I’m always thrilled whenever I have a chance to learn a bit more about where my food comes from. So when Driscoll’s berries invited me (along with a number of other food bloggers) to visit their berry farms and learn more about what they do, I immediately said yes. Of course, as a bonus, they gave us food bloggers tickets to one of the hottest food events in the Northern Hemisphere – the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival. Long time readers will remember the ridiculous amounts of food that I ate when I was down there last year with my partner-in-crime Sabrina of The Tomato Tart. This year, I only got into two different events at the festival, but it was enough to inspire my Strawberry Rhubarb Lime Pie with Toasted Coconut Meringue.
I woke up crazy early (for me) to get downtown and meet the other bloggers for our trip down to Watsonville for the berry farm. Kamran from The Sophisticated Gourmet had flown in from the East coast, and the rest of the San Francisco food blogger crowd, including Anita from Desserts First, Stephanie from Desserts for Breakfast, Shauna from Piece of Cake, Leslie and Nina from Foodbeast as well as Sabrina from The Tomato Tart were all there barely awake and ready for our trip. We boarded the crazy tour bus and proceeded out of the city and onto our two-hour drive down south.
Arriving at the Driscoll’s distribution plant, the lovely folks that brought us down had breakfast waiting for us. The breakfast potatoes, bacon quiche and pork sausage were all great, but of course, we were there for the berries. Blueberry French Toast Casserole, Berry Parfait, berry filled scones and (of course) fresh berries were all there in plentiful amounts. The bloggers went crazy taking pictures (of the food and of everyone else) and tweeting up a storm, as bloggers often do. As we climbed on chairs and composed beautiful plates of food for our hero shots of breakfast, a few Los Angeles based bloggers arrived including Greg from Sippity Sup with his partner Ken and Pam from My Man’s Belly.
After breakfast, we all squeezed into rubber rain boots that Laura of The Baddish Group had kindly run out and gotten for us (though Kamran, being the fashion plate that he is, had actually run out and gotten his own the day before). The past few days had been crazy rainy and the fields were muddy. I got some pretty stylish baby blue boots that were ever so slightly small for me, but they looked fab so I sacrificed comfort for fashion. We all trucked out to the farms to see the berries being grown.
The Driscoll’s farmer showed us around the muddy fields and the raspberry plants, that weren’t quite ready to be picked yet. Driscoll’s works with a number of family owned and run farms all over the area. The average crew of 60 people can pick from two to five crates worth of raspberries. Once picked, the raspberries go into a clamshell package and are never touched again until the consumer uses them. Apparently one of the reasons that raspberries are packed in small half pint packages is that they are so fragile that anything larger and the weight of the berries will ruin the ones at the bottom. The raspberries themselves are on an 18 month cycle, with two different yields before they need to be replanted.
We didn’t have a chance to visit any strawberry farms (but I did snap a picture of a field out of the truck window as we passed by) but they did talk about the process of Driscoll’s cross breeding their strawberries to find the best, most durable and tastiest strawberries. Some of the varietals that they come up with are so persnickety that a planting them one day before or after the optimum plant date can shift the yield up to 10 -15%. Because of that, only 1% of the berries that they cross breed make it to market. The average US consumer apparently eats ten pounds of strawberries, which seems ridiculously low to me. I can go through a flat just by myself in just a few days!
Once we finished up at Driscoll’s we headed to the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival, for the Grand Tasting pavilion. The road trip itself was, exciting as we nearly died going off-roading in our tour bus, but thankfully we survived intact, ready for the festivities. On the way to the festival, we even picked up a couple of rich hitchhikers that thought our shuttle bus was the official festival shuttle (silly rich people). Of course, I immediately ran off, excited by the bountiful food and wine, and lost everyone in the hustle and bustle, too busy trying to grab a picture of the fantastic food (as well as, you know stuff the food in my mouth while it was still hot – ‘cuz I’m classy that way). Oh the food!
I have to say that I went a little crazy sampling and tasting foods in the Grand Tasting pavilion. I sort of wish there were less people and more time to go and eat everything (and sip wine, oh I didn’t even scratch the surface of the wineries that were there). But that’s the nature of these events. People lining up to sample fantastic cuisine, and everyone standing around moaning about how wonderful or amazing their little bite was. Yeah, I was one of those people. Though, in the end, I’m not sure if I was moaning from how good the food was or how much food I ate.
Of course, Pebble Beach Food and Wine isn’t anything without the fabulous chefs, but I’ll be completely honest with you. I am TERRIBLE at knowing who’s a celebrity chef and who’s not. I don’t have cable and the last time I watched the Food Network, Too Hot Tamales was still on the air. Sadly Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken weren’t there (or if they were, I didn’t see them). However there were a number of other celebrity chefs, including Tyler Florence, Anne Burrell and Johnny Iuzzini. The last one I know, as he’s a pastry chef, and let’s face it, I’m a total pastry chef geek. That said, I was pretty confident that if they were at the Food and Wine Festival, they were probably a big deal. But you tell me if you recognize any of them.
That said, I did get a chance to sit next to Michael Chiarello after my second session about blind wine tasting. Michael seemed less than thrilled by me sitting next to him (I think I was crowding his personal space), but since I’m oblivious to that sort of thing, it didn’t seem to bother me. Not that he really spent much time thinking of me, as he soon started to hobnobbed with the other famous chefs (like Nancy Silverton) and became oblivious to any slight I might have given. That’s OK as I was too busy hanging out with the other bloggers and telling the other bloggers what I learned at the Blind Wine Tasting session, which was truly informative.
Turns out, there’s a method to the madness when master sommeliers taste wine blindly. The session had us tasting the wine along with the sommeliers, and trying to guess the wine varietal and origins. Here are a few tips I learned. The more viscous the wine (leggy) the more alcohol (or residual sugar if it’s off dry) is in the wine. The climate controls the alcohol in the wine, with the warmer the climate, the higher the alcohol in the wine. Conversely, the cooler the climate that the grapes are grown, the higher the wine’s acidity. If you smell things like mushrooms, minerals, earthiness or wood in the wine first, you are probably dealing with an old world wine, while if you smell fruits first, it’s probably a new world wine. If you smells spices like cinnamon or cloves (or anything you woulkd bake a pie with) it’s been aged in a wood barrel. Finally if all else fails, the safest thing you can say is that “It smells like cherries” (for red wine that is, if it’s white, say is smells like green apples). Ha!
At the end of the day, most of us piled back into the van (while the LA bloggers went off a different route) and drove back up to SF. We did a stop at the airport where we dropped off a number of bloggers who were either flying back home or lived down in the South Bay. I arrived home safe and sound, happy to have spent the day with some fantastic bloggers, and having learned a ton about berries, food and wine.
For more blog posts about the Driscoll’s and Pebble Beach trip, check out these fab posts by my fellow bloggers:
- Dessert First: Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream
- Desserts for Breakfast: Sugared Coconut Raspberries and Rhubarb
- Sippity Sup: Raspberry Ginger Bellini
- The Tomato Tart: Baked Goat Cheese with Raspberries and Thyme
- Food Beast: Eating like Royalty
Special thanks goes to Driscoll’s Berries and the Baddish Group for hosting me for this trip to their farm, and the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival. All travel, meals and tours were provided by the hosts. That said, I was not compensated otherwise for what I wrote above and everything I have written is my own opinion.
Strawberry Rhubarb Lime Toasted Coconut Meringue Pie
By Irvin Lin
Pastry Chef rockstar Johnny Iuzzini (you may recognize him from being the Top Chef Just Desserts head judge) was at the Pebble Beach Food and Wine festival serving up one of my favorite desserts at the event. His cup of citrus hibiscus & rose infused rhubarb and strawberry compote with coconut meringues had a lot going on, and you know how much I like that. I took inspiration from that and created a picnic friendly pie to take up to Napa with friends, for (you guessed it) a picnic lunch. It would be even better if you can get your hands on some key limes, but since key limes are hard to source and usually the commercial juice you find is from concentrate, feel free to use regular store bought limes for this recipe, which is what I did. You’ll also notice that I used tapioca flour in my filling. If you don’t have that, feel free to substitute corn starch, just be forewarned your filling might not taste as bright, as the corn starch will dull the flavor ever so slightly.
245 g (1 3/4 cup) all purpose flour
150 g (1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons ice cold water
3 tablespoons gold tequila
3 large eggs
5 large egg yolks
100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2/3 cup lime juice (key lime preferred)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons gold tequila
2 tablespoon tapioca flour
1/4 cup dry milk powder (whole dry milk preferred)
57 g (4 tablespoons or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Strawberry Rhubarb Filling
260 g (3/4 lb or one large stalk) rhubarb
225 g (1/2 lb) strawberries
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
100g (1/2 cup) white granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
40 g (1/2 cup) unsweetened shredded coconut
4 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 vanilla bean
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
9 inch deep dish pie pan
pie weights or dry beans or uncooked rice
1. Make the crust dough by placing the flour in a large mixing bowl. Cut up the butter into 1/2 inch chunks and sprinkle over the flour and toss to coat. Flatten the cubes of butter with your fingers until all the butter has been smashed. Then start rubbing and squeezing the flour and butter together with your fingers, until the ingredients start to clump together. Sprinkle the water and tequila over the mixture and toss with a fork until it forms a dough. If the dough seems too wet, sprinkle a little more flour onto it and fold it in, but the dough is meant to be a bit wet. Gather the dough and flatten it into a large 1/2” thick disk. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for an hour or overnight.
2. Preheat the oven at 375˚F and roll out the chilled dough on a generously floured surface. The nice thing about this dough is that you can use as much flour as you need, as it is pretty forgiving. Roll it out to 10 inches and then fit it into a 9 inch pie pan. Decorative flute the edges of the crust, place a piece of parchment paper on the inside of the crust, and fill it with pie weights, dry beans or uncooked rice. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes then remove the parchment paper with the pie weights and continue to bake the crust for another 7 to 10 minutes or until the crust looks dry and fully baked. Let cool completely. Reduce the heat of the oven to 350˚F.
3. While crust is baking, Make the lime filling by placing the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, cream, lime juice, sea salt, tequila, tapioca flour and dry milk in the medium sized heat proof bowl. Place bowl over a pot of water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water, and turn the heat on to bring the water to a simmer. Lower the heat to keep the water at a simmer, and whisk the filling until the filling starts to thicken, about 5 to 7 minutes. Once it has thickened, cut butter into 1/2 tablespoon pats and whisk each pat into the filling, making sure to incorporate it into the filling.
4. Once you’ve added all the butter, remove the pan from the heat, and let it cool as you prepare the strawberry rhubarb filling. First cut up all the rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces. Cut the tops of the strawberries off and then quarter each strawberry. Place the rhubarb and strawberrie pieces along with the rest of the ingredients in a medium sized pan and cook over medium heat until the rhubarb starts to soften and the strawberries have released some juice, about five minutes. Let cool.
5. Scrape the cooled lime filling into the cooled pie crust. Spoon the strawberry rhubarb filling over the lime filling, covering it completely. Place the pie back in the oven at the 350˚F (you remembered to lower the temperature right?) and bake for 25 minutes.
6. About 10 minutes before the pie is finished baking, make the coconut meringue by first toasting the coconut. Place the coconut in a saucepan over medium heat and cook the coconut until is starts to brown, stirring constantly. Once the coconut has turned a golden brown, remove from heat and pour the coconut into a heatproof bowl. Place the egg whites, cream of tartar and sea salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Turn the mixer to high and beat until you start to get peaks. Stop the mixer, split the vanilla bean in half and scrape the beans into the bowl. Then turn the mixer onto to medium high speed and slowly sprinkle the granulated sugar into the bowl, with the mixer turned on. Beat the whites until they become glossy and hold stiff peaks.
7. Once the pie has done baking, pull the pie out of the oven, spread the meringue over the hot filling, until it touches the edges of the crust. Place back in the oven and bake until the meringue is golden brown, about 15 minutes more. Once done, cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight before serving.
Makes one 9 inch pie, serves 10-12 people