Once again the holidays are here. In these uncertain times, the possibility of enjoying tranquil time with family and friends, with good food and drink, makes up for a lot of anxiety. Slow down, be calm and rejoice. Happy holidays!
Since 2003 is an odd numbered year, PISTACCHI DI BRONTE from eastern Sicily are again available. California is an important producer of pistachios, but an even more important producer is Sicily, with production based in the eastern province of Catania, specifically BRONTE.
Growing conditions are quite special at BRONTE, and the soil is lava tuft from nearby Monte Etna. Pistachio trees are alternate bearing, producing a heavy crop every other year. The grower we buy from, removes the tree flowers in the “off” year, thus saving on costs of picking scarce fruit and allowing the trees to rest. Production years are odd numbered.Our PISTACCHI DI BRONTE are peeled nut meats with an astonishing green color and rich flavor. They must be kept cool, dark, and used fairly quickly, although they can be kept about 4-5 months in the refrigerator. Eaten as they are, cooked with rice or couscous, added to salads and desserts, they are very special. Eaten with after dinner sweet wines such as Port or Setúbal, they are a fall treat. Since PISTACCHI DI BRONTE are available only every other year, now is your chance to try them.
Manzanita is a tall shrub or tree like shrub growing in the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada foothills of California and the western states. It is characterized by its shiny red bark on bare branches. Its flower produces a small, waxy, bell shaped fruit, looking like an apple, hence the name “manzanita,” in Spanish, little apple. There are about 30 cultivars of this western native and the flowers attract bees beginning in February, pretty much at sea level or slightly higher.
It is not until the month of August that manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita) growing at 6,000 feet elevation flowers, and bees extract this nectar to produce honey. There is very little pollution at this high elevation and the honey production is particularly clean. Our local honey producer, Frank Lienert, has been able to produce a small amount of this honey in August, 2003.In the past six years, due to weather problems, there has been no production of manzanita honey from the Sierra Nevada range in northern California. It is a lovely honey: medium colored, very sweet flavored, with a delicious, intense flavor that develops on the palate. It is a unique, untreated, California honey. Manzanita honey tends to granulate easily, and should this happen, merely liquify it by warming the jar in hot water which will return it its liquid state.
Shin Mai, newly harvested and milled short grain rice, is eagerly awaited in Japan with as much enthusiasm as Beaujolais nouveau is in France. It is a seasonal specialty that has a wonderful flavor and scent and is available for only a short time with these specific characteristics. When it ages, rice quality changes slightly, losing its seasonal immediacy.
In December 2001, Corti Brothers first offered three Japanese cultivars grown in the Sacramento Valley. In 2003, we are offering only one: HITOMEBORE. This is one of the rarest, not seen very often, but the variety that was recognized by our knowledgeable customers as being the best.
Our shin mai HITOMEBORE comes again from the LaGrande family mill, Sun Valley Rice Company in Arbuckle, California.. They have been rice growers for five generations and their mill is state of the art. A special rice polisher called KAPIKA, used at the end of the milling process, avoids a lot of the deterioration problems inherent in a grain like rice. The Kapika mill uses the grains themselves to further remove bran from the grain’s outside surface, without using water. This process creates a highly polished rice which increases water absorption and promotes the fresh milled character of the rice. Less well milled rice is subject to flavor deterioration due to the oxidation of the residual bran left on the outside of the grain. Rice bran turns rancid.
Our Sacramento valley grown, milled, and bagged HITOMEBORE is premium quality rice. Although not clearly defined or understood by most people, it means that the grains are very glossy after cooking, sticky with a smooth texture, and remain soft after cooking. It also has important scent and flavor characteristics. HITOMEBORE has many cultivation problems: it is difficult to grow, low production, and susceptible to numerous pests which other varieties are not. But its flavor is wonderful.
Corti Brothers’ HITOMEBORE will have just been milled. You should
try some as soon as possible and then store the remainder in a sealed bag
in the freezer to slow down deterioration. Hiroko Shimbo of New York, author
of The Japanese Kitchen, sent me the following note after tasting our previous
offering of three cultivars. “(H)itomebore: This rice has very fragrant,
perfumy aroma and good taste. The texture was the most pleasant–plump
and tender...This flavorful, aromatic rice even served alone...is an ‘active’ constituent
of the meal... When it comes to sushi rice preparation, this is the rice.
As you might expect I do not recommend this rice in the preparation which
require flavoring the rice or serving it with richly flavored
To prepare our shin mai HITOMEBORE, use these guidelines. Rinse the desired amount of rice in cold running water. Since Kapika milling is used, less washing is required than with other rice. However, it is very difficult to cook less than 1 cup of rice, and 1 1/2 cups is the least one should attempt. New rice is cooked with an equal measure rice to water. As the rice gets older, use 1 cup of rice plus 2 tablespoons of water or 2 cups of rice and 2 1/3 cups water. An appropriate serving of rice per person is ½ cup uncooked rice. It expands 75% in cooking.
HOWEVER, I would caution you, do not buy HITOMEBORE if you do not want rice which sticks together. This is a short grain rice which will stick together and is meant to do so. If you are looking for non sticky rice, please buy a long grain rice, but not HITOMEBORE.On our rice bag there are three figures that show the derivation of the word “rice” in Chinese. From top to bottom: an engraving of a rice plant from a Chinese agricultural treatise dated 1329; next, a symbol of 9 dots, in a specific order, the earliest written symbol for rice known in Chinese taken from oracle bones; it means “plenty.” Last, the Chinese or “kanji” character for rice. In Japanese this character is pronounced “KOME” and is easily recognizable from the two previous figures. Now you have just learned a character in an ideographic language. Food can also be educational.
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