Homegrown Oranges and Orange Cake

I stayed here in Palo Alto for Christmas, and my housemates and I made as special Christmas dinner. I was in charge of the dessert, and I made an orange cake from The Moosewood Cookbook. The recipe required orange juice and orange zest. I hadn’t planned to make this cake until the morning of Christmas when most stores were closed.

Fortunately, we have a navel orange tree in our backyard!

The oranges are just about ripe, and I was able to find two ripe ones for the recipe.

One thing that amazes me about growing oranges is that they look just like the oranges you would get from the grocery store! Maybe this shouldn’t come as such a surprise, but homegrown apples and pears are always smaller and have more blemishes than apples and pears in the grocery store, and I guess I expected the same types of defects with oranges.

On the flip side, the flavor of these oranges was fine, but nothing special — exactly like what you would get at the store, despite being freshly plucked off the tree.

Here’s the finished cake:

It was a very nice cake, but not as “orangey” as I was hoping…you really had to squint to taste the orange in it, and perhaps use a bit of imagination.

Just In Time….My Pumpkin!

The squash patch has been looking pretty sad lately, and the winter squash vine is essentially dead. The single winter squash growing has stopped changing color and the skin is pretty firm, so, just in time for Halloween…

I harvested my first (and only) pumpkin yesterday!

…errr…I mean, winter squash… It’s not really a pumpkin, it’s a seed from a volunteer squash from my dad’s garden, so it’s a twice crossed squash. A double mutt! I haven’t cut into it yet, so I have no idea what it will taste like.

If I can, I’m planning to continue the lineage by saving it’s seeds, planting them, and continuing to do this over the years to see how the squash changes over the years.

A Small Bean Harvest

On Friday, I harvested the first three beans from my small garden. A small victory!

The beans were sooo tasty!

These are Blue Lake Pole Beans. I planted a handful of seeds back in July when I set up my fall garden, and only two of them came up. I tried planting some more, soaking the bean seeds first, and none of the seeds came up that time. I don’t know why.

There are still a handful of baby beans on the plant, so I imagine I’ll get a few more beans this season. If I’m lucky and plan ahead, I might even leave one or two on the vines to mature and dry so I can save seed for next year, and try growing them again.

I consider Blue Lake Pole Beans to be a variety “string bean”: Phaseolus vulgaris Some people use the term “snap beans” (not to be confused with snap peas). String beans (or snap beans) used to have a fibrous string along the length of the bean that had to be removed before the beans were cooked or eaten. Breeders have bred that trait out of the beans. Now, I guess it makes sense to refer to these string-less beans as snap beans.

Regardless, Phaseolus vulgaris comes in both pole varieties, like Blue Lake Pole Bean, which need a trellis to grow up, and bush varieties, which stay low to the ground and don’t ned to be trellised. Aside from the growth habit, the main difference between pole and bush varieties is that bush beans set fruit sooner than pole varieties, but have a shorter fruiting season than pole beans. Six of one, half dozen of another for me right now, but something to keep in mind for the future.

My First Zucchini!

Taaa daaaaa!!!

The days to maturity of the zucchini I planted is 50 days. I put the seeds in a pot on July 3rd and harvested a 9 inch long zucchini on Sep 12. That’s 71 days…I probably should have picked this one a few days ago, but oh well…

It took a bit longer than I was expecting, and to be honest, the zucchini plants haven’t been as productive as I’d hoped, but I’m not complaining. There’s room for improvement, but I have to start somewhere, and one ripe zucchini is a win in my book!

Pear Harvest

Last Sunday, I volunteered for Village Harvest again. This time we were harvesting pears, and it was in Los Gatos hills. The Los Gatos hills are about 40 minutes from me. I drove down some narrow and windy, but scenic roads to get there.

I took this photo while pulled off to the side of the road, trying to figure out directions.

The pear trees we were harvesting from were on four adjacent residential properties. My guess is that this area was once a large pear orchard, but over the years, the land was broken up and sold off. Here are some surreptitious photos I took during the harvest to give you a sense of the place.

Continue reading “Pear Harvest”

Mariposa Plum Harvest

Last Saturday, I volunteered with an organization called Village Harvest, which is an organization based out of the Bay Area that harvests fruit from fruit trees in the area and donates the fruit to food banks. Some of the fruit trees are on public property, and some of the fruit trees are on private property (the people who own the land donate the fruit to Village Harvest by allowing Village Harvest volunteers to pick the fruit).

They harvest all kinds of fruit throughout the season. The apricot season just ended here, and last Saturday was the first of the plum harvests. We picked Mariposa plums from a couple of clusters of plum trees (about 15 trees in total) on land near a law firm in Palo Alto (the land may or may not have been owned by the law firm – I wasn’t clear).

Mariposa plums are a kind of Japanese plum. It has small- to medium-sized fruit that are red with green spots on the outside and has red flesh inside. The volunteer coordinator, at the beginning of the harvest, told us that these plums “weren’t all that good raw” and were better cooked into baked goods or into spiced plum jam.

There were 12 of us volunteering that day, and we harvested over 400 lbs of plums!

The volunteers got to take home “seconds.” These are plums that we picked up off the ground, or fell on the ground as we were harvesting, or had a soft spot or blemish. Village Harvest can’t donate any fruit that has fallen on the ground because they can’t be sure that the fruit will be washed before it is eaten and they don’t want to be held liable for getting people sick from eating dirty fruit.

….ok….

More plums for me!

I took home a good sized bag of plums.

I cooked them up in a clafoutis, since we had been told that they weren’t very good raw.

I forgot to get a photo before we cut into the clafoutis.

Turns out, the plums were delicious raw, and this clafoutis was not very good. It rose nicely, but it tasted bland and the texture just wasn’t right. I am enjoying the rest of the plums raw.