A Visit to Driscoll’s Berries

Driscoll's berries

Last month, I went on a really great (if far too brief) trip to California. I’ve been intending to write about it since returning home, but there’s been a cavalcade of events (a book deadline, a visit from my sister’s family, the departure of my intern, a week-long vacation, the return of canning classes, and 34th birthday celebration).

You see, my sojourn in Northern CA was a gathering of bloggers, hosted by Driscoll’s. We were invited to learn more about how Driscoll’s develops, grows, packages, and sells their strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries.

raspberry plants

Going into the trip, I knew very little about the ins and outs of berry growing beyond the fact that I liked to visit my local farms during the season and pick their fruit. Thanks to Driscoll’s and this trip (which was essentially a one-day crash course on the ins and outs of berry farming), I have a far deeper understanding of breeding, developing, growing, marketing, and shipping processes required to bring that clamshell of berries to my local market.

greenhouse

When you buy a box of berries at the grocery store, know that your fruit was at least five to seven years in the making. You see, Driscoll’s works with number of farmers to grow the berries. All those growers start with seedlings that Driscoll’s breeds, propagates and raises, to ensure that the berries they sell meet their very high standards of texture and flavor.

raspberry canes

It takes five years of growing before a seedling is ready to be shipping to the grower (one plant is raised into 100, those 100 are grown into 5,000, those 5,000 become 200,000 and so on. For five years). Before that, there were many seasons of growing, tasting, and testing before a variety was selected to be propagated. It definitely not a matter of picking up some seeds and planting a field.

rows

We spent much of our time on the trip talking about strawberries, as those were the berries that were currently in season in Watsonville while we were there (this was in early April). We visited the test fields where Driscoll’s develops their new varieties and got to pick and taste berries directly from the ground (it was amazing).

cluster of berries

One thing that surprised me to learn while we were in the fields was that each strawberry cultivar has a relatively short lifespan. That’s because they’re constantly tweaking the plants in order to make them just a bit more delicious (all this work is basic breeding science. They don’t engage in any genetic engineering).

tee-shirt motto

One thing I heard over and over again during the time I spent with the Driscoll’s folks was the importance of delight (in fact, Driscoll’s mission statement starts with, “Our Mission is to continually delight our Berry Consumers…”).

At first, I was a little taken aback, because I’d never before been exposed to a company that is so clear about putting pleasure and flavor ahead of profits. But truly, Driscoll’s does (they made it very clear that if berries are subpar, they are not sold).

berry tour boots

One thing I found particularly interesting was the fact that strawberries are only touched once before we bring them home to our kitchens. They are packed into the clamshells in the fields by the pickers, so the handling is incredibly minimal. The growers are all independent, but do work closely with Driscoll’s, to ensure that standards are being met in regards to cleanliness, ripeness, and general berry quality.

berry tracking code

Here’s another thing I learned while on this trip. You can actually track exactly where your berries are coming from. All clamshells are labeled with code stickers and if you go to mydriscolls.com, you can punch in that code, see a picture of the farmer who grew your berries and learn where the farm is located. I’ve been doing it with every box of berries I bought since returning from this trip.

Driscoll's berries

I’ve long been someone who believes that the most important thing to do is to support your local farmers (and depending on where you live, there’s a good chance that the Driscoll’s berries in your market are local). And during the summer months, I buy mountains of fruit from the farmers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

However, being in the recipe writing business means that I often need berries in January. Having been on this trip, I feel so much better about buying off-season berries from Driscoll’s, because I know they’re working hard to produce the best, most flavorful and safest berries around.

Many thanks to Driscoll’s for inviting me to learn more about their berries and for giving me the opportunity to meet a collection of other fabulous bloggers and writers.

Disclosure: This trip to California was paid for by Driscoll’s. However, my opinions are entirely my own.
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Canning Demo at Art in the Age

16/365

All month long, some of my jars of preserves have been on display at the Art in the Age store in Old City as part of their The Return of Spring exhibition. The show is coming down soon, but on Tuesday, while my books and jars are still there, I’m going to be stopping by the shop to do an evening canning demo.

If you’re in the area, I’d love for you to swing by (festivities start at 6 pm). I’ll be making a small batch of strawberry vanilla jam, talking about preserving, answering questions, and signing cookbooks. Art in the Age can be found at 116 N. 3rd Street, Philadelphia.

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Giveaway: Ball Dry Herb Jars

locating the spice rack

The week Scott and I got married (nearly four years ago now!), my dad cut a giant hole in my kitchen wall and inserted floor-to-ceiling spice rack into a few inches of unused space. This had long been the wedding present plan, though looking back on it covering the apartment with drywall dust a few days before the big day wasn’t one of my better laid plans.

Still, I’ll never regret the mess, because I LOVE this spice shelf. Not only did it give me a bounty of additional storage space, the shelves are perfectly spaced to hold the canning jars that house my herbs and spices. Truly, it was one of the best presents I’ve ever received.

my spice storage

For the longest time, I thought I was the only one using slightly past their prime mason jars for this purpose, but in recent years, I’ve discovered that I’m very far from alone. And this spring, Ball finally recognized the fact that many of us use their jars in this way and released a product designed expressly for spice storage.

Ball Dry Herb Jars

Meet the Dry Herbs Jars. They are four ounce jars fitted with sturdy, locking shaker lids. I’m liking these herb jars for several reasons. I appreciate how large the holes are in the shaker lid (they’re akin to the ones you find on Parmesan cheese canisters) because they allow chunky things like kosher salt and red chili flakes through.

Herb Jar

I appreciate the slight rim on the edge of the lid, which means they stack with a sense of security. And finally (though this has nothing directly to do with their utility as a spice jar), I love the look of the smooth-sided four ounce jar. Would that they’d kick those quilted quarter-pints to the curb and sell these by the dozen!

shaker top

Thanks to our friends at Ball, I have a box of these Dry Herbs Jars to give away (each box contains four shaker topped jars).

  1. Leave a comment on this post and share how you store your herbs and spices.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm on Sunday, June 2, 2013. Winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog soon after.
  3. Giveaway open to US residents only (so sorry, further-flung friends).
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.

In addition to the giveaway, I’ve created a Pinterest board for photos of herb and spice storage. If you’d like to pin to the board, mention that in your comment and I’ll invite you to participate. It’s simply for fun, no additional entries to the giveaway will occur if you participate.

Disclosure: Ball has provided two sets of these Dry Herb Jars, one for photography purposes and one for giveaway, at no cost to me. However, I am unswayed by this gift and my opinions remain my own. 

Guest Post: Habenero Hot Sauce from Scott Lindenhurst

Scott Lindenhurst is the creator of Sauce Authority and is avid hot sauce aficionado. For nearly a year now, he’s willing tasted every hot sauce, pepper oil, and barbecue sauce he’s been able to get his hands on in order to share his findings with his growing audience of chili heads. Today, he’s stopped by to tell us a little more about his journey to the fire-y side of canning and preserving and share a recipe.

PIC10

I first realized that I had a hot sauce addiction when it became apparent that my life (and my meals) had been consumed with the thought, “I can add hot sauce to this?” From chicken, burgers and pork, to pasta, French fries and soup, nothing was safe. Between the taste-testing and the brewing up my own concoction, the Lindenhurst house has not been the same since.

I started Sauce Authority in the Fall of 2012 to give my hot sauce obsession a home. I live, breathe and sleep hot sauce – much to my wife’s frequent dismay. I grab every chance to try new hot sauces. And while I can’t get enough of taste-testing and reviewing sauces, more recently I have dabbled in making my own sauce. The most recent batch will have its debut at a party over the Memorial Day weekend.

One thing that I’m doing that made my sauce appropriate for a guest post on Food in Jars is that I’m putting the sauce in a jar, rather than the standard bottles that most hot sauces typically come in. The jar makes it look more of a salsa-type sauce, but make no mistake. It is a seriously hot sauce through and through.

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Links: Rhubarb, Granola, Pickles, and a Kootsac Winner

Sunday brunch

The busyness of the canning season has me firmly in its grasp now. I feel like I barely got a chance to catch my breath after turning the book in and now I’m racing around the Northeast teaching classes. I think I finally need to come to grips with the fact that my life doesn’t really slow down anymore. Ah well.

The internet is alive with rhubarb recipes these days. Here are the ones that have looked particularly appealing…

herb pesto

And other tasty links featuring granola, pickles and homemade soy milk.

Kootsacs

kootsac winner The winner in the Kootsac bulk bag giveaway is commenter #205, which is Sara from Three Clever Sisters.

She says, “I love Kootsac bags and bought a few when you last profiled them on your site. I think my kids have made off with them, but I loved using them for grains and polenta.”

Congratulations, Sara!

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A Giant Potato Pancake for Eat, Write, Retreat’s Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge

after the oven

Last year, I went to a bunch of food writer/blogger conferences in order to see beloved people, make some new friends, and help promote my book. In contrast, 2013 has shaped up to be a quieter year (which is fine by me). I’m skipping the bulk of the gatherings in order to spend a little more time at home and save my pennies for next summer’s book push. In fact, the only conference I’m participating in is Eat, Write, Retreat, which is landing in Philly in just a couple of weekends.

two russet potatoes

Part of the fun of Eat, Write, Retreat is that organizers start building the conference community well before everyone arrives at the DoubleTree. One of the ways that they’ve done this is by inviting everyone who registered before April 15 to participate in the Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge. Now, I’m not typically someone who gets excited about challenges and contests, but this one is a little different.

peeled

While there are prizes to be awarded at the conference, I actually felt like I won the moment the box arrived, thanks to all the OXO goodies (as well as a gorgeous assortment of potatoes) that it contained. Potatoes, graters, and ricers, oh my! What’s more, I’ve been needing something to shift me out of the cooking rut I’ve been in recently. Inventing an appetizing little dish featuring potatoes and using some of those new tools was just the boost I needed.

grated

I grabbed the two large, russet potatoes from the basket (approximately 1 3/4 pounds) and got to work. I peeled then and shredded them on the coarse OXO grater that was in the box.

Any time I’m shredding just a pound or two of potatoes, I opt for a hand or box grater. It’s so much easier to clean than my food processor. Then, I bundled up the shreds in a tea towel and squeezed as much water out of them as possible. If you’ve ever made a latke, you know the drill.

on the stove top

Then I whisked together two eggs, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, two tablespoons minced green onions, one tablespoon chopped dill, and several turns of a pepper grinder. While whisking, I also heated three tablespoons of olive oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet and heated my oven to 425 degrees F.

I added the potatoes to the batter and stirred until they were well combined. Then I spread the potato batter out in the hot skillet. It was quite thick, so I used my spatula to tease it out into an even layer. Do take care not to make a perfectly smooth surface, as it will brown better with a few crags and nooks.

closer potato disk

Once in the skillet, I cooked it over high heat on the stove top for about five minutes, until a peek at the bottom of the pancake told me it was just starting to brown. Then slide the skillet into the oven.

The trick with a giant potato pancake like this one is that you want to bake it first, until the interior is cooked, and then you turn on the broiler to get a really nice, crunchy top. Mine took approximately ten minutes of baking and another four of broiling before I was satisfied with the color and texture.

with toppings

Now comes the appetizer part. This potato pancake can actually go a couple of different ways in that department. For a cocktail party, you could slice it into slivers and top it with a number of delicious tidbits. The potato pancake is just as good at room temperature as it is hot, so works quite nicely on a table of finger foods.

In the picture, I’ve dolloped each wedge with a little bit of mascarpone cheese and then added something tasty on top (from top to bottom, you have last summer’s apricot jam, a grape tomato half, and a sprig of dill). Little strips of smoked salmon or trout would also be fantastic.

under eggs and mache

For a more perfectly plated appetizer, here’s another serving option. Cut the potato pancake into quarters. Top with some baby greens (I used mache) and a perfectly fried egg. The texture of the crunchy potato layer with the delicate leaves and runny egg is seriously great (I ate that plate right up as soon as I was finished with the photos).

It’s a good starter for fancy brunches or a farm to table-style dinner. It’s high in Vitamin C. And it’s also great for those folks who can’t manage a pasta course, due to wheat or gluten allergies. For those who have a jar in their pantry, a dab of tomato jam would not go amiss here.

How would you turn a giant potato pancake into an appetizer?

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