Apart from its excruciating heat, Summer is all about stone fruits for us. Donut peaches, plums and nectarines don’t last long in our fruit bowl because I’m addicted to their sweetness and the reverie that only the messy, juice-dribbling consumption of ripe fruit can induce.
Like tomatoes, my appreciation of stone fruits really developed once I tasted the real deal, not something harvested way before its peak and flown halfway around the world. For this, we’re grateful for Rob and Tina Mizuno who drive almost four hours one-way every Sunday to set up shop at our local Farmers’ Market.
A former planner in Southern California, Rob Mizuno has always wanted to return to his hometown of Reedley in California’s Central Valley to run his own fruit orchard. His paternal grandfather was one of the first Japanese farmers to settle in the area and Rob’s childhood was spent helping his father and grandfather weed, prune and graft the many fruit trees they farmed. Today, Rob’s brother runs the family business, supplying fruits to large grocery chains. Rob, however, decided to take the Farmers’ Market route.
“It’s a whole life of its own. I mean, you’re working so hard and not seeing the income for your efforts for a few months? Good Lord!,” said Tina, a retired History and English teacher, as we shared a bottle of wine on her backporch in the Spring.
“(Rob)’s not doing this for the money, he really gets his satisfaction from sharing the fruits of his work.”
Which probably explains the generous samples of Santa Rosa Plums and white donut peaches handed out at their stand to anyone with a remote curiosity about what’s on offer. That’s how we got hooked two years ago, and have been loyal customers ever since, making a point to load up on donut peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots every weekend. Another bonus is getting your weekly dose of the Rob & Tina dynamic that’s spontaneous, witty and downright entertaining – borne out of many years of marriage and a deep love for each other.
The Mizunos’ Farmers Market adventures began in 1994 when they started selling fruit for Hamada Farms at markets around the Bay Area while still juggling their respective jobs. They bought the current orchard, a 10-acre plot, in 1995, which marked the start of 11 years of selling stone fruits at markets in Northern and Southern California.
“Oh it was crazy!”, said Tina, on the trials of balancing a market stand and a career.
“I was working at Huntington Beach at that time, but we would do a market at Westwood (in LA) on Thursday afternoons, then drive down to Orange County (50 miles away) the same evening, do the market there on Friday, then back to Reedley on Friday night, pick fruit all-day Saturday, then drive out to Mountain View on Sunday. We did this for seven years.”
But the efforts paid off, and the Mizunos garnered a loyal following for their fruit, becoming, for many, one of the essential highlights of the summer market season. Today, they’ve reduced their market commitments to just one location in the Bay Area and another in Fresno, freeing up more time for Rob to spend in his orchard among his 160 different varieties of trees and grape vines.
For the most part, it is a one-man team out in the orchard, with the addition of a hired help with the harvest during the market months of May to October. Although not organically-certified, Rob uses organic fertilizer, pest-deterrents and weed killers, in addition to traditional techniques like grafting and pruning to enable his fruit to reach the full expression of their flavors and sweetness. He controls the amount of fruits on a branch, for example, so as not to overload the branch and concentrate flavor on the remaining fruits, which also tend to grow bigger as a result of this method.
As much as we’re fans of the Mizunos’ produce, you’ll notice that there aren’t a lot of recipes on this blog featuring their fruits because I’m guilty of polishing them off as soon I get them, leaving little time for concocting jam, chutney, pie or cocktail recipes. Which is why I took the opportunity of today’s virtual Pie Party to experiment and showcase their fruit. Also, it’s been a while since I last made a pie, so here’s my humble attempt to change that. Judging by the irregularly-shaped pie crust top that emerged from the oven, I could obviously do with more practice in the pie-making department, so this won’t be the last pie you see here!
Bourbon Caramel Peach Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
Adapting Dorie Greenpsan’s basic pie crust recipe, this version is inspired by Gourmet’s Honey Caramel Peach Pie, except that I left out the honey and added some Bourbon. Why Bourbon? Well, is that a real question? Ok, since you asked, here are some possible answers. Take your pick:
(1) It’s the 4th of July weekend.
(2) Because The (Flavor) Bible tells me so.
(3) Because it’s fun to buy hard liquor at 9am on a weekday.
I’ve also taken a leaf from my local pie expert’s book and added a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the dough to ensure crust flakiness. It worked!
- 7 oz/ 200g all-purpose flour
- 6 oz/ 175g pastry flour
- 1.8 oz/ 50g granulated sugar
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 10 oz/ 285g unsalted butter, cubed and kept very cold
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- ¾ to 1 cup very cold water
- 3 lbs/ 1½ kg ripe yellow peaches, skinned, pitted and sliced
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 7 oz/ 200g granulated sugar
- 3 oz/ 85g salted butter, cubed
- 4 tablespoons bourbon
Final Touches (optional)
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons water
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- Begin with the pie crust. In a large bowl stir together the flours, sugar and salt.
- Add the cold butter cubes and quickly work them into the flour using either a pastry cutter or the tips of your fingers to break up the butter as much as possible, until the mixture resembles coarse almond meal, dotted with butter cubes of different sizes.
- Make a well in the center and add the apple cider vinegar all at once, and the water, a few tablespoons at a time. Gather everything into a soft dough, adding water where required to get a dough solid enough to hold together when pinched.
- Divide the dough into two, flatten into 1-inch thick discs, then wrap tightly with plastic and refrigerate for at least two hours to overnight before using.
- When you’re ready to prepare the pie, butter a 9-inch pie dish and preheat the oven to 425F/ 220C.
- Roll out one of the dough discs on a floured surface (leave the other in the refigerator), keeping it constantly floured and flipping the dough frequently. Fit the dough over the dish and cut the excess dough to a ¼ to ½-inch overhang with a pair of scissors. Fold the dough under itself so that it hangs over the edge. Keep the base refrigerated while you make the filling.
- Toss the peach slices with cornstarch, flour, lemon juice and salt. Set aside.
- Make the bourbon caramel by melting the sugar in a light-colored pot over medium heat, shaking the pot every other minute to distribute the sugar crystals evenly. Do not stir the contents of the pot. Let the sugar melt until it becomes a dark amber, then take the pot off the heat and add the butter and bourbon (be careful the caramel will sputter), and return the pot to the stove on medium heat, whisking until the butter and bourbon are fully incorporated.
- Pour the caramel over the peaches and toss to mix. The caramel will harden once it comes into contact with the cold peaches, but it will liquify in the oven.
- Fill your prepared pie dish with the filling. Roll out the other disc of dough on a lightly floured surface to an 11-inch round. Drape this over the pie plate and trim excess dough to a ½-inch overhang with scissors. Press the top and bottom crusts together then crimp or pleat the edges to your desired fashion – I’m fond of decorating the edges with the tines of a fork.
- If desired, whisk the egg and water together then brush it over the top of the pie. Sprinkle the sugar generously and cut 3 to 4 steam vents in the top crust.
- Bake pie on a hot baking sheet for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375F/ 190C and bake until the crust is golden-brown and filling is bubbling, about 40 to 50 minutes.
- Cool pie to room temperature before slicing and serving.