I’d never been to Brentwood before so I leaped at the opportunity to pick cherries there. Bright and early on Saturday morning, my brother and his wife and my wife, Debbie, and I piled into our friends’ van for an adventure in farmland.
On the way to Brentwood, we talked about the last time we picked anything fresh at a farm. My sister-in-law recalled a time when she, my brother, their daughter (then about 10, so this was about 20 years or so ago), and my parents picked stone fruit “somewhere where it was so hot.” Our friends had brought their sons many times to pick raspberries (“The boys had juice smeared all over their faces and hands.”) and pumpkins. Our son, now 21, picked out a pumpkin with my mother at a Half Moon Bay farm when he was about 4, raspberries in Wisconsin (Madison, maybe?) when he was 6, and coffee beans on the slopes of Poas volcano in Costa Rica last December.
My sister-in-law had researched this trip for us, and we pulled into at the Nunn Better cherry orchard parking lot at 8:30. There were fewer than a half dozen cars there. Since we had never picked cherries before, we listened to the advice and tips the guys at the stand had to offer. Then we each took a bucket and headed into the orchard.
This particular orchard had two types of cherries ready to pick: santinas and Utah giants. The santinas were a bright red and almost the size of a large bing. Sweet, but not intensely so. Not very crunchy. The Utah giants were a moderately intense pink and smaller than the santinas. Sweet and more complex in flavor than the santinas. Crunchy. They’re what we decided to pick.
We wandered up and down the rows of cherry trees. We tasted a cherry (or two) from different tress and branches. If we liked it, we picked a few from that branch. Just the ones we thought were pretty and within easy reach. Then we moved on to another tree. It wasn’t long before we had about two pounds’ worth or so in our bucket, at $2.50 a pound we would be charged $6.
We didn’t plan on the mud in the orchard. We didn’t realize that there would be irrigation ditches running between the rows of trees. We tried to rub the mud off in the freshly-cut field of hay but to no avail. It was sticky and had glued itself firmly to our shoes. We found that the metal bars holding up the buntings around the seller’s tent provided some help. So we grabbed a couple of boxes, flattened them, and laid them on the floor of the van and piled back in.
Our next stop was Mike’s peach orchard. It was the first weekend they were open, so the peaches were still firm, but we were assured that they would ripen properly if we left them in a brown paper bag on our kitchen counter. We headed for the rows of white peaches. I tasted one, and was surprised that it was so crunchy and yet readily showed how sweet it would be when it ripened. We picked almost 20 peaches and were charged $12.50 for five pounds.
We headed to downtown Brentwood to checkout the weekly farmer’s market. We found a city block with stalls offering Mexican food, locally-grown fruits and vegetables, hand lotions, locally-grown extra virgin and infused olive oils, freshly-baked breads and pastries (including Beckman’s, all the way from Santa Cruz!), and two teenage boys playing the guitar and electric piano.
One pastry vendor had a nice selection of fruit turnovers and strudels, including a few sugar-free treats. I walked away with a package of peach empanadas.
The Brentwood Olive Oil company was there, with extra-virgin and infused oils. The jalapeno oil was tangy and filled your nose with the pepper’s aroma. The blood orange oil was more subtle, teasing your nose with a spritz of zest and the middle of your tongue with a splash of juice. We bought a bottle of the blood orange olive oil. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with it, so a little experimentation will be on the docket shortly.
A quick trip to a tasting room on the street of the farmer’s market found Becky Bloomfield and her wines. My brother and I had been to a winemaker’s dinner at Essanay Cafe in Niles featuring her wines last March. My wife tasted her 2007 pinot noir, curious because that was what I purchased at the winemaker’s dinner. She was impressed with the fruit and the structure, and that it was not heavily tannic and, thus, a wine she would drink happily. Becky was talking up her 2007 cabernet sauvignon — big cherry and some blueberry in the nose, dark cherry and leather on the palate. My brother was impressed enough to want a bottle, and we bought it for his birthday.
It was past 11:00 and we were all hungry — only my brother and I had whared an english muffin before we left his house in Fremont. So on the recommendation of Becky and the barber (whose shop was next door to the tasting room) we headed to Cap’s about a block away.
Cap’s menu was heavily Italian. We were a bit underwhelmed and didn’t think we would be back.
After lunch we headed to the Hannah Nicole winery. The complimentary tastings included their entire range of wines. We walked away with a bottle of Le Melange Rose — a blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and merlot, sweet with just a touch of grapefruit on the palate, served lightly chilled.
We stopped at the Bacchini farm to take a stab at picking blackberries. It was crowded and hot, and we found that the blackberry vines were already picked over.
We headed back, and decided to stop at the Ryhan winery in Livermore. The first time we went there, they had just opened the tasting room. Like the first time, we purchased a bottle of Rouge Sang, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, refosco, syrah, and petite sirah. It went so well with a stir fry last time — a slightly creamy scent of red fruit on the nose, cherry and dark berries with a bit of pepper on the palate — we thought we would try it again.
A great day with friends and family. It’s time to pick our next food trip.