by Sarie Hale-Alper
It’s harvest time in Brentwood, CA, a farming community just an hour outside of San Francisco. The stone fruit is hanging ripe on the long rows of trees, and one group of lucky Bay Area foodies spent a sunny summer Saturday wandering through these orchards.
In partnership with the City of Brentwood and with Barbara Frantz (from the recently opened Tess’ Community Farm Kitchen), Bay Area Green Tours led the group as they visited a variety of innovative agricultural enterprises. I joined the group and spent the day learning about all that Brentwood has to offer—from peaches and wine to an engaging local history museum.
Mid-morning, we made a stop at Frog Hollow Farm for a behind-the-scenes tour of the 143-acre working family farm. Organic since 1989, they harvest and tend to their fruit trees by hand. Farmer Al Courchesne and Frog Hollow Farm are well-known all over the area for their luscious cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots and pears and Chef Becky Courchesne oversees an on-site kitchen that produces tasty baked goods and preserves.
Farmer Al explains that the farm’s name came from the frogs living in their irrigation canal. He elaborated, saying the name was meant to “evoke our connection with nature by being organic and sustainable and working closely with nature to produce high-quality delicious-tasting fruit.” Sustainability is the name of the game at Frog Hollow. Beyond farming organically, Farmer Al has built up a community-based, steady workforce of farmworkers, many of whom live on the farm. Another key area is soil building—both repairing and enhancing the soil via composting (which also allows them to find use for the fruit not fit for human consumption—every fruit gets used!). Frog Hollow’s true goal is “to create delicious, sweet, great-tasting, healthy food and agriculture that is sustainable and local and healthy.” With its great soil, climate and location, Brentwood seems to be the perfect place for farms like Frog Hollow.
On the sunny morning of our visit, Farmer Al was at the Ferry Building, manning the Frog Hollow stand at the farmers market (no doubt in his signature overalls!). Co-owner Sarah Coddington led us around the farm, starting with the bustling sorting and packing area. We watched while workers rapidly sorted the fruit as it rode the conveyer belt. Sarah explained that the fruit is ranked for appearance and ripeness, and its quality will determine where it ends up—as part of their mail order business, at a farmers market or grocery store, in the Frog Hollow kitchen, or onto the compost pile. She then showed us the packaging for the stone fruit mail orders—peaches will be nestled carefully in the boxes, arranged in indentations like an egg carton. It would definitely be a treat to receive a care package like this!
Next, we saw the kitchen with shelves of pastries and the equipment for making various fruit spreads and marmalades. A group of workers pitted fruit in anticipation of jam making. Our next stop—the cold storage rooms—was a cool and welcome break from the summer heat!
Outside, there were long racks of fruit drying—the red, orange, purple and yellow flesh spread on the mesh surface as the sun beat down on them. Sarah explained to us that the fruit will lay out for a few days, and then be packaged for sale. Want a Frog Hollow Tip for the best dried fruit? Always peel peaches! Why? When dried, the skin will just turn grey and it won’t be very tasty—better to take it off and you’ll only be enjoying sweetness, especially if you’re eating some Frog Hollow fruit!
It’s close, so I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never been to Brentwood before this trip. I’m thrilled we went on this tour and had the chance to visit some of the 30-plus farms in the area. Brentwood clearly is a special community, and for me after this tour, a new source of local produce.
And next time you’re looking to support small farmers, sustainable agriculture, and delicious locally sourced produce, try Frog Hollow Farm.FARM FRESH RECIPES FROM FROG HOLLOW:
Chef Becky’s Peach Cobbler
by Chef Becky Courchesne
The most anticipated time of year has finally arrived as the O’Henry and Cal Red peaches ripen off the trees. Chef Becky’s favorite peach to bake with is the O’Henry because of its balanced flavor and its firm texture that holds up to baking. She uses her signature almond torte as the crust to compliment the flavor of the peaches. This is the perfect dessert to bring to a gathering. Serve it with vanilla ice cream for the ultimate experience.
- 4 oz butter
- 1/2 cup sugar + 2 tbsp
- 3 1/2 oz almond paste (half a 7 oz log)
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup flour
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- Pinch salt
- ½ cup sliced almonds
- Powdered sugar
- 3 lbs peaches washed, pit removed and cut into quarters (peeling is optional, rub with a damp cloth to remove fuzz if leaving unpeeled)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 tbsp flour
- Kirsch (cherry brandy)
In a large bowl, combine the fruit, sugar and flour with a splash of kirsch. Pour the fruit mixture into a 12×9 Casserole or Pyrex baking dish and set aside.
For the topping, blend the all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
In a separate bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and the ½ cup sugar until light and fluffy.
In a food processor, mix the almond paste and the 2 tablespoons sugar together until it resembles a course meal.
Add the almond paste sugar mixture to the butter mixture mix at medium speed until well incorporated.
Add eggs one at a time at high speed, stopping to scrape down the sides between each addition. It may look curdled. Reduce speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mix just until blended. Take off the mixture and with a rubber spatula, scrape down the side and fold batter briefly.
With an ice cream scooper or 2 large spoons, place scoops of batter evenly over the fruit filling.
With a back of a spoon or an off-set spatula spread the batter over the fruit mixture. The batter will even out as it bakes. Sprinkle the almonds over the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour; until the peach filling is bubbling around the edges and the cobbler top in the center bounces back when depressed with your finger.
Let sit for 20 minutes then, serve warm with vanilla ice cream or lightly whipped cream.
Apricot Cayenne Glazed Carrots with Creamy Herbed Dressing
by Chef Anna Buss
- 1 lb carrots
- 1 tbsp of Apricot Pepper Jelly
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp sour cream
- ¾ cup of heavy whipping cream
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 tbsp of champagne vinegar
- 4 sprigs of dill, minced
- 4 sprigs of parsley, minced
- 4 sprigs of onion chives, minced
- 4 sprigs of garlic chives, minced
Wash carrots. If you are using thick carrots (about one inch in diameter) quarter them lengthwise. If you are using thin carrots keep them whole or cut them in half lengthwise.
In a medium saucepan bring 3 quarts of water to a boil with two tablespoons of salt. Add carrots to the water and cook for two minutes. Remove carrots from boiling water and put them in an ice bath to prevent them from cooking any longer. Drain and dry carrots.
In a mixing bowl combine olive oil, apricot pepper jelly and salt. Add olive oil and pepper jelly to a medium-sized sauté pan. Bring the temperature to a medium low heat until the oil has tiny bubbles.
Add carrots to sauté pan and cook at medium low heat. After about five minutes, add a splash of water to deglaze the pan. Rotate carrots in pan and continue to cook for about 15 minutes until the water evaporates. The carrots are done when they are slightly caramelized on each side.
Removed from sauté pan and plate.
In a mixing bowl, add sour cream salt and heavy whipping cream. Whisk for about five minutes and then add the herbs. The dressing should be thick but loose enough to drizzle over carrots. If the dressing becomes too thick you can loosen it with water. Add salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, drizzle dressing over carrots and garnish with mustard flowers.Frog Hollow Farm is not open to the public, but Bay Area residents can easily find their peaches, apricots, and more at grocery stores, farmers markets, via the Happy Child CSA, or enjoy the bounty at the Frog Hollow’s organic farm-to-table cafe at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Check out the Frog Hollow website for a detailed list of sources. And they ship their products all over the USA so you can easily send your aunt in Alabama a box of California pears, juicy and ready to eat when they arrive on her doorstep! Visit them at www.FrogHollow.com.
Bay Area Green Tours is a 501(c)3 that provides educational tours and events that demonstrate the sustainable economy in action, inspire support of local green businesses, and empower people to incorporate environmental responsibility and social justice into their personal and professional lives. Learn more at bayareagreentours.org.Sarie Hale-Alper is a writer and educator in Northern California. She harbors dreams of rural farm life and soon will start the permaculture program at Oakland’s Merritt College. She designed her family’s small orchard in Nevada County and enjoys spending time there with the baby trees and some flourishing comfrey. There’s an herb spiral, too. To learn more about her or to get your hands on some comfrey cuttings, visit sariehalealper.com.