same elements.  

August 17, 2012

Summer Special - Gravenstein Apples

Guest Blog Post and Recipes by Georgeanne Brennan
Article previously featured in Edible Marin and Wine Country Magazine, reprinted here with permission.  Chutney recipe from Brennan's The Davis Farmers Market Cookbook

Fall Fruit Chutney Recipe from the Davis Farmers Market Cookbook
Fruit Chutney with Stonefruit and Apples (recipe below)

Every season produces something unique, unavailable at any other time of the year, and in summer in our area, one of those is the Gravenstein apple. The Gravenstein is an apple so notable for its flavor that it has been declared to be a heritage food by Slow Food USA, but unfortunately, one in danger of disappearing. The largest United States planting of the Gravenstein is around the town of Sebastopol, but the quantity is much diminished from years past, when the variety dominated the substantial apple production in Sonoma County.

Like so many other flavorful fruits and vegetables, the Gravenstein doesn’t hold well in storage, nor does it ship well, and consequently it has been dropped by many large buyers and shippers in favor of sturdier fruits.  Only in recent years are we discovering the loss to both our agricultural heritage and to our tables of many of the old-fashioned or heirloom fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, dedicated farmers are bringing them back into production with the hope that educated consumers, looking for true taste and flavor, will seek out and buy these special fruits and vegetables. 

The Gravenstein, thought to have been brought to the area by Russian settlers and fur traders around the first part of the 19th century, certainly fits this description.

It has true apple flavor, balanced between slightly sweet and acidic, with a juicy crunch that, to my thinking, is the essence of a good apple. It’s a lovely waxy green, with red striations, or sometimes pure red, and one of its many virtues is that it is equally good eaten out of hand, cooked, or turned into cider.  The Gravenstein season is short, essentially July and August, so plan ahead, and make sure you get your fill of one of California’s finest fruits.

My son, recently back from Bulgaria, where any fruit with sugar was considered worthy of turning into rakia, is promising to make some with Gravenstein apples this year. His navel orange rakia was a stunning success and we’re looking forward to the apple version. For me, I’ll stick to eating them out of hand or frying them with onions to serve with sausages.

Fried Apples, Onions, and Sausages

Featured in Edible Marin and Wine Country Magazine
by Georgeanne Brennan

2 tablespoons butter
4 Gravenstein apples, cored and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices
1 large onion, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 to 6 fennel or other favorite sausage

Heat the butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. When it foams, add the apples and sauté until the underside is golden, about 7 minutes. Turn, add the onions to the pan and continue to sauté until the second side of the apples is golden and the onions are limp and golden, another, 5 minutes or so. While the apples and onions are cooking, cook the sausages in your favorite fashion.

Serve the hot sausages accompanied by the hot apples and onions.
Serves 4 

Fall Fruit Chutney

Featured in The Davis Farmers Market Cookbook
by Georgeanne Brennan and Ann M. Evans

2 pounds stone fruit such as plums, nectarines, pluots, chopped  coarsely
1 pound apples, chopped coarsely
1/2 pound yellow onion, chopped coarsely
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, minced, about 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 green jalapeño pepper, seeded, chopped finely
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy metal pan such as a Dutch oven. Bring mixture to a boil. Turn heat to low and cook mixture until all ingredients are soft and blended, about 3 hours. Mix frequently toward the end to prevent burning.

Remove from heat. Remove cinnamon stick.

To can, place lids with rubber seal into a small sauce pan with about 1 cup of boiling water in it. Soften the lids for about 2 minutes, and turn off heat. Ladle the hot mixture into sterilized pint jars, filling up to ½ - ¼ inch below the top. With a clean cloth, wipe the rim of the jar so that it is clean. Place lid on the rim of the jar. Screw on the ring, fairly tight. Place in a water-bath canner with water covering the jars by about 1-2 inches. Bring water to a boil. Process in a water-bath canner for 10 minutes. Remove jars from water. Let cool. You should hear a popping sound as this occurs. Prior to putting away the chutney, check each seal by pressing down on the lid. It should not give. Label with name of product and date made.

Makes 2-3 pints

Georgeanne Brennan is an award-winning cookbook author, journalist, and food policy consultant with a distinguished culinary and business career spanning several decades. As a principal of Evans & Brennan, LLC , she has been working over the past several years piloting professional development with the Davis JUSD, focusing specifically on enhancing the skills and creativity of the nutrition services staff using the 6-5-4 School Lunch Matrix. The author of more than 30 books on cooking and food, and a cooking school owner and teacher, she brings her considerable expertise to Rethinking School Lunch in rural and urban settings.

August 15, 2012

Gravenstein Apples - A Labor of Love

Gravenstein Apples

"It has often been said that if the Gravenstein could be had throughout the year,
no other apple need be grown."
 – Luther Burbank, horticulturist and ag science pioneer

As you peek into your Farm Fresh To You boxes this week, you'll find a special summer treat worth saving and savoring! Gravensteins, highly treasured heirloom apples, are crisp, juicy and delicious, and yet for many reasons, are in danger of becoming extinct.

Gravenstein Apples

In the era of big ag and convenience growing, the Gravenstein became an endangered species. The Slow Food movement took up the cause of “saving” the Gravenstein by encouraging restaurants and retailers to buy this heritage apple and by designating this variety an Ark of Taste food, “a catalog of 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction.” Slow Food also established a Presidium that “works to promote and protect farmers who nurture their apples from tree to table.”

In 2011, an article about Gravensteins in The New York Times summarized it nicely, “Like all classic heroes, however, the Gravenstein has a fatal flaw — or two. The apple ripens earlier than most, but does not travel or age well, unlike big-time brands like the Red Delicious, meaning that getting them to distant markets can be a challenge.”

Gravenstein Apples

We could not be more proud to partner with farmer John Kolling of Solana Gold Organics, whose extreme dedication and care for the Gravenstein has fulfilled our dream of finding enough of these rare apples that we are finally able to share them with you, our CSA members!

Interesting Facts from John about his "Gravs":

  • His “Gravs” come from many trees that are over 100 years old, with 30-foot canopies. 
  • He purposely doesn’t irrigate because forcing the trees to seek moisture builds character, crunch and intensifies aroma and flavor.
  • Gravs need to be hand-picked very carefully as they bruise easily in every color stage. 
  • The apple's skin color progresses seven different times over the life of the apple. It starts off a bright lime green then transitions to a medium orange color with faded red over-markings.
  • Gravenstein trees have three sets of chromosomes instead of the usual two, making the trees very large compared to other apple trees. Crutches are used to support the weight of their branches.

Gravenstein Apples
Due to an extra set of chromosomes, large Gravenstein trees often have to use crutches
to support the weight of their branches.

Gravensteins were first planted in California by Russian traders in the early 19th century and for over 100 years, they have found their home in Sebastopol. In addition to Sonoma County, this apple does well in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia.

Gravenstein Apples

What makes Gravenstein apples so unique?

  • Perfectly balanced flavor - sweet and tart!
  • Versatile fruit - great for cooking and baking.
  • Aromatic - sweet, floral smell
  • Early bloomers - these apples are some of the first of the season, and are harvested in July and August.
  • Passionate followers - There is a high demand for the apples and major supportive groups and events such as Slow Food, Apple Blossom Festival, Gravenstein Apple Fair.

Reasons why Gravensteins are on the endangered list:

  • Tall trees - difficult to reach the apples that are on the tallest parts of the trees.
  • Short, weak stems - causes apples to fall from the tree prematurely.
  • Diminishing farm land - higher demand and higher profit margin for wine grapes or real estate.
  • Uncertain harvest cycles and short shelf-life.
Gravenstein Apples
John Kolling takes us out into his orchard. You can tell how much we love his trees too!

Gravensteins, both sweet and tart, are great for eating raw, making applesauce and cider, and of course, baking in a pie. They are also known to make a delicious vinegar. The apple is crispy, juicy and aromatic.

We could not share these apples without the amazing work of John Kolling and his farm, Solana Gold Organics.  A big thank you to John for his labor of love!