High summer is time to get stoned – stone fruit, that is. That was basically the theme of the Pairings presentation at this week’s After Dark Thursdays at the Exploratorium. Chef Loretta Keller, mixologist Clay Reynolds, Exploratorium Senior Scientist Julie Yu and farmer Bryce Loewen shared how to grow and enjoy the best plums, peaches, pluots and more. And even better, the audience was able to sample plum salad and plum cake (below left), stone-fruit vinegar and even a stone-fruit cocktail.
Chef Keller (right), guiding force behind the Exploratorium’s SeaGlass Restaurant, showed how she makes a fruit vinegar that can be used to make non-alcoholic shrubs (drinks), salad dressings or cocktails, and it couldn’t be simpler: take the cut-up fruit (including over-ripe or bruised fruit, pits and other trimmings) and place in a mason jar, cover generously with a light vinegar like champagne or rice wine vinegar. Store for a week or so in the fridge, then drain and transfer the liquid to a smaller serving bottle.
(Another handy tip: to make a shaker top for your vinegar, take a wine cork, cut a small v-shaped notch along its length, then use that to cap the vinegar bottle. Voila! Instant shaker top!)
Bryce Loewen, a 4th generation farmer at Blossom Bluff Orchards, took us on a photo tour of the family farm, located in the San Joaquin Valley. They organically produce over 150 varieties of tree fruit, including various hybrids of plums, peaches and apricots. Their winter harvest includes olives and figs.
He showed how pluots are created: what I thought was a simple cross of plums and apricots is actually a double cross, where plum + apricot = plumcot, and plumcot + plum = pluot. A close cousin to the pluot is the aprium, which is ¾ apricot and ¼ plum.
And finally, Clay Reynolds, manager and presiding mixologist at SeaGlass Restaurant and the Seismic Joint Café, allowed us to sample a Scarlett O’Hara Cocktail, using house-made “Southern Comfort” with peaches and apricots. I don’t like bourbon, so this wasn’t to my taste, but it was an interesting use of the fruit. (Fun fact: Southern Comfort was invented as a way to make cheap whiskey more drinkable, by adding fruit, spice and honey.)
After Dark Thursdays are a great way to visit the Exploratorium and not feel guilty about hogging all the interactive science exhibits from kids – the event is 18+ only. And as my friend said, “There’s nothing better than walking around here with a glass of wine!”
But it is popular, so advance tickets are advised, and the Pairings event is limited. Once you arrive at the Exploratorium, go straight to the Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery to get one of the free tickets for this every-other-week event. The next one is September 8, and will feature cheese!
And if Pairings doesn’t provide enough opportunity to taste the theme ingredient, SeaGlass Restaurant features it in the dishes they serve that night… for stone fruit they included a pork loin with apricot mostarda and other creations using the season’s finest.