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Frog Hollow Farms' Rebecca Courchesne (Chef Becky!), co-author of CookingLight Magazine's "The Art of Preserving," shares her experience with the Warren pears and describes how she fell in love with them. Are you wondering how to cook Warren pears? Learn from the expert herself…

How Chef Becky fell in love with Warren pears…
If you are anything like me you grew up eating pears that were firm, gritty and tasteless or, canned pears that were sickeningly sweet. I never liked pears because I never had a good one. It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s and began cooking professionally and shopping at Monterey Market under the tutelage of Bill Fujimoto and inspiration from Lindsey Shere founding pastry chef of Chez Panisse, that I began to appreciate pears. But it was not until I had a Warren that I began to love them.

How are pears different from stone fruit? How to ripen pears after picking?
At Frog Hollow, the stone fruit season went by in a flash this year. For so many years we only had stone fruit and so by September, we were “done.” Now, our season goes on into winter with pears, apples, olives and citrus. Even though our picking season is longer, once the Warren pears are picked and tucked away to transform from starch to pure sweetness and the last peach has been picked, things slow down considerably. We have all winter to sell our pears as they will remain in cold storage through the fall and early winter. Nothing is as intense, hectic or as consuming as the stone fruit season; stone fruit is fleeting and tempestuous and has to be picked and eaten right away and cannot linger like the steady, patient pear.

Which are the different types of European pears grown at Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood, California?
As many of you know, we have 4 types of pears here at Frog Hollow. Mostly pears are picked in late August, although this year everything was early. The Warrens were picked first, then the Taylor’s Gold and lastly the Bosc (I am referring to the European pears, not the Asian Pears here, those we’ll talk about later). As with the stone fruit, the pears were picked early and backed up on each other in ripening. Usually we would be beginning to pick Bosc right now but here we are, early September and all our pears are picked.

Can you cook with Warren pears? Recipe ideas, please…
The Warrens are named after a gentleman named T.O. Warren who discovered the pear in his neighbors’ yard near his home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. They are by far my favorite pear for eating fresh. Nothing beats cutting into a ripe warren pear, unveiling the smooth, cream colored flesh that drips its sweet juice before the knife finishes making its cut. It has a distinct sweet, buttery flavor. September through January we eat sliced Warren Pears on sour dough toast with blue castello cheese. (see recipe). This also makes an easy and impressive appetizer served with arugula tossed in shallot/champagne vinaigrette. They are also great for baking and poaching although they are softer than and not as hardy for poaching as the Bosc.

How Chef Becky fell in love with Warren pears…

If you are anything like me you grew up eating pears that were firm, gritty and tasteless or, canned pears that were sickeningly sweet. I never liked pears because I never had a good one. It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s and began cooking professionally  and shopping at Monterey Market under the tutelage of Bill Fujimoto and inspiration from Lindsey Shere founding pastry chef of Chez Panisse, that I began to appreciate pears. But it was not until I had a Warren that I began to love them.

How are pears different from stone fruit? How to ripen pears after picking?

At Frog Hollow, the stone fruit season went by in a flash this year. For so many years we only had stone fruit and so by September, we were “done.”  Now, our season goes on into winter with pears, apples, olives and citrus. Even though our picking season is longer, once the Warren pears are picked and tucked away to transform from starch to pure sweetness and the last peach has been picked, things slow down considerably. We have all winter to sell our pears as they will remain in cold storage through the fall and early winter. Nothing is as intense, hectic or as consuming as the stone fruit season; stone fruit is fleeting and tempestuous and has to be picked and eaten right away and cannot linger like the steady, patient pear. 

Which are the different types of European pears grown at Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood, California?

As many of you know, we have 4 types of pears here at Frog Hollow. Mostly pears are picked in late August, although this year everything was early. The Warrens were picked first, then the Taylor’s Gold and lastly the Bosc (I am referring to the European pears, not the Asian Pears here, those we’ll talk about later). As with the stone fruit, the pears were picked early and backed up on each other in ripening. Usually we would be beginning to pick Bosc right now but here we are, early September and all our pears are picked.

Can you cook with Warren pears? Recipe ideas, please…

The Warrens are named after a gentleman named T.O. Warren who discovered the pear in his neighbors’ yard near his home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  They are by far my favorite pear for eating fresh. Nothing beats cutting into a ripe warren pear, unveiling the smooth, cream colored flesh that drips its sweet juice before the knife finishes making its cut. It has a distinct sweet, buttery flavor. September through January we eat sliced Warren Pears on sour dough toast with blue castello cheese. (see recipe). This also makes an easy and impressive appetizer served with arugula tossed in shallot/champagne vinaigrette. They are also great for baking and poaching although they are softer than and not as hardy for poaching as the Bosc.

We have started picking some of our organic heirloom tomatoes already; yes, and it's only the beginning of August. We have been growing heirloom tomatoes for over three years at Frog Hollow Farm. And just like our fruit, we like our tomatoes vine-ripened; picked and packed the day of shipping; and delivered vine to table in 48 hours

Over time, we have identified the most delicious varieties and narrowed down our favorites. But what makes our heirloom tomatoes so tasty? Here are 5 fun facts about them: 

Fact 1: We plant marigolds and alyssum around our rows of tomatoes toencourage pollination.

Fact 2: We grow all of our tomatoes from seed, in our own greenhouse. They are then transplanted by hand into the field.

Fact 3: Our tomatoes are planted in compost that we produce on-site at Frog Hollow Farm; watered with drip irrigation; and fertilized with oyster shell flour from a local company in Petaluma, CA.

Fact 4: Our heirloom varieties can reach 13° brix**—that means more thantwice as much sweet tomato flavor as most commercially grown tomatoes.

Fact 5: We hand-prune and handpick our tomatoes to encourage high quality fruiting.

So what does Brix measurement tell us?
According to Jon Rowley, an acclaimed food connoisseur and the marketing genius behind Seattle-based Metropolitan Market's Peach-O-Rama, "A high brix reading (each fruit and vegetable has a different Brix range) indicates the fruit came from a successful plant and that the farmer has soil, watering, air and sun working together optimally." He explains, "If a plant has high brix it has more of everything, especially taste."

Have you ever indulged in our succulent, organic fruit and found yourself craving… cheese? Frog Hollow Farm is delighted to announce that you can now find our legendary fruit and the smooth, distinct flavors of Petaluma’s Cowgirl Creamery and other Northern California artisan cheesemakers, all in one place, with one click.

Year-round (and endless) pairing ideas

Some of Northern California’s most iconic cheeses—Mt. Tam, Estero Gold Reserve and Seascape—are here and we’re dreaming up ways to pair them with our fresh fruits, dried fruits, conserves and baked goods.

Cowgirl Creamery co-founder Sue Connelly has a few ideas: In spring and summer, try serving sweet, juicy apricots, halved and pitted, with a wedge of Cowgirl Creamery’s elegant Mt. Tam. Or pair the natural tartness of a nectarine with tangy Estero Gold Reserve from Valley Ford, CA. Frog Hollow Farm’s stone fruit conserves, garnished with dried pears, pay a sweet complement to the semi-firm, smooth texture of Seascape—a Paso Robles favorite.

Still hungry? In fall, Seascape’s cheddar-like flavors pair beautifully with our Fuji apples. (Did someone say grilled cheese?) And our Olive Oil Rosemary crackers add a savory crunch to your holiday fruit and cheese platters.

Customers benefit from our longtime friendship

Farmer Al and Cowgirl Creamery co-founder Peggy Smith met years ago when Smith was cooking at Chez Panisse. Frog Hollow Farm was among the certified organic farmers Smith sought for dependably delicious fruit. Years later, Frog Hollow Farm and Cowgirl Creamery became shop neighbors at San Francisco’s Ferry Building and at local farmer’s markets across the Bay Area. Both companies share a commitment to the principles of organic agriculture and to producing the best tasting food available anywhere.

Now you can reap the benefits of this years-long friendship! Cheers!

A rose by any other name….

frog hollow farm conserves

A lot of people ask me why we use “conserve” to describe our jams instead of just “jam” or “preserve”. There are a lot of misnomers around what a jam or preserve is. There is what we all think of as jams, preserves, marmalades etc. and there are legal “standards of identity” and as in this case, they do not always coincide.

The Food and Drug Administration’s Standards of Identity have been in place since 1940. According to Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations Section 150 a “jam or preserve” must have a minimum of 45 to 47 parts fruit ingredient, by weight, be added to each 55 parts, by weight, of sugar or other sweetener. The fruit and sweetener mixture, along with other optional ingredients, must be concentrated to achieve 65% soluble solids (brix). Frog Hollow Farm conserves only have about 20% added sugar and usually brix in 45-46 range and we wanted to keep it that way.

You can order Frog Hollow Farm conserves online for delivery anywhere in the U.S.

So, this left us with only one option; call it a “spread”. We didn’t really like “spread”, because it sounds rather unappetizing. So, a friend suggested that we call it a "conserve" because of the large chunks of fruit it was more like a conserve than a jam or preserve anyway. In order to be compliant with the FDA’s labeling laws and standard of identity, we still needed to have the word “spread” on the label so, as small as we could, we put “a spreadable fruit” underneath the product's name. This may be more euphonious but not very accurate; our conserves are so chunky that most of them are anything but spreadable. Still, we must comply with the FDA’s archaic laws where it comes to food.

Conserve is a little confusing as well. For those that do know what a conserve is, and there aren’t many, they usually associate it with a mixture of fruits and often dried fruit and nuts, not unlike chutney but without the acid (vinegar). There is no actual “standard of identity” for a conserve; its definition has been molded by canning history and traditions. Definitions may vary from country to country and region to region.

The following is an excerpt from the “Art of Preserving” a book that I co-authored listing the names with commonly accepted descriptions.

 

Jams: Chopped or crushed/mashed fruit cooked with sugar until desired jell point or set. Set varies depending on personal preference and pectin content of fruit. A "Jam" may or may not have added pectin. Generally used for accompaniment to breakfast pastries or breads but can also be used for savory sauces. The best jams with the best set are ones made with medium to high natural pectin.

Preserve: Whole or whole pieces of cooked fruit suspended in a soft jelly or syrup. May include spices, wine or spirits and can be used for both savory and sweet dishes. The fruits that lend themselves best to preserves are ones that have little natural pectin or are best preserved whole due to time consuming processing, pitting cherries etc.

Jelly: Clear gelled fruit juice with added sugar and acid if needed. a perfect jelly should be clear not cloudy, jiggle when touched but not be hard or rubbery. Sometimes leaves or flowers can be added to jellies for appearances but by definition jellies do not have any pieces of fruit in them.

Marmalade: Chopped, pureed or sliced citrus cooked with sugar. Ideally, marmalade should have the right ratio of soft jelly from the juice to soft pieces of cooked peel suspended in it. The Marmalade can have one or be a combination of different citrus.

Conserve: Usually a combination of 2 or more fruits, often with dried fruit and nuts, cooked with sugar. Conserves are usually have chunky texture and are served often with cheeses and meats.

Butter: Pureed fruit cooked slowly with little sugar until all liquid evaporated and mixture becomes dark.

Were it not for the sugar requirement we would call our conserves "jam." When we first started making jam, we tasted everything on the market. Most commercial jams are ridiculously sweet. I believe this is because they are using fruit that has no flavor and sugar is after all, the best preservative; these jars last a lifetime in the refrigerator. Ours however, do not have the longevity that those jams enjoy because of the reduced sugar. This is why we went from a 12oz jar originally to our current 7.75 oz jar; we hope that you will finish it before spoilage is an issue and that is usually the case. How quickly it begins to show signs of spoilage depends on your refrigerator and where it placed in it, the colder, the better.

But, whatever you choose to call it, you can rest assured that we have tried to make it as full of fruit flavor and as low in sugar as we could without compromising its shelf life. It’s all about the fruit and we’re using the best fruit there is!

- Chef Becky Courchesne, Frog Hollow Farm

 

On Jan. 3, 2016 CBS News 60 Minutes aired an exposé on adulteration and quality issues affecting Italian olive oil. According to the show fake/adulterated olive oil production in Italy is big business for the mafia. Fake oil is made using a less expensive, readily available seed oil (like sunflower) as the base and then adding some chlorophyll to give it color and beta carotene to give it some ‘fruitiness’.  Here are our four takeaways from the program on how to buy extra virgin olive oil in the United States:

Label: Take a closer look! Don’t fall for a ‘made in Italy’ tag because that could very well mean ‘packaged in Italy’. Check for the name and location of the company that produced it. It may be worth your while to find one that is based in the olive-growing regions of Italy. 

Date of production:  “Olive oil is fruit juice – they are from the same family as cherries and plums; would you (consume) two or three year old fruit juice? No! Probably not! So why would you consume rancid extra virgin olive oil?” rationalizes Guy Campanile, the 60 minutes producer who visited Italy to uncover the Italian olive oil scam. 

Find good quality closer to home: If you’re looking for truly fresh, great quality extra virgin olive oil, then you would be better served looking close to home in the Golden State. Campanile says, “(There are some) Wonderful olive oils made in California that are top-notch because they are fresh; they are made here!”

According to the California Olive Oil Council website, “As much as 80 % of the oil exported to the U.S. is fraudulent and mislabeled according to high ranking officials in Italy. The criminal intent is pervasive and difficult to control.” COOC stands by its stringent Seal Certification Program and long established sensory panel. So look for the COOC seal when purchasing extra virgin olive oil because it is your guarantee for quality and a 100% California grown product.

Price: Consider the tag! “If you are paying seven or eight bucks for Italian extra virgin olive oil, (then) it’s probably not extra virgin olive oil,” Campanile explains!

Find out everything you need to know about Olio Nuovo (or 'new oil') at: http://www.froghollow.com/pages/olio-nuovo-tradition-benefits-taste-shop.

PURCHASE OLIVE OIL

The crunchy juiciness of a ripe, fragrant apple is one of the best things about the fall harvest. Whether eating out of hand, or baking into pies and tarts, apples are a versatile fruit that appeal to just about everyone.

There are many apple varieties, too, and that means diverse flavors, textures and colors. We grow two apple varieties at Frog Hollow Farm: Fuji and Pink Lady. Fuji is a well-known and popular heirloom variety dating back to the days of Thomas Jefferson. They are known for their bursting sweetness and crisp texture. Pink Ladies are just as popular as Fujis and boast a beautiful pink blush over their bright green peel. They are also crunchy and sweet, which leads many fruit lovers to ask these questions:

How are Fujis and Pink Ladies different from each other?

Can I use them interchangeably?

There are several characteristics that make Fujis distinct from Pink Ladies. Fujis tend to be larger and heavier. And, while both apple varieties are sweet and juicy, Pink Ladies pack a tart punch. Some Pink Ladies will make you pucker! That brings us to the second question about using them interchangeably.

The answer is maybe. For eating out of hand, sure—fruit lovers who enjoy a good Fuji will probably also love a delicious Pink Lady. And, both varieties are excellent for baking. Taste a Fuji and then taste a Pink Lady. Now decide if you want to swap them out of in recipes where you have exclusively used one or the other. If you’re looking to increase the tartness of a favorite pie, go for the Pink Lady.

Or, consider this: Fujis and Pink Ladies complement each other very well, so why not mix and match?

Play with the poundage, as one canner we know likes to say. Homemade applesauce is an easy place to start. Here’s a recipe that calls for a mix of Pink Ladies and Fujis. This batch will give you a healthy portion of applesauce—perfect for serving a group and having some left over.

Sweet, buttery and succulent, pears are the ultimate compliment to salads, sandwiches and cheese platters. But once you slice them, how do you keep them from turning brown?

Unfortunately, browning is inevitable. It happens when oxygen hits the cut fruit. Lemon juice can help slow down the browning and keep your fruit looking bright and delicious. To keep the inevitable discoloration at bay, mix a light solution of water and lemon juice (strain the lemon juice before adding to the water). A little goes a long way: For several pears, a ¼ cup of water and three tablespoons of lemon juice is plenty.

There are many foodie and fruit websites that offer varying measurements of lemon and water. Some use less and some use more. These are the proportions that we found slowed down the browning process without adding too much lemon flavor to the fruit. The lemony solution will add a subtle tart flavor to your initial bite, but the sweetness of the pear will come through beautifully.

Method:
Slice your pears and place in a fine sieve. Use a basting brush to add just a touch of the solution to your fruit. For best results, brush the lemon solution all the way to the peel. Remove from the sieve and arrange the pears as you wish. (The sieve is optional, but helps you keep the lemon-water solution off other foods—like cheese or crackers—that don’t taste good when they’re wet!)

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