This year's wet, cool winter, however, is getting some of California's traditional springtime strawberry powerhouses off to a slow start, according to UC statewide strawberry specialist Kirk Larson, based at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Orange County. There haven't been too many frost or freeze events in Southern California, but it has been well below normal temperatures, resulting in uneven ripening.
UC has an undeniably critical role in the success of the state's strawberry industry. UC-developed cultivars are grown on 65 percent of California strawberry acreage. Speaking to the productivity of UC varieties, those plants produce 85 percent of the state's fruit.
"The big beneficiary of all of this is the consumer," Larson said. "Because there is just so much good fruit, the price is usually affordable."
One of the most popular UC varieties, Albion, was selected by Larson and UC geneticist Doug Shaw for its flavorful, sweet berries, productivity and long shelf life. Other popular UC varieties are Palomar, San Andreas, Diamante, Camarosa and Ventana.
Shaw noted that many California place names and plant variety names honor the state's Hispanic heritage. Shaw wanted the new variety to honor California's English heritage, in the person of explorer Sir Francis Drake.
"But I discovered that 'Drake' is a bad name for a strawberry," Shaw said.
Sir Francis Drake dubbed California 'Nueva Albion' when he claimed the territory. Albion, the oldest recorded name for the island of Great Britain, became the label for a strawberry variety now grown on about 15,000 acres in California.
More information on the UC Strawberry Breeding Program is available on its Web site.
When Solano County 4-H’ers compete in their annual Chili Cookoff, part of the countywide Project Skills Day, the competition is as fierce as some of the hot peppers. This year’s cookoff was no different.
When it was all over but the tasting, the “Beanless Babes Do Beans,” a duo from the Maine Prairie 4-H Club, Dixon, won the championship, followed by “The Golden Spice Girls,” a trio from the Tremont 4-H Club, Dixon.
Both teams provided unusual recipes: the Beanless Babes opted for elk burger instead of the traditional beef and named their chili, “Hunter’s Chili.” The Golden Spice Girls used beer, chocolate, coffee and sugar in their chili, naming it “Bad Character Chili.” The Tremont 4-H’ers derived the name from a great-grandmother who used to refer to folks who indulged too much as “bad characters.”
Judges proclaimed both dishes as delicious, but especially the Beanless Babes' dish made by Lauren Kett and Rebecca Ivanusich.
“It was really good,” said judge Jim Baumann, owner of The Point Restaurant, Rio Vista. Fellow judges Trish San Nicolas of the Golden Hills 4-H Club, Vacaville, and Jose Topete of the U.S. Coast Guard, based in Rio Vista, agreed. They said they were impressed with the taste, creativity and presentation.
The recipe was based on a recipe published by the North American Hunting Club. “This was the first time we made it,” said Rebecca. Lauren's father provided the elk burger.
The second-place chili, made by Kaylee Lindgren, Savannah Woodruff and Hannah Crawford-Steward, also drew praise from the judges. "Wonderful!" said San Nicolas.
Eight teams from 4-H clubs throughout the county competed in the Solano County 4-H Chili Cookoff, held earlier this year in Riverview School, Rio Vista.
Also participating were six other teams: the Three Amigos from the Rio Vista 4-H Club; Red Hot Chili Peppers from Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo; Suisun Valley Cowboys from the Suisun Valley 4-H Club, Fairfield-Suisun; 4-H Iron Chefs from Tremont 4-H Club, Dixon; and the Chili Chicks and Firecrackers, two teams from the Vaca Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville.
Here are the winning recipes. Add more hot peppers for "more kick"; adjust to preferred taste.
By Beanless Babes Do Beans
Lauren Kett and Rebecca Ivanusich
Maine Prairie 4-H Club, Dixon
1 large onion
2 hot peppers
1 bell pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup water
1 beef bouillon cube
2 cans kidney beans
1/2 teaspoon garlic
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 bay leaf
Brown meat. Chop onion and peppers and fry in butter until limp. Add all ingredients. Simmer for at least two hours. Serves several hungry persons.
Bad Character Chili
By Southern Spice Girls
Hannah Crawford-Stewart, Kaylee Lindgren and Savannah Woodruff, Tremont 4-H Club, Dixon
3 cups onions, diced
1 pound lean ground beef
1 can (14-ounces) dark beer
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa
2 teaspoons chipotle spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 28-ounce can drained, diced tomatoes
1-1/2 cups coffee, made from caramel-flavored beans
1-1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 pound beef sirloin, cubed
4 ounces of espresso
2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
1 packet beefy onion soup mix
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
2 28-ounce cans drained kidney beans
1 7-ounce can mild green chilies, diced
In a large pot, cook onions, garlic and meat until brown. Add beer and stir over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add espresso, brown sugar and tomato paste. Stir in cocoa, soup mix and spices. Stir in one can of kidney beans, tomatoes and green chilies. Reduce heat and simmer for 1-1/2 hours, stir occasionally. Add flavored coffee and one can of kidney beans. Reduce heat and simmer for 1/2 hour, stir occasionally. Optional toppings: fried onions and sour cream. Serves 6 to 8.
The Solano County 4-H Youth Development Program is headquartered at 501 Texas St., Fairfield.
Nutritionists recommend eating a cup of leafy green vegetables every day, but recent reports about the safety of fresh greens may have some wondering whether it could do more harm than good. Consumers Union, the publishers of Consumer Reports magazine, analyzed store-bought prewashed and packaged leafy greens and published the results in the March 2010 issue.Currently, the FDA has no set guidelines for the presence of bacteria in leafy greens. Consumers Report said several industry consultants suggest that an unacceptable level would be 10,000 or more colony forming units per gram. The Consumers Report study found that 39 percent of their 208 samples purchased last summer in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York exceeded this level for total coliform, and 23 percent for Enterococcus.
"Although these 'indicator' bacteria generally do not make healthy people sick, the tests show not enough is being done to assure the safety or cleanliness of leafy greens," said Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.UC Davis Cooperative Extension specialist Trevor Suslow wrote a lengthy and detailed reaction to the study for Farm Safety News. He said it is unfair to consumers to raise a specter of fear well beyond what is supported by available science and our everyday shared experiences.
"What I rely on for my personal confidence in regularly consuming lettuces, spring mix, and spinach salads is that there are billions and billions of servings of these items consumed every year in the U.S. alone and the predominant experience we have is of safe consumption," Suslow wrote.
Suslow offered these common sense guidelines for purchasing and eating leafy greens:
- Check the display temperature by hand to confirm the display is cool and the bags are very cool to the touch.
- Look at and heed the "Best if Consumed By" date.
- Take notice of the display case arrangement. Bags should be vertical in a row, not laid one on top of one another in stacks. Clamshell containers can displayed in various stacking or slanted row patterns that allow generous space for airflow.
- Prewashed greens do not need to be rewashed at home. In fact, studies have found that home washing doesn't provide any benefit and could make the vegetables susceptible to cross-contamination in the kitchen.
Families today are starved for time, starved for money and starved for well-balanced meals, and USDA projections hold another piece of bad news: food prices are likely to increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent this year.
The good news is there is one powerful five-letter word that will save you money on your food budget, allow you to eat healthier and cook less: beans.
Beans and legumes are a powerhouse of nutrition, heart healthy and very economical. There are endless varieties of beans and legumes and just as many ways to cook them. They can be served as a main dish, a salad and as a dessert. (See below recipes.)
Besides being a great source of protein, beans are naturally low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in vitamins and minerals.
Most beans contain only 2 percent to 3 percent fat and no cholesterol. They even help lower your cholesterol because they are so rich in fiber. Most beans contain 20 percent protein and are high in complex carbohydrates. In addition, they are rich in B vitamins and iron.
To save money at the grocery store, try eating beans and legumes once or twice a week. Cook your own beans instead of using canned and save even more. If you cook up a big batch, freeze some for use in future recipes. Delicious bean recipes can contain as little as four ingredients.
3 can chili
- 1 14 1/2 oz can of whole kernel corn
- 1 14 1/2 oz can of diced tomatoes (can use Mexican-style tomatoes with chilies added)
- 1 14 1/2 oz can of beans or 2 cups of cooked beans (pinto, kidney or your choice)
- Chili powder to taste
Add all ingredients and heat and serve. For added flavor you can add chopped onions and peppers.
- 6-8 eggs
- 2 cups of salsa, store-bought or homemade
- 1 15 oz. can of beans (pinto, kidney, black, etc.) or 2 cups of cooked beans
- 1/4 cup of shredded cheese
Heat salsa and beans in a pan over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Crack an egg in a bowl and add one at a time. Cover and cook until eggs are firm -- about 6 minutes.
Uncover and sprinkle with cheese. Cover until the cheese melts. Serve with rice and tortillas.
Lentils cooked with smoked turkey leg
- 1 pound of lentils rinsed and sorted
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic
- 2 cups each chopped celery and onions
- 2 cups of sliced or chopped carrots
- 1 large smoked turkey leg
Add to a pot, cover with water and cook until lentils are done. Remove the cooked turkey leg from the pot and remove the meat. Chop the meat in bite size pieces and add back to the pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving. This recipe can be cooked in a crock pot.Bean fudge
- 2/3 cup canned milk
- 1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
- 1 1/2 cups strained pinto beans
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 2/3 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup nuts
- 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
By Margaret Johns
Nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor, Kern County
California olive oil may cost a little more than the mass-produced imports commonly found at the supermarket, but UC farm advisor Paul Vossen said it is well worth the money.
“Good olive oil imparts delicious, subtle flavors to foods, its antioxidants can neutralize free radicals in the body and it is ‘greener’ than other vegetable oils because it requires no heat or chemical extraction," says Vossen, who has traveled the world to study olive oil production.
Most of the imported oils found at the store, he says, have been sitting too long, are rancid or fermented. Even the assertion on a bottle of olive oil that it is “extra virgin” means very little. There is no U.S. law that enforces an “extra virgin” standard. Almost all California olive oil, however, is fresher and better-tasting and the number of farmers producing the local oil is increasing.
A recent UC Davis survey determined that 12,127 acres of super-high-density olive trees were planted in California as of the end of 2008, with 78 percent of the acreage planted between 2005 and 2008.
"The super-high-density olive sector has achieved impressive growth in just a decade," said Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center. "This survey, the first conducted exclusively of this sector of the state's olive industry, highlights grower practices and suggests areas in which the University of California might be able to provide assistance."
In addition, consumer education is important to raise awareness about the superiority of California olive oil. Vossen believes the key to boosting sales of the local product is to get people to taste it. “They need to know how fantastic it really is,” he said.
In the video below, Vossen conducts an olive oil tasting session:
More about California olive oil is available in the article California olive oil is worth the splurge. Vossen's Web site contains extensive information about olive oil courses, PowerPoint presentations and publications.