Frog Hollow Farms has once again returned to the Santa Monica Farmers Market, a sure sign that fall is just around the corner here in Southern California. From now until December, you’ll find Farmer Al Courchesne trucking his pears, stone fruit, dried fruits and a delicious array of preserves down from his 143-acre, fully sustainable farm in the other Brentwood, CA, located an hour east of San Francisco.
A favorite among many restaurants here in town, Frog Hollow Farm is best known for Farmer Al’s Warren Pears, a rare hybrid of the intensely flavorful Giant Seckel and juicy Comice pears. Discovered in 1976 by Thomas O. Warren of Mississippi, these pears are prized not only for their “smooth, grit-free texture and an intense, complex flavor with hints of guava, pineapple and honey.” But despite having garnered fans the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart who sing their praises, you’ll be hard-pressed to find these pears anywhere else. Farmer Al explained to us that the pears have to be hand-pollinated and take five years to mature before they can even be hand-harvested.
Though this was only Frog Hollow Farms’ first week of 2015 at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, already the orders from notable restaurants around town like Sqirl, Gjelina/Gjusta and Mélisse were stacked in boxes, awaiting pick-up. We happened upon Chef Jesse Barber of Venice’s newly opened Dudley Market, a farm-to-table restaurant that doubles as retail space for artisanal goods.
Jesse has earned quite a reputation for sourcing only the best ingredients and quality products, so our interest was piqued when we learned that Dudley Market’s fall menu now features Warren pears. Dishes like his refreshing Pear & Cucumber Gazpacho work well to balance the luscious, nectar-like sweetness of these prized pears, while allowing their intense flavor to shine through. With these 90ºF September days we’ve been having in LA, it’s the perfect late summer/early fall respite. You can find his recipe below.
What Jesse looks for when selecting his Warren pears: Choose ones with yellow undertones, preferably that have a red or orange blush as an indication of sun exposure. You’ll also want to look for pears with lots of tiny brown flecks (sugars concentrating below and rising to surface) and a slight wrinkling of the skin just around the stem.
If you’re not within shopping distance of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, don’t fret—you can still taste Frog Hollow Farms’ delicious Warren pears. They’re sold at multiple farmers’ market locations throughout the Bay Area and can be ordered online through their website. And, if you ever have the chance to stop by the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco, their Frog Hollow Farms Café is open seven days a week, with a great selection of pastry items and fine fruits.
Chef Jesse Barber’s Warren Pear & Cucumber Gazpacho
5 lbs Warren pears and their trimmings (be sure they’re “ripe and awesome!”)
2 oz Banyuls wine vinegar
2 oz California Olive Ranch Arbequina extra virgin olive oil
2 oz shallots, sliced
¼ ea cucumber, pickled*
½ ea Calabrian chili, pickled*
Sea salt, to taste
To make the gazpacho: Add pears, trimmings, vinegar, shallots, cucumber, chili and salt into a large glass or ceramic bowl and refrigerate for 24–48 hours.
Blend ingredients together a Vitamix or other blender, along with 2-ounces of extra virgin olive oil. Place a fine mesh chinoix over a bowl, container or pot. Pour mixture and allow gravity to strain mixture through the chinoix. Season with salt to taste. Refrigerate for 12 hours and serve within 24 hours.
*When pickling, Jesses uses French champagne vinegar and lots of herbs.
Chef Jesse Barber’s Tomato Gazpacho
5 lbs tomatoes, whole (again, “ripe and awesome!” is key)
2 oz sherry vinegar
2 oz California Olive Ranch’s Arbequina extra virgin olive oil
2 oz shallots, sliced
3 garlic coves
½ ea pickle*
Black pepper, freshly ground
Sea salt, to taste
Add tomatoes, vinegar, shallots, garlic and pickle into a large glass or ceramic bowl and refrigerate for 24–48 hours.
Blend ingredients together a Vitamix or other blender, along with 2-ounces of extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for 24 hours and serve within two days.
*Jesse makes his own pickles using French champagne vinegar and lots of herbs.