Sunny Slope Orchard

Sunny Slope Orchard
In the coast range foothills overlooking the Sacramento Valley

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Life of a Fig

Right now we're enjoying a break from harvesting as we wait for the second crop of figs to ripen. That's right - figs generally produce two separate crops of fruit per year, one in June and another in August.

The first figs develop from buds that formed on the previous year's shoots. The tree sits dormant through the winter, then the leaf and fruit buds begin growing in the spring. The first crop figs expand, while each branch tip extends with new shoot growth. But all along this new stem growth more new figs form. These figs that grow on the current year's growth are the second crop figs. The photo above shows a ripe first crop Black Mission fig along with several immature second crop figs.

Lovers of figs might consider planting one as a backyard tree. Other than a fairly sunny spot, a reasonable amount of space and moderate water, figs don't require much care. Except for bird damage to the fruit, they are one of the most trouble free and productive of fruit trees. They require only minimal pruning, just to eliminate the occasional rubbing branch or to provide headroom if near a walkway. Left alone they continue to expand like most trees, so where space is a problem size can be controlled by heavier pruning. Insect and disease problems are rare and unlike most other fruit trees there is never a need to thin excess fruit, a time consuming chore with most stone fruits!

Monday, July 12, 2010

After the June Harvest Frenzy

June is the hectic month at Sunny Slope Orchard. In the midst of all the fruit frenzy, we enjoy seeing you and sharing the delicious harvest. But there is little time for extended conversation when the trees are raining fruit upon us relentlessly. So now that July has arrived, we are starting this blog as a way to connect more often throughout the year.

This past week has involved a lot of cleanup. The peaches and apricots finished in late June, and the last of the plums and first crop of figs were harvested this weekend. The ever-popular bird scare machines are stored away, depriving passing motorists of amusement. The orchard floor is clean now; all the dropped fruit is picked up and the foxtails mowed again (hopefully for the last time this season.)

We eat what we grow, so food preservation is our next priority. During the harvest we dried, canned, and froze as much as we could for home use; this will continue all summer until our shelves and freezers are full enough. Some of you have inspired us with your recipes and ideas for using our fruit. Keep it up and consider posting your recipe ideas on this blog.

For cooks and canners, here are two simple recipes that use our luscious California crops:

Santa Rosa Plum Compote

Drunken Fig Jam 

Freezing fruit is very simple and preserves the fresh taste. Frozen apricots make wonderful apricot pie for Thanksgiving or the primo ingredient for jam-making in December. Simply cut the quantity of fruit you need for your recipe and freeze it in a Zip-Loc type bag, being sure to evacuate all air. Or, if you have a FoodSaver machine, you can freeze fruit into convenient shapes in a Tupperware-type container; when it has frozen solid, pop the frozen fruit “brick” out of the plastic container. Place it in the FoodSaver bag, and let the machine suck out the air and seal it. These golden bricks stacked in your freezer will be your culinary Fort Knox.

In summer, sorbets are a most refreshing treat. Here on the farm, we get a lot of culled fruit, fruit that is overripe, bird-pecked, sunburned, or scarred. We freeze juice from the plum culls to make sorbet. To juice plums, let them get very ripe, then squeeze them in your fist, discarding the pits. They squirt in all directions, so do this outside and put your squeezing hand down into a tall, deep cooking pot to catch all the juice. Bits of plum skin and chunks of plum flesh add to the taste and texture, so there is no need to strain the juice. Freeze the juice in the same way as described above for apricots.

Favorite Plum Sorbet recipe:

  • 3 cups plum juice
  • 1 cup sugar or to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. Vodka (which prevents the sorbet from freezing too hard)
Mix the above together then refrigerate until the mix is at 40°F. Process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.