The Luther Burbank Home and Gardens are a public park and National Historic Landmark dedicated to the horticulturist who brought us the Russet Potato and Shasta Daisy. It is a 1-2 hour drive north of San Francisco.
Luther Burbank (1849-1926) devoted his life to hybridizing fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants, and he did so primarily at this location, in the town of Santa Rosa.
He moved here from Massachusetts after creating the Burbank potato and selling the rights (for $150). Here he bought four acres in a climate more conducive to longer growing seasons. More about Luther Burbank here.
When the potato crops across Europe were devastated by blight, he worked on hybridizing a potato that was blight resistant. It is the same Russet potato you have on your table today.
An inventor who lived before the protection of patenting, Luther Burbank managed to get credit for creating 800 strains of plants. His experiments in cross-breeding were unique for the times. There is a little shack on the premises where he sold seeds.
A revolutionary in the field of hybridization, Burbank was revered across America during a time when this new science was still considered hocum by many. Inspired by Darwin and sponsored by Andrew Carnegie, his plant breeding helped increase crop yield and plant quality, insect- and pest-tolerance, and resistance to bacteria and fungi.
While there I walked around the neighborhood, wondering where Luther Burbank might have walked. I found old oak trees towering over small houses and SUVs, the driveways littered with crushed acorns. Maybe the oak trees, I pondered, were there a hundred years ago? I saw Shasta daisies, one of his masterpieces, and poppies, one of his favorite working specimen.
But it was later, when I got home and prepared dessert that I was rewarded with one of my personal favorite Luther Burbank inventions: the freestone peach. Here in California we have two peach strains, depending on the summer month. Early in the season the cling peach predominates, but the problem with the cling is the stone and the fruit do not cleanly separate.
For those of us who are really into food, we avidly wait for the season to progress when the freestone appears. The freestone opens up and the two halves break away with ease, exposing the stone without losing any fruit.
That night we set the two tender peach halves on the grill, and enjoyed them with a rum butter sauce. Ahhh, a delightful blend of golden summer colors and tastes, and a respectful salute to the man who not that long ago bent over a greenhouse table perfecting his results.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander