Heirloom fruits and vegetables are all the rage. Not only are they rich in history but flavorful and ornamental as well. Today we're visiting the formal French style home of Tim Woods and Adams Holland located in California and look at some of their old fashioned varieties. Tim and Adams are restauranteurs and love growing fruits and vegetables in their yard as ornamentals but additionally they use them in their restaurant.
Nancy Osborne is a local ABC news anchor and introduces us to the area. One of the greatest things about living in the Central Valley of California is being able to walk outside into your backyard and being able to pick fruit right off the tree or a ripe tomato off the vine. Nancy doesn't make her living on a farm but what happens in the orchards or on the farms in this area is news. Nancy is visiting a farm tended by students at Fresno State University. It's here young men and women are learning their way around the 21st century world of food and fiber. This area is considered one of the most productive agricultural places on the planet. Products from this area can and most probably do end up on your dinner table. Whether it be Peach cobbler, baked salmon on a fig leaf or many of the other plentiful crops from this area, this delicious bounty can end up as a luscious meal. Chefs from around the world can't wait to get their hands on this great food. There is one extraordinary Chef that calls Fresno home, he also happens to be an amazing gardener. In fact he could be called a magician inside and outside the kitchen. That Chef is Tim Woods.
We next visit his home. When you walk through the front gates you feel transformed which was the intent of this home and gardens. It is somewhat French in style but the gardens have a softer look, something more comfortable, more traditional, like an English garden. Tim Woods is the owner and chef at Echo Restaurant in Fresno, California. Echo is one of the top restaurants in California and has been featured in Gourmet Magazine, Bon Appetite Magazine, The New York Times and The LA Times and others. At Echo they pride themselves on using local and organic produce in cooking, many of the delicious vegetables and fruits are grown at their home.
The first bed we discuss used to be loaded with vegetables and herbs. Tim, at one point, had 2,000 vegetables planted here in highly decorative patterns. It became a problem at home because he was always stripping the flower beds. Since he wanted his home garden to be beautiful as well as productive and didn't want it to be a working farm, it didn't work well. Tim has scaled back the scope of this home garden but still he has integrated herbs and decorative items into the beds. Sage is an example. The Golden Sage is one herb that is used in the restaurant, often for garnishes. It is nice to take the leaves, fry them separately in a clear oil, they crisp up nicely, the flavor is delicate and mild. Nasturtiums aren't blooming now but even the leaves have a peppery flavor just like the flowers. Almost daily Tim comes home for about 30 minutes, uses a basket and gathers different flowers and herbs that are used as garnishes in the restaurant that evening. In another month the beds will be cleared out and Pansies and Johnny Jump-Up's will be planted. Those will then be used in the restaurant for about 7 months. Tim likes heirloom tomatoes and peppers because it touches the past. He's more interested in what we had 100 years ago than the newest variety, he likes the art of agriculture and likes the connection with humanity. There is also the romance involved, the names and stories behind the different plants are wonderful and the flavors and shapes are extraordinary. They're unusual, not preconceived notions of a plant. When selecting these vegetables be selective, things that grow in Fresno might not grow in your area. Do a little research, find the right variety for your area.
Tim also has some unusual vegetables, things like Amaranth. The Aztec's grew it as a grain, it has a higher protein content than flour. It is beautiful in the Knot garden and is reminiscent of 16th century England. The leaves have a red color with highlights of yellow. A seed capsule is forming, that is the grain part, the top part of the plant is harvested and is edible. It may be a little strong in salads thus better used in cooking. It grows to a fairly large plant but is finished by November when the first real cold weather hits. It is a warm season crop, so if in a cold area you might want to start it in May or June, enjoy it all summer then yank it out. Amaranth is nice when planted in combination with peppers, both are from the New World and they both like sunny places. They became popular in England as bedding out plants during the time of newly invented greenhouses because gardeners could have vast bedding out schemes. Tim uses the peppers in the restaurant but just a touch because he prefers to leave the flavors subtle so that nature is showing. We first look at an heirloom variety that was probably first grown in the 1860's, it's a Tabasco. It produces nice red peppers as it matures and Tim dries them for an ornamental look.
As Tim mentioned he had become frustrated with some of the beds since he wanted more permanence, thus went to heirloom fruit in the garden. He has a wonderful collection of heirloom fruit trees. He has a friend that searches the world for unusual fruit trees and has brought back some unusual Fig trees. When first here they were 4 very small cuttings from France and Tim's friends would joke about the time it would take to develop into decent sized trees. In 2 and 1/2 years they've grown beautifully and are covering the frames beautifully. These structures are called Spiliea diMedici, after the Italian family. They're copied from the Louis the 15th kitchen garden at the Versailles. Fig trees in this environment will grow almost like weeds. The crop of figs on the trees is their second, figs get their 1st crop on new growth from the previous season, the second crop comes on the new growth from that season. In the fall trim up the tree nicely, leave a few branches so you get some fruit on the 1st crop. Then clean out the structure, shape it up allowing some branches to remain so early figs will develop. When cutting a milky sap comes out because the branches bleed. Don't touch that substance because it can be an irritant. Charlie tastes a fig, it just pulls apart. It is red on the inside and luscious, a great flavor. If you want to have fruit you almost have to starve the plant of Nitrogen, if you want a luxurious plant it needs a lot of Nitrogen. They prefer poorer soils and like water. Charlie has seen Fig trees growing in New York City, in the summer they're outdoors then brought indoors in the winter. They will grow in zones 7 and warmer and varieties can be selected that do well in the east or west. This tree has purple figs but Tim has 3 other varieties. One is striped and called a Tiger Stripe, it has pretty green and yellow stripes. Another is green but darker and yet another variety is also green but slightly different. Each has a different flavor, all are heirlooms and not commercially available.
We next look at a Quince Tree. It is an ancient fruit, a relative of the apple, supposedly in the Garden of Eden and what Eve gave to Adam to eat. The Quince isn't something you would eat off the tree. It has to be cooked for 3 to 4 hours. Take the fruit, peel it, it is fuzzy on the outside, cut it in slices and poach it in water with a little sugar for 3 to 4 hours. It will transform in color from white to almost cardinal red. It will then taste like apple slices soaked in honey even though there was no honey involved. When ripe take them inside, place them in bowls, a single fruit will add fragrance to a whole room. Quince trees are susceptible to fire blight, the severity of the climate will determine how bad the fire blight becomes. Tim trims effected areas out, making sure he dips the pruning shears in alcohol after each cut thereby not transferring the disease. Again, when selecting heirloom varieties look for varieties that are less susceptible to disease in your area or try pruning out the disease, keeping spraying to a minimum. This tree has a a beautiful weeping shape, the weight of the fruit keeps it this way. Garden books always talk about this small graceful tree because of its' weeping habit. It fits nicely in this little partiered garden.
In the center of this garden is a Plum tree and a Pomegranate, which has wonderful fruit. The Pomegranate is a historic tree, a lovely tree that has been growing in this climate for over 100 years. It is from the Mediterranean world and should ripen in another month or so. They've been in the area for a long time but are one of the newest food fads, Tim has recently seen martini's made with them, organic juice and other new items using them. In this area it has become a tradition for the kids to throw them at each other. They stain everything an incredible red color but most don't eat them because it's an ordeal to clean them, they have thousands of little seeds. Tim has a method for cleaning them. Take the Pomegranate and put it in a bowl of water, break it open underwater and the membrane and everything else floats to the top and you just skim it off, the seeds remain on the bottom of the bowl allowing you to munch on the seeds. It is non-staining this way. Pomegranates are a fun fruit to grow but unfortunately are limited to southern California.
When Tim and Adams moved this home it was a forest, grotesquely overgrown, you couldn't even see the ground. They moved everything from the property, every sidewalk, every tree and started from scratch. They built a lot of things including the espalier on the fence. Here Tim is growing fruits like Apricots and Peaches. He likes espalier because it allows an easier way to get more trees in a given amount of space and the fruit ripens brilliantly because all get equal amount of sunlight. All new growth has been tied down, that is a process you keep going throughout the year because you don't want to violently prune fruit trees. You don't want to wait until, say, October and prune everything off, it's better to prune as you go along. Secure the branches to the fence, don't strangle the plant, Tim uses a square knot, then clips it. He uses twine because it's biodegradable, in 2 years the twine will be gone. Tim ties-in half the branches, prunes out the other half. People shouldn't be concerned about looks, all the books show lovely pictures with everything symmetrical, with no arches. That's not real life, nature will go all over the place. This has a nice soft look, it's mounding, this is how you espalier fruit trees. These trees are a few years old, the apricot is on its' 3rd year, the Nectarine situated below is on its second, further down the fence is a Peach, also in its' second year. These trees have already fruited for the year, all luscious, perfect fruit, by espaliering like this the sun hits the fruit perfectly, they all ripen perfectly and each fruit is a specimen piece.
Adams Holland and his design assistant Debra now decorate a cake. They start with an angel food cake that has already been baked and cooled. They next add an apricot glaze between the layers. It doesn't have to be perfect, it can be messy, that just makes it feel more homemade. They have stiffened some whipped cream, then fill the middle and apply it around the edges. Adams starts low and moves up, that way the whipped cream has something to rest on. Once covered, you might think what a mess but they start layering things to cover up the mess. Grapes are placed around the edge then beautiful golden raspberries. Just press them in anywhere. Next applied are candied oranges which he sprinkles around. This need not be done just with exotic fruits you could find many different options at your local farmers market or introduce flowers from your garden or market. The finished product looks great and tastes even better. Thank you Adams and Debra.
We next visit Tim at his outdoor grill. It is the only thing that remains from the old garden and it works brilliantly and is very California. Tim is cooking lunch. He starts out with a wild California King Salmon. They use only wild Salmon, it is better tasting. It is placed on fig leaves. When the Salmon is put on the grill the fat drips on the fig leaf and it provides a wonderful smoked flavor. Remember leaves were the earliest food utensils, humans had leaves before pots and pans. Tim adds some sea salt and serves the Salmon on the fig leaf when done, it is highly decorative, you don't want to eat it, it's not as good as the fig, but it won't kill you. He also has some Yellow Pear, cherry tomatoes that have been skewered on Bay Laurel branches. He drizzles them with a little Basil oil and extra virgin olive oil just pureed with whole basil leaves and a clove of garlic for a little added flavor. All the hedges are Bay laurel, it's an old time hedging material. Italian gardens utilize Bay Laurel as do English gardens, which have been using them since the 16th century. It's an heirloom plant and a classic for cooking. Tim places the skewers with tomatoes around the salmon and lets them cook briefly. He uses almond wood here and in the restaurant, since this is an orchard area they are always pruning or refurbishing the orchards thus there is plenty of Almond wood available and it flavors beautifully. Charlie tastes the tomatoes. They're great, a hint of basil and bay. Very nice warm, smoky flavor that goes well with the sweetness of the tomatoes. It took about 2 minutes. The Salmon is ready, the leaves are nicely turned up and it's charred nicely. He lays lemon slices across the top and drizzles with a little olive oil. Tim takes the 1st bite to make sure it is perfect and it is.
For desert Tim has prepared roasted figs. He roasted them in the oven for 30-40 minutes on medium heat. He drizzled port over them and adds Moscapone Cheese, an Italian creme cheese that has a sweet nutty flavor. He next drizzles honey on very slowly for a little more sweetness. It is luscious, one of the best deserts Charlie has tasted, very silky with the cheese and fig flavor.
Thanks Tim for showing us your garden and for cooking lunch for us. You have given us a taste of California. It was an enjoyable experience, one we won't soon forget.
Piccadilly Inn, Shaw Avenue
Fresno County Office of Tourism & Film
Recipe: Salmon on a Fig Leaf
Recipe: Tomatoes on a Bay Stem with Herb Sauce Drizzle
Recipe: Fig Dessert
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