Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Going Slowly (Food-Wise) in Northern California

Sunset Magazine, June 2013, features Andy Mariani of Andy's Orchard in Morgan Hill, California.

California has been cultivating a trend, these last few years, that you will one day notice at a market near you--if it hasn't popped up in your neighborhood already. The state that is as large as a nation, sits on the shifting tectonic plates of the Pacific Rim, and is known for bringing the world the Internet, surf music, freeways, solar power, Jeans, and drive-thrus, is on the cusp again. 
      
This time it has discovered Slow Food. Slow Food is the opposite of Fast Food. This is considered a discovery in California.

Andy Mariani, whose family owned apricot acreage in the southern end of the Santa Clara Valley, has turned his orchards into a specialty business that savors the rich flavors of a variety of produce.

It took a while for this whole "movement" to sink in, since I come from a family that, for half a century or more, grew most of its own fruit and vegetables and preserved them for the winter. This was (then) part of a movement called "thrift" and had the additional benefit of providing interesting outdoor interactions with varmints; activities for children that did not involve television; and better-tasting, better quality meals.

My first garden at Fort Chapman after my parents died. I'm not the gardener by half that they were, or that my sister is, but I'm trying!

So, when I began to notice this whole foodie thing going on in California, it didn't really register at first.  I mean: what is new about having a garden? Then, my neighbors in this little non-agrarian town, started buying chickens, for heavens sake. That did seem quirky, since chickens are messy, noisy, and an awful lot of trouble (when you want to go on vacation). Plus, there are lots of good and cheap eggs at the local market. That's what I thought.

Until I tasted a home grown egg. No headache! Lately, store-bought eggs always make my temples throb. 

The next clue came in the course of writing my book, California Apricots (History Press 2013) when I made the acquaintance of Andy Mariani. Andy told me he sold fruit to the foodies at Google. Google? Has foodies? They do and Google, at its Mountain View campus, serves them two meals each day made exclusively of fresh-and-local ingredients. Google does this because, first of all they are very, very hip, and then, because they believe people can be creative at mealtimes if they come together over good food (something families used to believe too). (NB: the feds are trying to eliminate this Google innovation, calling it an "untaxed employee benefit.")

When I worked to coordinate a book signing with Andy at his popular fruit stand, "Andy's Orchard," he said things to me such as: "We don't have any pony rides here," and, "this isn't Disneyland, you know." Having grown up in a bean patch, kind of, it never occurred to me that either pony rides or Disneyland would be thus connected to produce. But I guess Andy felt a need to find a "teachable moment" among the heathen, not knowing I was born in a state of grace.

Gradually, as I've gotten to know Andy better, I realize that is his brand. It is the anti-Happy Meal, anti-pony-ride brand. Like a lot of converts, he spreads his leaflets to the Four Winds at every opportunity. Got it.

Then, I met Deborah Olson, a fourth-generation orchardist in the Santa Clara Valley. Like Andy, she carries a secret brand in her heart: the non-pony-ride brand. And when she was kind enough to arrange a book signing for CALIFORNIA APRICOTS, my new book, at her Sunnyvale produce store--C.J. Olson's Cherries--I got to meet her discerning customers--Slow Fooders all. I met people who drove from all over the Bay Area just to find food at Olsons that was local and in season. 

Deborah Olson, of CJ Olson's Cherries in Sunnyvale California, has customers who drive down from San Francisco to peruse her Santa Clara Valley produce.

On top of all this, I went to a party and the main course was ... Slow Food. My hosts went all the way across the Golden Gate bridge to Marin County to an organic farm where the farmer sold them a whole, newly harvested, very fresh lamb, which they brought back to roast on a grill in their Palo Alto garden.  Now that took time! Very Non-Fast! The meat melted in your mouth and had no mutton-y taste. It was great, and they had lots for the guests to take home with them. Thank you very much Doug and Laura! You are the Slowest!

Mr. Mutton gave us his best at this Palo Alto party.

All this has had a curious synchronicity with my book, which features the history of the lost fruit orchards of the Santa Clara Valley. It may not be a coincidence. I was a reporter practically all my life and as a reporter you observe and analyze data around you a way that is different from other people. Somewhere, down deep in my synapses, I had been noticing clues, trends, themes, and connecting lines. 

My new book is a "surprise" hit for History Press and is now in the top ten of their thousands of titles.

It was my fear of what might happen to the Heritage Orchard at Los Altos City Hall that provided the conscious motivation. I hoped in writing about this exotic and beautiful aspect of California history, I might make others more aware of what we had and what we have. That was the part of which I was conscious. But the reporter in me was also working on a theme that I have only recently been able to see.

The success that has come to this book has been gratifying. Because it is to the young and the bright (and the Slow) that we must leave what is left of our beautiful land.

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3 comments:

720438f8-e340-11e2-b28e-000bcdcb2996 said...

Hey Robin - glad you liked Mr./Miss LAMB... it was a great party and an excuse to justify my husband's purchase of that behemoth of a homemade BBQ. We're gonna do it again in September for his 60th! - Laura

The Chilly Hollow Needlepoint Adventure said...

This isn't really a comment on slow food but I thought you'd like to read Ivan Day's newest blog posting about apricots. He is a food historian and practical cook of these wonderful old recipes.

http://foodhistorjottings.blogspot.com/2013/07/go-bind-thou-up-yon-dangling-apricocks.html

Robin Chapman said...

Slow is Beautiful!