Monday, June 25, 2012

CUESA Tour of Bella Viva and CandyCot

All of my posts these days seem to start with, "What a week!" But this may have been the biggest week yet! Last night we put on a show at the SF Food Lab Grand Opening party, where I shook hands with Mayor Ed Lee and gave away tons of grilled cheese toasts. Wednesday we served up 3 types of sandwiches at the Williams Sonoma Farmers Market, along with our new pies, and Tuesday was a mondo day of bike deliveries Downtown. 

But last Friday was the wonderful calm before the storm, and I got to join CUESA for a field trip in the Central Valley. 50 of us piled in to a bus to Denair where we stopped at Bella Viva Orchards, a 49 acre orchard and fruit-drying operation. We took a walk among the peach trees (Pick whatever you can hold in 2 hands) and ended up here, at the cherry-drying station, the reason I came on the trip.

3 weeks ago we baked up some cherry compote muffins using cherries from Arata Farms. It took so long to pit and dehydrate the flat of cherries, that I was determined to see the process from someone who got it right. Bella Viva has it down pat, from this field of sun-dried Bing cherries to their walk-in dehydrators for unsulphured fruit, to their equipment for stemming, sorting, pitting and placing the fresh cherries. Bella Viva dehydrates some huge number of cherries (think thousands of tons) each year. Owner Victor Martino says, "You've had our fruit, and you didn't know it was ours" in trail mixes sold throughout the US. 

Next up we visited the home of the CandyCot, Candycots came about from plant geneticist John Driver's experiments breeding the sweetest apricots he could find, grafting them onto fruit wood, and testing testing testing. His young trees are in their second or third year, and are just beginning to bear enough to sell. Driver grows his trees on V-trellises, saying the fruit is sweetest when all of the wood gets adequate sunlight.

We walked through the rows of Anya and Yuliya candycots, Driver's 2 creations 15 years in the making, picking and eating more that was comfortable. I've never tasted anything like these fruits, which were dry and sweet and crunchy. Driver says the sugar content is so high (more than twice a standard California apricot), that the fruits start to dehydrate on the tree.

Candycots hit the Ferry Plaza farmers market this past weekend, and I encourage you all to pick some up. They'll be worth every penny.

But back to real life, and a calendar as packed as Bella Viva's cherry trays, I got to work searching the farmers market for this week's bread menu. Happy Boy Farms seemed the obvious choice, with a fragrant display of impulse-buy herbs and the first of the year's tomatoes!

photo ctsy Happy Boy Farms

Happy Boy Farms in Freedom, CA, has a knack for being one of the most attractive market stands. Arriving upwards of 2 hours before the start of the market, Happy Boy's jolly marketeers make quick work of their 4 10x10 tents, and create a maze of tables full of photogenic vegetables. Find them at the Castro market, 4-8 on Wednesday, Temescal and Ft. Mason 9:30-1:30 on Sunday, Grand Lake and College of San Mateo on Saturday, and the Mission Community Market 4-8 on Thursday.

Stay tuned for more updates!

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