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Food Blog: Live Nutrition Updates

Visit mountain mandarin orchards for tasty treats

Nestled in the rolling foothills of Placer County, just northeast of Sacramento, are more than 35 beautiful small family farms growing mandarin oranges. The warm days and cool nights in Penryn, Newcastle, Loomis, Lincoln and Auburn make this area a perfect place to grow sweet, juicy, seedless mandarins. Welsh settlers in the town of Penryn first planted Satusuma mandarin orchards in the 1880s; some of their descendants are still tending Satsuma groves today. These original growers have been joined by other families in providing tree- ripened, hand-picked fruit to Placer County and beyond.

Mandarins ripen from late November through January, just in time to find a favored spot in millions of Christmas stockings and Chinese New Year celebrations. The Mountain Mandarin Growers Association members welcome the public to visit the mandarin groves throughout the winter months when the fruit is at its peak, but during the first and third weekends in December visitors enjoy extra family-friendly activities as part of Mountain Mandarin Orchard Days.

Enjoy Mountain Mandarin Orchard Days

Orchard Days started eight or nine years ago, according to Mountain Mandarin Growers Association President Rich Colwell, owner of the Colwell Thundering Herd Mandarin Ranch in Penryn. Although growers' association members sell to stores and distributors and at farmers' markets, they decided to try to celebrate the harvest at the ranches, taking advantage of the example of the Apple Hill Growers Association in nearby El Dorado County. Colwell says, "If they like Apple Hill, we think they'll love coming up here to see what we have to offer." 

To plan visits on Orchard Days, Dec. 2, 3, 16 and 17, visitors can visit the Mandarin Growers map page to find the groves and a list of activities at each ranch. First, enjoy the beautiful small family farms by taking a walk through the groves. Savor the fresh fruit itself, either by picking your own straight from the trees or by purchasing a bag of just-picked mandarins to take home or give to friends and family. Then sample some of the delightful products made from or infused with mandarins. Products created by the small-scale farmers include oils, sauces, honey, juice, cookies, cakes, fudge and spreads. Orchard Days activities include local wine and ale tasting, artists and crafters, visit with Santa, petting of goats and other farm animals and other winter fruits and vegetables. Visitors can see painted quilt squares on local barns as well as fabric quilts on display.

On Sunday Dec. 3, visitors may join the "Orange is the new Pink" 5K Walk for Breast Cancer, an un-timed walk along part of Penryn's Mandarin Trail, starting and ending at Mandarin Hill Orchards, 2334 Mandarin Hill Lane. To learn more and register, visit MandarinWalk.org.

Nutrition and recipes

As well as being tasty, mandarins are nutritious. According to the California Department of Public Health's Network for a Healthy California, one average size Satsuma mandarin contains only 47 calories and 39 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin C. Also, in a 2008 USDA study, Placer County Owari Satusuma mandarins showed concentrations of the phytochemical synephrine that were up to six times higher than values previously determined for orange juice. The study concluded that 10 ounces of mandarin juice contains as much synephrine as one over-the-counter decongestant pill.


Spinach Salad with Mandarin Oranges

SALAD:
4 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 cup chopped center leaves of Romaine lettuce
1/4 cup sliced red onions
24 sections fresh mandarin segments

TOPPINGS:
Toasted pecans or candied walnuts
Several thin slices of Mandarin orange
1 tblsp. feta or blue cheese
Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette

INSTRUCTIONS:

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss. Chill. Plate and top each serving with your choice of toppings (see suggestions).

Mandarin Orange Scones

www.aaa-recipes.com

SCONES:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
Zest of 1 orange
11 ounces fresh mandarins, chopped

GLAZE:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
3 drops orange flavoring
Fresh orange juice

INSTRUCTIONS:

SCONES: Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. By hand, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter. Add buttermilk, orange zest and Mandarin oranges. Turn dough onto well-floured board. Add flour as needed. Knead dough; make eight 1-inch round wedges. Score the eight wedges. Bake for 12 to 16 minutes.

GLAZE:Combine confectioners' sugar, orange zest, orange flavoring and enough fresh orange juice to make a runny glaze. Pour glaze over warm scones.

more recipes: (Mountain Mandarin Growers Association website)

Protect the Orchards!

Cindy Fake, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for Placer and Nevada counties, is working with the Mountain Mandarin Growers Association to keep the groves healthy as they face a serious threat.

Citrus from outside Placer County may carry the Asian citrus psyllid. This tiny insect carries the deadly bacterial disease called Huanglongbing (HLB) or citrus greening. HLB kills citrus trees and could destroy California citrus production and Mountain Mandarins. The insect is already in Southern California and efforts are being made to keep it out of Placer County.

Help protect the Mountain Mandarin industry by following these guidelines:

  1. Do not bring any citrus fruit, trees, or leaves into Placer County from other California counties, other states, or countries.
  2. Buy your mandarins from local Placer County growers.
  3. Buy only certified disease-free citrus trees from a reputable nursery. Do not share any uncertified citrus rootstock or budwood, as it could carry the disease.

Learn more about this threat to California citrus.

Learn more about visiting California farms and ranches at www.calagtour.org, the University of California Agritourism Directory and Calendar of events.

Posted on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 at 9:34 AM

Vibrant purple sweet potatoes are a healthful Thanksgiving surprise

Candied sweet potatoes – dripping with butter, brown sugar and pecans – or a casserole of mashed sweet potatoes smothered with toasted marshmallows are common sides on the Thanksgiving table. These rich dishes belie the true nature of sweet potatoes, which are nutrient packed, low-glycemic root vegetables that can be a part of a healthy diet year round.

Research by UC Cooperative Extension advisor Scott Stoddard is aimed at making sweet potatoes an even more healthful and attractive food. Stoddard is working with sweet potato growers in Merced County to see if sweet potatoes with dusky purple skin and vibrant purple flesh, called purple/purples, can be grown by more farmers in California. The unusual color and health benefits command a higher price, opening a potentially profitable niche market.

The Stokes sweet potato, right, has better color than the L-14-15-P experimental cultivar.

“Purple flesh sweet potatoes have beta-carotene, like the more common orange varieties, plus anthocyanins,” Stoddard said. “It's like eating a handful of blueberries with your sweet potato.”

California is a significant producer of sweet potatoes. About 80 percent of the California crop – 16,000 acres – is grown in Merced County, on farms ranging from 5 acres up to several thousand acres. In 2015, the crop's value in Merced County was $195 million. About 1,000 acres are grown in Kern County and 2,000 acres in Stanislaus County. These locations have the sandy and sandy-loam soils ideal for sweet potatoes to develop their distinctive shape and smooth skin.

The white skinned, purple flesh sweet potato, left, is the Okinawan variety from Hawaii. On the right is a rainbow of sweet potatoes that are part of Scott Stoddard's experiments.

Sweet potatoes with purple flesh are not common, but they have been around for quite some time. They are the main type of sweet potato grown in Hawaii, for example. Several years ago, growers in Stokes County, N.C., selected a particularly beautiful and tasty cultivar, naming it the Stokes Sweet Potato and marketing nationwide with Frieda's Specialty Produce. In California, A. V. Thomas Produce in Livingston acquired an exclusive agreement with the company to grow and market Stokes purple/purple sweet potatoes.

“The number of acres of Stokes has really expanded in just a few years,” Stoddard said. "There is a lot of consumer interest in purple-fleshed sweet potatoes."

Scott Stoddard, right, discussed sweet potato variety trials with A.V. Thomas Produce supervisor Frank Lucas, left, and field manager George Guitierrez, center.

That doesn't close the door on purple/purples for California's other growers interested in the niche. Stoddard conducts field trials in cooperation with local farmers that include purple/purples. In one trial, 50 types of sweet potatoes of many different colors are being grown to determine whether they have key characteristics needed for local production. From there, he selects a limited number to grow in replicated trials, to determine their potential to produce a high yield, store well, and develop good size, shape, color and flavor. Of these, only one purple/purple made it into the replicated trial.

“In some purple/purples, the flavor can be off, or bitter,” Stoddard said. “We get rid of those right away.”

Scott Stoddard weighs sweet potatoes as part of the variety evaluation process.

One of the cultivars in Stoddard's study, which goes by the experimental code number L-14-15-P, was bred in 2014 by Don La Bonte, a plant breeder at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. The potato has some good attributes, but lacks the uniform deep purple color of the Stokes variety.

“Unfortunately, it's probably not good enough to displace Stokes,” Stoddard said. “It's a good start, but we have to continue screening purple/purples to find a variety that offers disease resistance, good yield, and consistent deep purple flesh color."

Good eats

Sweet potatoes can be eaten raw or cooked. To eat raw, simply peel, cut into sticks and serve with low-fat ranch dressing or apple sauce for dipping. Grate fresh, uncooked sweet potatoes and add to burritos or tacos or sprinkle on salads for a sweet, nutritious crunch.

Cooked sweet potatoes can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner, skin and all, plain or with a small pat of butter.

Microwaving is a great way to quickly prepare the vegetable. Wash potatoes and pat dry. Prick skin with a knife in 2 to 3 places. Cook on high for 5 minutes. Turn over. Then cook for another 5 minutes, more or less.

UC Cooperative Extension's sweet potato expert Scott Stoddard says he prefers his sweet potatoes baked.

“Baked is way better,” he said. “Baking gives time to convert to starch to maltose.”

Sweet potatoes are mostly starch, but have a special enzyme that breaks down starch into maltose when cooking. Slower cooking in the oven provides time for the conversion, imparting a subtly sweet caramelized flavor.

To bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line the lower oven rack with foil, then prick sweet potatoes with a fork and place directly on the middle oven rack, above the rack with foil. Bake 45 minutes for sweet potatoes 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

Posted on Monday, November 20, 2017 at 8:49 AM

Simple tips for the best Thanksgiving

            “What if, today, we were grateful for everything?” asks Charlie Brown.

 

You don't need to be a beloved cartoon character to understand the meaning of Thanksgiving. Giving thanks seems like an excellent goal for this year's celebration … and every day, really. Here are some important steps for a healthy, delicious and memorable holiday.

First, be safe
Millions of Americans will be celebrating this Thanksgiving. Foodborne illness is a real concern. So, let's make sure everybody enjoys the meal and doesn't get ill.

From safely thawing a turkey to making sure it's properly cooked, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers a range of tips to keep your holiday safe. (One hint: take care with the stuffing). The USDA's famous Meat & Poultry Hotline will remain open on Thanksgiving Day until 11 a.m. PST; their team of experts is on hand to answer any questions you may have.

Want a little extra help? If you've never cooked a turkey, Noelle Carter breaks it down for you in this brilliant step-by-step primer; it appears in the Los Angeles TimesThe New York Times has created an interactive menu planner that factors in the number of guests, dietary preferences, your cooking experience and provides a game plan for the big day (tips, recipes, etc). It's useful...and fun!

No, Thanksgiving feast would be complete without pie. Whether you're a sweet potato or pumpkin pie fan, good crust is essential. Making a good pie crust isn't rocket science...but it does involve molecular science. In this video, University of California researcher Amy Rowat uses science to show you how to make the best pie crust ever.

Second, savor the meal

Did you know that there's a science to eating? Before you pile lots of food on your plate, take time to consider these seven steps from University of California scientists and researchers; they will assure that you savor every bite of your meal.

 

Third, don't waste

Enjoy your meal, but make it a point to reduce food waste this holiday season.

UC ANR researcher Wendi Gosliner of UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute recently shared this information about #foodwaste:

“Food waste presents a major challenge in the United States. Estimates suggest that up to 40% of the food produced nationally never gets consumed, causing substantial economic and environmental harms. Wasted food utilizes vast quantities of precious land, water and human resources, yet rather than nourishing people, it feeds landfills, producing methane gasses that poison the environment. Much of the food waste (43%) occurs at the household level.”

 


We sought out experts from UC ANR's Master Food Preserver Program for advice on how to use leftovers. Some takeaways: refer to this food storage chart to determine how long you can safety store leftover food. For more tips, click here. Leftover turkey can be used to make a delicious homemade stock that can serve as the base for additional meals. We provide a recipe and information about how to safely preserve stock here.

However you celebrate Thanksgiving, the staff of UC ANR wishes you a safe, happy and healthy holiday.

 

Editor's Note: UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) researchers and educators draw on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. We operate the 4-H, Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver Programs. We live where you live. Learn more here. Are you a #veteran or #beginning farmer interested in learning more about poultry production? UC ANR is co-hosting a series of poultry workshops beginning in December and throughout 2017. Get the details here.

Related Reading:

Learn more about native and indigenous foods from Valerie Segrest of the Muckleshoot Tribe in the Pacific Northwest; the post appears on the UC Food Observer blog.

Posted on Saturday, November 18, 2017 at 8:24 AM

Thanksgiving persimmons are autumn joy

When the weather cools in the fall and the holidays draw near, orange orbs ripen on persimmon trees in California to offer a fresh autumn sweetness in time for Thanksgiving recipes and holiday décor.

At the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center (SCREC) in Irvine, a collection of 53 persimmon varieties are at their peak in November when the public is invited for tasting and harvesting at the annual persimmon field day.

“We want to raise awareness about persimmons,” said Tammy Majcherek, SCREC community educator. “It's a beautiful tree and a great addition to any landscape. Persimmon trees provide shade in the summer, healthy fruit in the fall, then drop their leaves and allow the sun's warmth to come through in the winter. It's a win-win situation as far as landscape trees go.”

Visitors are briefed before entering the persimmon variety block to taste and harvest persimmons.

The persimmon collection came to the research center in the 1960s, when the late UCLA subtropical horticulture professor Art Schroeder arranged to move his collection of persimmon varieties to another venue because the pressure of urban development at the Westwood campus became too great.

Persimmons are native in two parts of the world, China and the United States. The Chinese persimmon made its way to Japan, where its popularity soared. The American persimmon comes from the Southeastern United States, however, most California persimmons trace their lineage to Asia.

California leads the nation in persimmon production, according to the California Department of Agriculture Crop Report, but with a value of about $21 million in 2012, it represents just a small fraction of the state's $19 billion 2012 tree fruit and nut value.

A display of fuyu-type and hachiya-type persimmons helped participants distinguish which fruits are ready to eat.

Nevertheless, to the visitors who came out to tour UC's collection at SCREC, persimmon is a choice fruit. Participants on the early-morning VIP tour received a large shopping bag to fill with various varieties of fuyu and hachiya persimmons. Fuyu are flat, yellow-orange fruit that can be eaten right off the tree like apples or allowed to mature to a super-sweet soft pulp. Hachiya are redder, heart-shaped and astringent when not fully ripened. “If you bite it, it will bite your mouth right back,” said one participant.

However, after ripening to a jelly soft pulp or dried, the hachiya is equally delicious.

Shirley Salado, supervisor of the UC Cooperative Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in San Diego County, attended the persimmon field day to collect persimmons and information about the healthful fruit.

Shirley Salado, the UC Cooperative Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program supervisor in San Diego County, attended the persimmon tasting to gather fruit and information for her education program.

“The fuyu is great to eat,” Salado said. “When they ripen and become very soft, you can put the pulp in a blender and then freeze in zipper bags to add to healthy smoothies.”

Salado collected two large bags of persimmons to share with her nutrition education staff.

“Not everybody knows about these,” Salado said. “This gives them a chance to look at the fruit. This is what we promote.”

Jean Suan, right, plans to dry her persimmons using the traditional Japanese hoshigaki method, in which the whole fruit is peeled, as shown on the left, then hung on a string outdoors. For several weeks, the fruit is massaged every few days, until the sugars form a frost-like dust on the surface. The result is fruit with date-like texture and strong persimmon flavor.

Following the tour, coordinator of the UC Master Food Preserver program at SCREC Cinda Webb demonstrated safe consumption by making cinnamon persimmon jam, dried persimmon chips, and a gourmet persimmon, basil, beet and rice salad.

UC Master Food Preserver coordinator in Orange County Cinda Webb, right, and Master Food Preserver Mabel Alazard, make persimmon jam.
 
Cinda Webb adds persimmons to the salad. (Recipe below.)

Wild or brown rice persimmon salad

4 cups wild or brown rice, cooked
2 Fuyu persimmons, chopped
1 cup cooked, chopped beets
1 cup basic, chopped
8 oz feta cheese
½ cup orange cumin vinaigrette

Vinaigrette (makes about 1 cup)

½ cup orange juice
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1½ tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
½ tsp salt

Directions

  1. Whisk together vinaigrette dressing ingredients
  2. Stir basil, beets, persimmons and feta into rice and toss with ½ cup vinaigrette.
  3. Top with persimmon slices and extra chopped basil for presentation.
A member of the Rare Fruit Growers Association, Dewey Savage, showed a fuyu persimmon with browned flesh. The browning is caused by alcohol released by the seeds inside the fruit. The alcohol neutralizes tannins that make the persimmon astringent. The natural chemical reaction results in sweeter fruit.
 
UC Master Gardener volunteers prepared persimmons for the variety tasting.
 
 
Participants evaluated persimmon varieties based on attractiveness, astringency, sugar, flavor and overall performance.

 

Posted on Thursday, November 16, 2017 at 8:02 AM

'Know beans' about a delicious Thanksgiving

Navy beans, soaked overnight and ready to cook. The name is derived from the fact that they were a staple food of the U.S. Navy in the early 20th century, according to the California Dry Bean Council. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you say "I don't know beans" about beans, you ought to.

Beans are one of civilization's earliest cultivated crops, dating back to the early seventh millennium BCE. Today there are more than 40,000 varieties of beans worldwide.

Beans can also have a place on the Thanksgiving table. The Maple Spice blog for vegans shares a meat-free substitute for turkey that combines mashed white canelli beans, nutritional yeast, vital wheat gluten and spices to create a loaf that slices like turkey breast. UC CalFresh, one of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' nutrition education programs, developed a recipe for black bean and mango salad that makes a healthful and colorful accompaniment to a traditional Thanksgiving meal. (The recipe is below.)

"Not only are beans a healthy food choice, but they are also a healthy choice for our world," said UC Cooperative Extension advisor and dry bean expert Rachael Freeman Long. "Beans fix most of their own nitrogen so require fewer inputs for production compared to other sources of protein and they're cheap! Plus some, like garbanzos, are grown during the wintertime, so they're less dependent on irrigation."

The different varieties of beans include garbanzos (chickpeas) as well as black eyes, limas, and common beans like pintos and kidneys.

You probably won't find a bigger fan of beans than Rachael Long. "I eat them at least once a week or more," she said. "I love going on our Cal Beans website and getting new recipes. Summer time, I love beans on my salad, especially garbanzos. At this time of year, I love soups with beans. My favorite is the kale white bean sausage soup. If I want to go vegetarian, I'll leave out the sausage or sometimes fry up some tofu sausage for flavor. And, it just so happens that this is the soup in the current bean blog. I got the original recipe from one of our nutrition staff at our office."

Yolo County Farm advisor Rachael Long in a dry bean research field at the University of California, Davis. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Long says that Cal Beans is an important site for bean growers and industry folks, too. "It's supported by the California Dry Bean Advisory Board, an important funding source for my work. Right now, I have a grant to look at seed moisture and quality at harvest (possibly drying down seed too much at harvest results in internal injury to planting beans (seed stock)."

What do you know about beans? Do you know that California grows the canning quality beans?

"We have the perfect weather conditions for those large, creamy beige-colored beans," Long said. "Other states like Washington grow about 100,000 acres of garbanzos for humus (but a lower quality bean and we can't compete with their free water via rainfall."

California farmers supply virtually all of our country's dry lima beans, Long notes.  In 2012, California farmers grew about 23,000 acres of baby and large limas, valued at $30 million that year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

California farmers supply virtually all of our country's dry lima beans, says Yolo County farm advisor Rachael Long. This photo was taken in 2013 at a research site during the UC Davis Dry Bean Field Day. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Long has authored two UC ANR manuals about beans (Lima Bean Production in California and Common Dry Bean Production Manual) and is just finishing the garbanzo production manual (it's in peer review).

"Lima beans are a major dry bean crop for California, representing a significant portion of the total dry bean acreage in 2013," she wrote in the Lima Bean Production in California. "Lima beans are primarily grown for the dried edible white bean in California, although a limited but stable acreage is also for seed production. As with all dry beans, limas are a nutritional and healthy food choice, being an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Lima beans are also an important rotation crop for farmers because the plants fix nitrogen, add biomass to the soil, and require relatively few pesticides."

Lima beans belong to the species Phaseolus lunatus, distinct from the common bean, P. vulgaris.

"Common dry beans include the market classes kidney, cranberry, pink, black, white, yellow, pinto, and red, all of which are different types of a single species (Phaseolus vulgaris) that was originally domesticated several thousand years ago in the areas that are now Mexico and South America," Long wrote in the Common Dry Bean Production Manual. "Natural selection and breeding programs lead eventually to the current market classes, which are mainly distinguished by seed size, color, and shape, and plant growth habit. Currently, there are no commercially available genetically modified varieties of P. vulgaris."

"Dry beans," Long points out, "are grown in California mainly for human consumption, though a limited but stable acreage is dedicated to seed production. Dry beans are nutritious: they are high in starch, protein, and dietary fiber, they have no cholesterol, and they are an excellent source of iron, potassium, selenium, molybdenum, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folic acid. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers dry beans to be both a vegetable and a protein source."

Beans are delicious, nutritious and brilliant. This is a cranberry bean in the UC Davis research field. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Rosane Oliveira, director of the UC Davis Integrative Medicine Program and an adjunct assistant professor in the UC Davis School of Medicine's Department of Health Sciences, recently praised beans as one of the "Fab 4" plant foods in her "21-Day Food Challenge" blog.

Beans are brilliant, Oliveira says, because they:

  • Are an excellent source of fiber, protein, iron, and magnesium
  • May add up to 3-4 years to your life if you eat one cup a day
  • Keep your blood sugar level stable for up to six hours
  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes

Indeed, there's even a National Bean Day, observed annually on Jan. 6. Want to know more about beans? You'll find a wealth of information about dry beans from the U.S. Dry Bean Council.

Bottom line: Beans should be an important part of your diet. You can call them "nutritious," you can call them "delicious," or you can call them "brilliant." They're all three.

UC CalFresh mango and black bean salad
UC CalFresh mango and black bean salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups peeled, pitted and diced fresh mango (about 2 small mangos)
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons 100% orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Mix together all ingredients in a large bowl. Salad may be served right away, but is best if covered and chilled for a least 1 hour for flavors to blend.

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