Winter-in-California Fruit Salad

As part of my job schlepping produce at the local food Co-op, I hear people complain all too often about the lack of peaches, grapes, and watermelon in our produce aisle this time of year. It's as if with the absence of these summer fruits, there is nothing left worth eating. How far from the truth.

For our family's Christmas brunch, one of my contributions was this fruit salad, which is chock full of some of the most beautiful seasonal fruits. Yes, you can buy peaches, strawberries, and grapes this time of year, but why on earth would you eat these under-ripe, tasteless, travelers from a hemisphere away when you can have wonderful fruit that was grown right here in the good 'ol USA?

Satsuma mandarins from Side Hill Citrus. The perfect combination of tart and sweet in a deliciously juicy package. The citrus season is just beginning!

Kiwi, another Vitamin C rich winter fruit. Like pears, kiwi have to be stored for a period of time after harvest in order to develop their sugars. They're only now reaching their winter time sweetness.

Two of the best winter keeping apples - Pink Lady and Arkansas Black. Yes, I know there are Wisconsin apples available now, and that I really should be using them. These California beauties are just so big and showy.... I couldn't help it. They just don't grow organic apples like this in Wisconsin. These are from Cuyama Orchards - one of my all time favorite California apple growers.

Pomegranate. We found this super simple method of deseeding them, which makes it easier than seems possible. Essentially, you spank it with a spoon and the arils fall out. Try it - you will be amazed.

A winter fruit salad isn't complete without persimmons. I have to admit, I get a little silly about these when they're around - I really start to crave them. Unhappily, their season is just about up. Get 'em while you can.

It was all brought together by the juice of this fruit, which I have developed a new love for this winter. Passionfruit, easily juiced by my food mill. This was the secret ingredient in my cranberry sauce, the flavoring for some incredible icing, even a bit of zing to jazz up a simple glass of water. I could think of a million uses for the tangy juice of this fruit..... I already can't wait till they come back next year!

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Persimmons & Passion Fruit

It all began with these fuyu persimmons. The sad thing about persimmons is that when they are really perfectly ripe, no one wants to buy them. They are squishy, gooey, bruised looking, and all around ugly - yet their flavor at this point is divine. Sweet, rich, and creamy.......I try not to use cliches very often, but "nectar of the gods" comes to minds.

I bought these at a discount from my produce department because no one else wanted them. Lucky me.

This just in: food mills are awesome. I never knew how much I needed one until I got one. Now I don't know if I could get by without it. This is what the persimmons looked like after a run through the mill.

Persimmon Bread. This recipe has James Beard's name attached to it, so I figured it must be good. It also uses a TON of butter - another good sign. I used whole wheat flour, fresh grated nutmeg, pecans, dried cranberries, Costa Rican rum instead of cognac, and the full 2 1/2 cups of sugar. Persimmon adds a wonderful moist rich flavor to baked goods like this one.

Passion Fruit: another ugly duckling of the produce aisle. The rich sweetness of the persimmon is just begging for some tang for balance, and these babies are just the thing. From the outside, they look like there must be something wrong with them. As they ripen, the smooth purple fruit turn wrinkly. They are incredibly light to the touch, leading one to believe that there couldn't be much of interest inside.

The flavor is incredible. Tangy like citrus, but more complex and aromatic. Yum. Sadly, they don't get their name from passionate love... no, their beautiful flower reminded some missionary of the passion of the Christ. Don't ask me to explain that one, 'cause honestly I just don't get it.

Food mill to the rescue once again. This handy tool easily and quickly sorted the hard crunchy seeds from the flavorful juice.

I whipped the passion fruit juice with cream cheese and powdered sugar to make this thick sauce.

If I had a better camera this would look more appetizing - just ignore the weird green hue. Moist sweet persimmon bread topped with tangy and refreshing passion fruit icing. November doesn't get any better than this.
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A Perfect Day

I know that most every bride will claim that her wedding was the perfect day... well, our wedding really was the perfect day. October 9, 2011 came at the tail end of one of the most glorious Indian summers that Wisconsin has ever seen. It was a warm, golden sunny day of bright fall colors and deep blue skies. I could wax poetic for a long time, but I'll spare you. Just look through these pictures and you'll understand.

Many thanks go to Stephanie Rickets to agreed to come take these pictures of the food. She has a blog of her own, My Year of Food, which you really should visit. Her photos puts mine to shame, and I bet some day she'll be a famous food photographer.

I always call this first course "The Appetizers" mostly because I can't spell that other word no matter how I try. Anyhow, it came after our wedding ceremony and before dinner and although I myself didn't get any (too busy taking photographs and greeting our guests) I'm sure they were delicious.

There were Baguettes from The Batch Bakehouse (where else?) along with an assortment of the finest Wisconsin cheeses, dry cured meats, fall fruits, and my homemade pickles.

Old School Salami from Bolzano Meats in Milwaukee

Parker Pears from Ela Orchard and Harrow's Sweet from Healthy Ridge in Door County

My favorite apple of the season: Liberty from Ela Orchard. It's a sophisticated apple - rich and spicy sweet.

My homemade dilly beans, bread and butter pickles, and pickled beets.

There's a surprising lack of good charcuterie in this state... this is what I could find: Pepperoni from Underground Kitchen, Old School Salami from Bolzano, and good old fashioned summer sausage from Pecatonica.

The cheese. Dreamfarm chevre, Widmer's 6 year cheddar, and the best string cheese on earth (really, it is the best string cheese on earth): Cesar's Oaxacan Style String Cheese.

This is Wisconsin - just one cheese platter would never suffice. Here we've got Carr Valley Apple Smoked Cheddar, Hidden Springs Bohemian Blue, Shepherd's Ridge Oliver's Reserve, and Holland's Family Cheese Aged Marieke Gouda. Beautiful artisan cheeses.

My little brother brewed up a batch of Oktoberfest just for the occasion, which we sipped along with dry (Brut) and sweet (Appely Doux) champagne style hard cider from Aeppeltreow Cidery. This being such a local event, I couldn't buy wine from California! The sparkling cider is just fabulous.

For the non drinkers there was regular cider from Green Thumb....

along with Stanley's own home brewed iced tea.

These pictures turned out so lovely, I can't help but share.

Many of the decorations came from the Tri County Auction - a wholesale produce auction run by the Amish. Beautiful mums, squashes, and decorative corn.

Time to set the stage for dinner. The tables were graced with swan gourds, also from the produce auction, which my oh-so-talented bridesmaids painted table numbers on.

Every place setting came with a half pint jar of preserves: jams, pickles, dried tomatoes. I made over 100 of these little guys.

We also screen-printed a bib for each guest.

Here you can kind of sort of see the head table. Pretty, no?

Yes, that's me and my hubby. Walking down to dinner.

and what a feast it was! The food was prepared by Jeff of Papa Bear's BBQ in Madison. He did an incredible job.

Coleslaw with my homegrown cabbage.

Garlic roasted potatoes from the Main Street garden,

My beans got eaten by a lucky garden rabbit - these came from Flyte Family Farm.

Collards from our side yard. These were incredible - probably my favorite part of the whole meal.

The pork - from a lush pasture at The Rustic Table in Northern Wisconsin to our wedding feast in just three days. It doesn't get better than this.

We also had chicken from The Rustic Table.

The Corn Bread was amazing. It ended up being a mixture of our our homegrown corn and also some from Wild Goose Farm (a tiny farm that I work with at the Co-op), ground by my brother Dave. It also used local whole wheat flour, and eggs. Hearty, flavorful, rich, and dense.

It was all paired with more hard cider from Aeppeltreow - their Barn Swallow Draft Cider.

Going through the buffet line.

My plate.

Stanley's plate.

The cake. Winter Luxury Pumpkin cake with whipped cream frosting. Not my pumpkins - they were still a few weeks from ripe when the wedding date arrived. The pumpkins came instead from Blue Skies Farm.

The cake was made by Mary from Honey Bee Bakery. So beautiful. This wasn't one of those pretty wedding cakes that tastes like cardboard... it was moist and perfectly pumpkiny. The perfect finale to the perfect wedding day.

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