By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
Lucky me, and I say that often. Last weekend, I was invited to a grape harvesting party. My first thought was Lucy and Ethel stomping grapes in that hilarious episode of I Love Lucy in 1956. Living in the Bay area offers all kinds of opportunities I wasn’t privy to back in Michigan. I try to take advantage of all of them. My new neighbor, Marie, encouraged me to tag along to help her friend harvest his grapes. I would be rewarded with a Mexican garden lunch afterward. I never pass up a meal prepared by someone else!
It was a typically gorgeous October morning, clear skies, low humidity, in the 60s. I drove up a winding road to a sprawling hacienda-style home, surrounded by rows and rows of grapes. On the outdoor table were coffee and assorted pastries, as well as gloves and vine snippers. I gulped down some coffee and had a bite of banana bread, donned the gloves, grabbed the snippers and headed out back to the vineyard to meet the other harvesters.
The experience was an absolute joy for me. I loved being outdoors, in an agricultural setting, particularly a vineyard, working as part of a team to get the Cabernet grapes into buckets to load onto a truck. Over many years of being in wine country in Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, New York State, and Napa Valley, I always wanted to be a part of the harvest. Here was my chance, in my own backyard!
The vineyard is owned by Humberto Rincon, a retired product design engineer. He came to the U.S, from Mexico when he was eight years old, along with his brothers and father. They were farm workers in the Imperial Valley, Calif.,until he attended the University of California, Davis. Besides cabs, he grows Petit Syrah, Petit Verdeau, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec grapes. Quite a list! The Rincons planted the vines in spring, 2015.
The way Humberto tells it, he planted the grapes along with 27 fruit trees and five planter boxes of vegetables (all organic) because he enjoys farming and enhancing his property. “Most importantly,” he says, “ it’s to introduce our grandkids to the process of planting and growing food.” Humberto has his wine made nearby. He says, “The blends are a way of artistic expression as well as experimenting with the various grape combinations.” Hacienda HR Rincon Vineyards grows six tons of grapes on 2.5 acres annually, which yield 4,500 bottles of wine a year.
Family and friends have been picking the Rincon’s grapes for several years. Picking grapes is easier than picking berries, where you need to bend down, or tree fruit, where you need to reach overhead. Grapes are at waist level and require very few calisthenics to harvest. Keep in mind, though, I only participated for a couple of hours. I’m sure it’s very hard work for people who do this for a living.
After the last bucket was dumped in the truck and a group photo was taken, everyone headed up to the shaded patio in front of the house for lunch. Humberto’s lovely wife Geri and niece Martha prepared a classic pot of pozole, served with traditional rolled and fried corn tortillas. Pozole is a traditional Mexican pork stew with hominy and red chiles served in a rich broth. Typical garnishes are sliced radishes, shredded green cabbage, fresh lime wedges, chopped cilantro and diced avocados. I would imagine there are many variations and subtle differences as one goes from region to region or even house to house.
My recipe was inspired by Geri Rincon. She always adds chicken pieces, in order to have another layer of flavor. One could make this with all pork or all chicken. My version has more hominy than most, as I really enjoy its texture and taste. Pozole takes a few hours to make, but not that much constant attention. Plan to make it on a Sunday afternoon when you can cook a little, relax, stir a little, and relax a little more.
I am so grateful that I had this wonderfuI experience with the Rincons. I hope they will include me again next harvest!
Yield: 10 Servings
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 1/2 lb. pork shoulder, cut into 2” cubes
1 lg. onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 Tbs. mild California chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 bay leaf
5 c. chicken stock
3 guajillo chiles, stems and seeds discarded
3 ancho chiles, stems and seeds discarded
4 skinless chicken thighs, @ 1 1/2 lb.
1-2 lg. cans hominy, drained
1 tsp. salt
sliced jalapeño peppers
shredded green cabbage
chopped fresh cilantro
Heat the oil in a large skillet or brasier over moderately high heat. Add half of the pork. Season well with salt and pepper. Brown in the pan, about 5-7 minutes. Place in a large soup pot. Repeat with remaining pork. Turn heat down to medium. Add a little oil if needed. Add the onions and garlic to the pan along with the chili powder, cumin, oregano, cloves, and bay leaf. Sauté the vegetables until translucent and nicely browned, about 10 minutes.
Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of stock, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom. Add to the soup pot along with the remaining stock. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, put the dried guajillo and ancho chiles in a bowl. Cover with 2 cups boiling water. Allow to soften, about 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, break up the chiles into pieces and place in a blender with 1/2 cup soaking liquid. Puree. Reserve.
Add the chicken thighs, hominy, and chile puree to the pot. If you don’t want the pozole that spicy, use only half of the puree. Cover. Continue to cook for another 1 1/2 hours. Remove the chicken. When cool enough to handle, pull the chicken off the bone and break into 1-2” pieces. Put back in the stew with the salt. Adjust the seasoning. Serve with garnishes on the side.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.