Class #9 of the Can It Academy Food Preservation Cottage Arts Certification Program: The History of California Agriculture
The more time I spend with Chef Miller, the more I am floored by his passion and knowledge. Not just for food preservation and it’s history, but also for his knowledge on California agricultural history, specifically. (I told him he’s the Huell Howser of California agriculture and that we needs his own show!) As he started class #9 of the Can It Academy series, I just couldn’t believe we’d be done soon and not benefit from his knowledge and teaching skills. At least for this class, we had the opportunity to can a few things, based on California produce, and while we chopped and canned, Chef Miller regailed us with a lecture on California Agriculture.
Having grown up in Los Angeles (and without aging myself too much), I remember some of the fields surrounding my Valley upbringing and everyone seemed to have citrus trees in their yards. I still see evidence of that in my neighborhood today. One of the Southern California crops Chef Miller talked about was the popular Haas avocado. Originating in Mexico, it was cultivated in Santa Barbara in 1871 and came to be known as the Fuerte avocado. One of these saplings was sold to Rudolph Haas, a mail carrier from La Habra Heights who tried to graft it with another variety. When it didn’t take, he was going to cut down the tree until his children told him they preferred the taste of this trees avocados over the Fuerte. He called it Hass and patented it in 1935. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s, however, that the Haas avocado replaced the Fuerte as the leading variety. 80% of all avocados consumed worldwide are Haas.
As Chef Miller lectured, we got going on a Three-Citrus Marmalade. After first peeling the skins off of grapefruits (from Chef’s garden) and oranges (we zested the lemons), we sliced them in thin strips and combined them in a bowl. We also finished cutting off the remaining skin and cut the pulp into pieces while the zests simmered. And while we did all that, we learned that Eliza Tibbets was responsible for bringing the first navel oranges to Riverside, California (originating from Brazil, via Washington D.C.) in 1873, spurring on the subsequent boom in the citrus industry and the development of California agriculture.
All ingredients were added and cooked until reaching it’s set point.
Next up in our California produce preserving… canned lemons. Lemons are another citrus crop that took off in California – downtown Los Angeles, actually. And although it’s hard to think of Boyle Heights as farmland, that is exactly where Andrew Boyle started propagating his thin-skinned fruits (propagated from Sicilian lemons originally) in the 1860’s. He gave some of these new seedlings to a nurseryman, Thomas Garey, who named them the Garey Eureka. Unless a sign reads otherwise, you can bet it’s a Eureka lemon you’re buying.
The lemon preserves where super easy to make and would make a great gift. (Recipe below)
There was more talk of grapes, raisins, almonds, walnuts… I think we could have sat for hours listening and learning about our local agriculture. We did have time to can crushed tomatoes that Chef had started before we arrived to class. Although tomatoes are known to come from Mexico and Central America, it is a huge crop in Central California and if you ever drive Highway 5 in the summertime, you’ll see truck upon truck of tomatoes going up and down the coast, on their way to a store near you.
Because of their acidity level, tomatoes need to be pressure canned and citric acid added for proper preservation.
There was one other quick recipe Chef Miller shared with us. Something he dug up from a 1920’s newspaper clipping: Golden State Spread. Using popular California ingredients, this was like an early form of Nutella, only better since there are no preservatives, added sugar, etc. With just walnuts, raisins, chocolate and a little cream to bind it together, Golden State Spread is delicious on toast… or right off the spoon!
Take-aways from our class:
- As Chef Miller likes to say, “Florida oranges come in cartons; California oranges come in peels!” Love it!
- Most of the Navel trees in California originate from Eliza Tibbets two plants. One of these is still alive today and can be found at the junction of Arlington and Magnolia Ave in Riverside, Ca.
- The oldest evidence of Avocados were found in a cave in Mexico, and dates back to 10,000 BC. It was also referred to as Alligator Pear.
- Grapevine Arbor Park in San Gabriel, hosts a remnant of the mother grapevine that was planted there in 1861 and sprawled over 10,000 square feet!
- California is awesome! (But we already knew that one!)
Our next class is on cheese making and I couldn’t be more excited! Make sure to come back for that one. Meanwhile, if you missed other classes in the series, you can find them here: