Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fruit Trees

This morning I did a quick lap around the back of the winery, where the original homesteaders planted their fruit trees. I was curious to see what fruit we might actually get after all the cold and rain this spring.

This property was a sheep ranch, and people planted things that they could eat, plus just a few pretties like rose bushes. We have a fig tree that we relocated when we built the winery, several apple trees (including one that's hollow but still produces!), walnut trees, a loquat, wild plums, a quince bush, a peach tree and blackberries of course, which grow wild here.

The homesteaders made a lot of jam from the quinces and used the skins and seeds to produce pectin to firm up jellies and other items (quinces are very high in pectin, which is why it's fairly easy to make things like quince paste from them). The walnuts and apples are fairly self-explanatory, but I have no idea what they could have done with the loquat.

So, with a little research, here's what I found out about loquats: native to China, also high in pectin, can be eaten raw or cooked into jellies, sauces or desserts. So the pectin thing makes sense, but it still seems an odd choice for this area. I mostly hate the tree for its giant leaves that dry up, fall off, and accumulate right where I have to sweep them up every day - namely right by the front door of the tasting room!

Our winter garden just starting taking off, so I expected to not see much fruit on the trees. I was mostly wrong. Every tree but one apple and the fig has at least a small amount of fruit on it. The loquat has a few fruits, but I never seem to catch them at the right time and so have never done anything with them. The fig is disappointing as I love to roast them and make fig and feta pizza - maybe they'll be later this year? The wild plums always have fruit, but nature gets most of it.

Wild plums are pretty fascinating in themselves. Here's what the Web says about them: " The wild plum is one of nature's rarest and most unique fruits. It grows at the edges of Oregon, California and Nevada's northern high desert at altitudes between 4000 and 7000 feet. Here it tolerates great extremes of heat, cold, alkaline soils, and drought. In its native state, the wild plum grows on a large bush five to six feet tall. The fruit is similar to a cherry in size and has a distinctive tart flavor. The Indian tribes of this area gathered the ripe fruit and dried it for winter to garnish their wild fowl and game."

Well, I can tell you that Boonville is not in any of the areas that these are supposed to grow, but we have three or four trees here that either have red or yellow fruits when ripe. They are tart, yes, and the birds always seem to get most of them the second they ripen (they just know, I swear!). But they are pretty delicious even though the fruit is too small and the pit too big to do anything but dry or eat raw. I would imagine those same birds probably brought these here originally.

I feel lucky to have all these great trees here on the property. They feel like a gift because they just take care of themselves for the most part. They're dry-farmed and organic by neglect, but we get to at least enjoy a small bounty every year from them, and I'm sure 100 years ago the residents felt much the same. We've only owned this property since 1950, so we're relative newcomers. :)

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