Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Day at Twin Peaks Orchard



I'm driving a beautiful country road on a gorgeous fall day. It's the Lincoln Newcastle Highway curving through lovely farmland as it makes a slight climb in elevation between Lincoln and Newcastle. I think I've only driven this road once before in my 20+ years in the area. I'm looking for Twin Peaks Orchards and as I round a curve it suddenly pops up in front of me quicker than I would have thought.

I am here to take a tour of the family owned orchards with Camelia Enriquez Miller. I had met Camelia and her mother at the Folsom Whole Foods press dinner where their dried stone fruit was part of the cheese platter and a peach jam was featured on the Diestel turkey. The dried fruit, in particular, was addicting. I had asked if I might come and visit and spent a couple of hours on their beautiful property.

Don't miss the Open House details at the end of this post.


video

The name Twin Peaks becomes self evident. The orchards straddle the highway with a hill on each side. The views from the top of each peak are spectacular. How lucky to live amongst such natural beauty. The property was originally bought in 1912 by the Japanese Nakae family. It's still family owned, although through marriages over the generations it has changed over to Camelia's father's hands, an Enriquez. Both Nakae and Enriguez families live in five residences on the property with Camelia's own children being the fifth generation.


Camelia greets me and we climb a steep hill to her aunt's house on the north peak. I'm introduced to her aunt, Carol, who is in charge of the commercial kitchen and all of the byproducts made from the fruit. Here she makes jams, jellies, sauces, and the sun-dried fruit. Today she is packaging up the last of the dried fruit which they sell at farmers markets and a little at Whole Foods.



The dried fruit is made from fruit that can't be sold due to blemishes or size. It is sliced and then maybe given a quick dunk in a diluted mixture of water and ascorbic acid (natural) to keep it from discoloring. The fruit is then set out on window screens, placed on racks, covered with netting, and then left in the sun to dry out. The resulting slices are filled with natural sweetness. I was given a small bag to take home and it never made it. In the half hour drive home it quickly disappeared.

Out of the 100 acres, 85 of them are farmed with over 60 different types of trees. The biggest crop is the persimmons, which are being harvested now. It turns out that the Newcastle area grows the majority of the nation's persimmons because many of the farms around the area were/are owned by Japanese who settled the area in the 20s. Twin Peaks grows three varieties: Fuyu, Hyakume,and Hachiya.

Persimmons are something I have almost no knowledge of. In fact, I'd never even seen or heard of them until I moved to Sacramento. Carol gives me an overview of the three. There are two kinds of persimmons - astringent and non-astringent. Astringent varieties need to be allowed to 'cure' to get rid of the harsh, puckering tartness.

Fuyus
The Fuyu, because it is non-astringent, is the only variety that can be eaten raw off the tree, like an apple. It is rounded and gets the lovely orange color.

The Hyakume is the largest crop of the three at Twin Peaks. It is round like a nectarine and gets more of a golden color when ripe. Even though they've grown them for decades, they were usually shipped out of the area until recently. This variety needs to be cured using alcohol. In the past they were thrown into barrels of alcohol to draw out the bitterness. The modern curing method is done in climate controlled rooms where the pallets of persimmons are gassed with an alcohol gas for a few days. I'm told that the home method is to put a drop of vodka at the stem and then seal them in an airtight container for a few days. They remain hard, unlike the Hachiya, so that after curing you can eat it like an apple. The ones you will find at Whole Foods have already been cured.


Hyakume on left, Hachiya on right
The last variety is the Hachiya, the one that is often used in cooking. As an astringent variety, you have to let it ripen to a mushy state. It has a pointed end to it and will also get the loverly orange-red color. Camelia tells me that her son likes to put the mushy fruit into the freezer and then cuts off the end and scoops out the innards like ice cream. Carol says that some people will actually cut the end and then squeeze the contents into their mouths like from a tube of toothpaste.


Hachiyas
It's the Hachiya that is also used to make Hoshigaki, the dried, massaged persimmons that are prized in Japan. "Each persimmon is hand-peeled, strung onto a rack, and massaged every 3 to 5 days for several weeks. Weather conditions are watched carefully. The result is a transformation into a sugary delicacy that is tender and moist with concentrated persimmon flavor." (For a slide show showing the process, go to Otow Orchards, Hoshigaki page.)

Twin Peaks offers two Open House days a year. The first is during the summer at the peak of the stone fruit season. Next year be sure to watch for their announcement of the summer open house as they will be celebrating their 100th anniversary with an extra special day of events.

The second Twin Peaks Open House happens this weekend on Sunday, November 13th from 10am to 3pm. The persimmons will be at their peak and you can watch a demonstration of the making of the massaged Hoshigaki. There wil be demos, workshops, food, wine tasting, hay rides, and more. You can also u-pick your own mandarins.

Twin Peaks Orchards Open House Details




For other Farm-to-Fork style stories like this one, click here: Farm-to-Fork





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