Thursday, October 02, 2008

If you go to Pescadero... A Slow Journey down the San Mateo Coast, Part II

Blue House at Blue House Farm
At last (I know you were holding your breath!) we continue the story of the Slow Journey to the San Mateo Coast - remember? The one I took on Day Two of Slow Food Nation? Yes, SFN is ancient history at this point, and it's been dissected ad nauseum - but the places that we visited on the tour existed before we arrived and continue to exist after - and are well worth a visit if you happen to be in the area, so I wanted to share a little bit more about them.
Dry Farmed Early Girl Tomatoes at Blue House Farm
Blue House Farm is a small innovative organic farm just north of Pescadero which sells its produce through a CSA Program (currently full with a waiting list!) and through the Pie Ranch Farmstand. Pictured above are their crop of dry-farmed early girl tomatoes - super sweet very small tomatoes grown with zero water, save what they get during the initial planting. These can only be grown in a very specific zone, with just the right amount of humidity and moisture from the coast, and the right amount of sun. As a result, they are fairly rare, and highly prized by local restaurants.
CSA Boxes at Blue House Farm
We got to peek inside one of their CSA boxes on our tour, and I can tell you - if I lived in the area, I'd get on that waiting list in a heart beat. The produce is absolutely gorgeous. Jewel-like even. Ned Conwell and Ryan Casey are both professionals turned farmers, and it's apparent that they've channeled all of their talents into running this perfect little place. They aren't open to the public on a daily basis, but they're putting on a Harvest Festival on October 11, and they offer volunteer opportunities every weekend during the harvest - through November.The biodiesel system at Blue House Farm
Ned and Ryan have installed a biodiesel system to run their farm equipment - I have to admit, this is the first one I've ever seen, and I think it's pretty freaking cool.
Outdoor Kitchen at Blue House Farm
One of the first things they did when they bought the farm was build this outdoor kitchen right next to the field. It's nothing fancy and was built largely with scavenged materials, but it's spectacular in that setting nonetheless. Nearby sits a hand built wood burning oven.
Teepee at Blue House Farm
Further down across the field, this tipi peeks out from the bushes. I have a longstanding love affair with these (basically anything that looks like a tent or a fort gets my motor running.) They also had one of these on the property at Pie Ranch. We're seriously thinking about pitching one on the lower 40 over here for use as a guest house. Check out these photos on the Colorado Yurt Company's website if you doubt me.
The fishing fleet at Pillar Point Harbor
Our last stop on your virtual tour is the Pillar Point Harbor at Half Moon Bay. This was actually our first stop on the real tour, and I have to admit, when we arrived - I couldn't quite figure out what we were doing there. This was supposed to be a farm tour - with goats and cheese, and I couldn't wait to get off that smelly dock and get on with it. But the visit actually turned out to be quite fascinating. We learned a lot about the local fishing industry and saw some interesting things - including this sign that has prevented me from eating mussels or clams since - well, the night before I saw this sign.
No mussels for you!
We also learned that Pillar Point is the closest point to Maverick's, the famously dangerous surf break just off shore. The Harbor is responsible for doing search and rescue operations in the area, and the waverunners you see in the photo above are the ones they send out to rescue people who get in over their heads (literally!) out there. The primary reason for our visit though, was the fact that Pillar Point is unique in that the fishermen are permitted to sell their wares straight off the docks, directly to the public. This sign outside the Harbormaster's office tells you what the boats have and where they are located.
The Board showing what's available
The boat below is selling albacore tuna - our guide didn't like the way these looked because they were frozen solid in water - which turns the fish into a giant chunk of ice. Air cooling is preferable and produces the best texture (particularly for sushi). Most people don't realize that all fish is frozen - or at least placed on ice to be frozen - immediately after it's caught. The faster it gets to the freezing point, the fresher it will be when it's thawed.

In the course of the tour, our guide told us that the Pillar Point fishing fleet normally fishes Chinook salmon in the summer, but the recent collapse of the salmon stocks led to a total prohibition on Chinook salmon fishing this summer. The informal word seems to be that the fish are showing signs of returning, and the fishery may re-open in 2010, but nothing is for sure. Authorities are looking at possible causes for the decline in the Delta, the Bay and the ocean, but nothing seems to have been decided. It may well be a combination of factors.
Selling Yellowfin tuna at Pillar Point Harbor
We went down to another boat that had live fish for sale, right off the dock.
Fish for sale on the docks at Pillar Point Harbor
The keep the live rockfish in these barrels, there was one on the front and one on the back of the boat. They also had halibut that were alive, if only barely - in a large cooler in the back of the boat. The fishermen told us that if you buy one of these fish, you can take it to a nearby shop where they will break it down for you.
Rockfish in a barrel
A little further down the dock there is a store of sorts, where you can buy halibut and a few other fish out of a little warehouse.
Halibut on ice at Pillar Point
It was at the end of the dock that we spotted this fellow, who was more than a little curious about what we were all doing there. I wouldn't be surprised if he's a regular around these parts. He certainly seemed to know how to pose for a picture.
Sea Lion at the Pillar Point docks
If you wanted to visit Harley Farms or Pie Ranch (or better yet, both) it seems you could easily stop here in Half Moon Bay and buy your fish, drop it off to be "processed" and come back by and pick it up on your way back to town. It it would make quite a meal with some of those gorgeous vegetables from Blue House (purchased at the Pie Ranch Farm Stand) - some Harley Farms goat cheese and crostini to start, and of course a beautiful Pie Ranch pie for dessert!

Pillar Point Harbor
One Johnson Pier
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
(650) 726-5727

Blue House Farm
2601 Cloverdale Rd.
Pescadero, CA 94060


  1. Beautiful pictures! Knowing about these farms and the people running them makes me excited about eating again:)

  2. Great report, Alice. Love the picture of the sea lion!

  3. I can't believe you didn't make it to try those awesome fish tacos in the corner gas station! They are amazing!