Today I went to a meeting of the local chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers, where the topic of conversation was Felix Gillet, one of the very first nurserymen in the state of California.
Monsieur Gillet established Barren Hills nursery in California's Gold Country in 1871, where he sold hundreds of varieties of fruit and nut trees, imported from all over the world. Current research suggests that Monsieur Gillet may have introduced many, many of the fruits that we still eat today in the United States.
The speaker, Amigo Cantisano, stumbled across Monsier Gillet about thirty years ago. Since that time has been exploring the counties around the site of the original Nevada City nursery, locating old fruit trees that would have been purchased and planted over a hundred years ago. He's working with the original catalogs from the Barren Hills nursery, and from Gillet's writings, and has made it a mission to protect these unique old trees.
While some of the fruits that Gillet brought to America are still being grown, others are unknown to the nursery trade. Many of the heritage trees that have been located are resistant to diseases and pests, and thus have great value to contemporary growers.Some of the trees that Cantisano has found are so obscure that their names have been lost. He and his colleagues are fruit sleuths, pouring over antique agricultural publications, seeking clues to the identity of mystery fruit trees.
At the meeting today, we sampled fruits and nuts from trees dating back over a hundred years. It was thrilling and delicious.
Cantisano has founded the Felix Gillet Institute (no web site yet, alas, but here's a great article) and is slowly propagating young cuttings of these ancient trees. In the next few years, he hopes to be able to return these "lost" fruits to market.
The meeting was held at the horticultural department of Diablo Valley College. We had a quick tour of their public facilities, which were very impressive.
And, of course, we shared the fruit that we've been growing. These are Australian Finger Limes.
Break them in half, and twist them, and they release their vesicles. Robb and I are trying to figure how to use them on a cornmeal dessert.
Many people brought in Pineapple Guavas. I can't even begin to describe their flavor.
I have access to some of these fruits, and will have to check their ripeness. If you see me out-and-about, grubbing around under the bushes, please avert your eyes.
My camera failed to capture the freaky day-glow pink color of this rose-petal jelly. Had I not been in the room with the rare fruit growers, there's No Way in Hell I would have eaten anything this color.
It was a wonderful day for food experiences, and learning about things both old and new.