Valley food memories too many to recount

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fresno, I'm not yet done telling you stories.

For my column last week, it was hard to narrow down a list of local treats that capture the local history, culture, climate and flavor. It's impossible to fit all of those memories into a single story, so I wanted to tell you about one more place.

The University of California's Kearney Agricultural Center in Parlier is a gem of a research station that offers occasional public tours. Consider what I discovered:

A Hmong research garden that may be the only one of its kind in the country.

It offers the public a rare look at medicinal and culinary herbs, including common and scientific names for the plants.

I toured it in 2009 with local Hmong herbalists who showed the overlap between the culinary and medicinal. To treat a rash, bruise some garlic chives and rub them into the skin, May Xiong says. Vietnamese coriander (also known as Vietnamese mint, laksa leaf and luam laws in Hmong), helps blood clot.

Fresh Sichuan (or Szechwan) pepper, which nearly choked me with its sourness and numbness.

In the United States, the opportunity to taste fresh Sichuan pepper is rare; the dried spice typically is imported from countries such as China and Japan.

UC Cooperative Extension farm adviser Richard Molinar planted Zanthoxylum armatum trees, a species of Sichuan pepper grown in Nepal. He was studying the possibility of turning backyard Sichuan pepper trees into a California crop.

More than 20 varieties of mini watermelons.

With mini watermelons a popular segment of the market, lots of California farmers were interested in Molinar's trials.

On a glorious, blistering afternoon in 2007, Molinar cut into these watermelons for a taste test. The red flesh of the Little Deuce Coupe was pleasingly crunchy but not super sweet. And the sunny interior of the Mini Yellow was sweeter but not as crisp.

Jujubes, a small, sweet, crisp fruit.

Among a small group of California growers, jujubes are an important crop for Asian communities, especially in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, New York and Canada.

Hungry for your own discoveries? To find out more about UC Kearney's research, call Molinar at (559) 456-7555.

There's one more little event I'd like to tell you about. Apparently, some folks called Jo Ann Sorrenti of Sierra Nut House and asked her to invite me over so I could say good-bye in person.

I'm flattered -- and will be in Sierra Nut House at Blackstone and Nees avenues 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Feel free to stop by if you like, so I can thank you properly.

After all, it's your generosity that's allowed me to have a fantastic time here. You sent in tips, you opened your kitchens to me and most importantly, you shared your stories.

Please continue to explore the Valley's food -- and think of me when you're enjoying a Fay Elberta peach.


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