For most people who live in the Bay Area, Lake County is terra incognita. I know it was for me until I began working there regularly about fifteen years ago. (A geographical note: Lake County borders on Napa County to the south and Mendocino County to the west and at its heart is Clear Lake, the largest natural lake entirely within California). The County has long been known for pears, walnuts, and mineral and hot springs, most notably, Harbin Hot Springs. It is also home to some of the poorest people in California, and single-wide mobile homes are a common form of housing. Because of its low cost of living, it attracts many retirees.
As is true most everywhere, change is coming to Lake County. Grapes are now the leading crop and new wineries seem to spring up every year. What interests me most is that fruit and vegetable farmers are diversifying and growing more crops organically and selling them at farm stands and farmer’s markets. Which brings me to the peaches I used for this dessert and to my favorite place to shop in the county, Seely Orchards Farm Stand in Upper Lake. Seely’s is known as a pear orchard, but at their stand you’ll find home grown fruits and veggies from melons to summer squash and tomatoes as well as jams, salsas, breads and pastries made locally (and, it must be said, some product from around California and even out of state). I went this past weekend expecting to find pears, which are usually being picked now. Due to the cold spring and mild summer, however, Lake County pears are two to three weeks late. Instead, I bought peaches, also grown by Seely’s. They weren’t the most beautiful peaches I’d ever seen, but more importantly, they were ripe and juicy. The lesson again is, if you want the best fruit and vegetables, buy directly from the grower. When you find fruit this good, why do a lot to it? My simple recipe for Peach Crunch is after the jump…
For the fruit layer:
6 medium, ripe peaches (about 3 pounds)
1- 2 tablespoons rice syrup, maple syrup or sweetener of choice (amount depends on sweetness of the peaches)
1-2 tablespoons arrowroot or corn starch (juicier peaches need more)
little pinch of salt
For the crunch layer:
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup toasted, slivered almonds
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons rice syrup (or use sweetener of choice)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
a little pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350º F
1. Lightly oil a 9-inch square baking pan. Combine and mix together all the fruit layer ingredients in the pan.
2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine and mix together all the crunch ingredients.
3. Spread the crunch ingredients over the fruit, cover with foil and bake 30-40 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes or until the topping begins to be lightly golden brown and crisp. Cool partially before serving with a frozen or whipped topping.
Note: this method works for soft stone fruits. For firm fruit such as apples and pears, cover with foil and bake the fruit only for 40-50 minutes. Uncover, spread on the topping and bake an additional 15-20 minutes or until the top looks done (as above).
Seely’s Farm Stand: