But a new book published by a valley native celebrates another local bovine industry: dairy cows.
The Purple Cow: A Dairy Daughter’s Heritage is a compilation of family stories gathered and retold by Laura Lee Tognazzini Dias, a direct descendent of one of the region’s earliest dairy pioneers and the daughter of a Guadalupe dairyman. Published by Janaway Publishing, Inc., the book’s 244-pages tell the story of the local industry’s historic course, as well as lighthearted anecdotes related to more than 80 dairies and creameries that were once located in Guadalupe, Lompoc, Los Alamos, Santa Maria, Sisquoc, Oso Flaco and Nipomo. It also includes a scrapbook-style collection of dairy photographs, recipes, songs and more.
The book’s foreward, written by Santa Maria Valley historian Shirley Contreras, sets the table for the story, explaining that many of the early Central Coast dairymen were young Europeans who came to California in the mid-1800s seeking new opportunities. While the majority of them were Italian-Swiss dairymen from the Canton Ticino region in Switzerland, the book also tells the stories of American, Portuguese, English and Danish dairymen who played a part in the industry. Most of the descendants of these pioneers eventually quit the business by 1986 because the cost of transporting milk to production plants had become cost prohibitive. The DeBernardi Brothers, the last dairy family in Santa Maria Valley, closed shop in 2005.
The Purple Cow: A Dairy Daughter’s Heritage is available in soft cover only for $38 (includes shipping). It is available exclusively through the Santa Maria Historical Society Museum, which may be contacted via phone: (805) 922-3130.
Any Santa Maria Style Barbecue aficionado knows that the traditional dessert to pair with the local barbecue is strawberry pie, shortcake or some sort of strawberry delicacy. This is largely because Santa Maria Valley is famed for its acres upon acres of sweet, juicy strawberries that are shipped the world over. The area’s strawberries bring more money per acre than any other area crop, including wine grapes.
In the last few years, however, the supremacy of strawberries and grapes as the royalty of local agriculture is being challenged by a growing crop of newcomers — raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.
Word has it that berry production that used to be heavy around Oxnard and Ventura is being pushed out by urban growth and the high cost of water, and so berries are now moving north throughout Santa Barbara County, with pockets of heavier production in the Santa Maria Valley. Prices remain high for blueberries, blackberries and raspberries giving some growers an incentive to make room for “the other berries.”
Enter U-Pick Blueberries, a farm located at 3607 Dominion Road in Santa Maria that’s open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The farm says that its bushes are loaded with berries this season.
But when it comes to a dessert to pair with Santa Maria Style Barbecue, can strawberries and blueberries happily co-exist? A recipe from loriesmississippikitchen.com says “yes”:
Fresh Strawberry and Blueberry Pie
2 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
The zest of one medium orange
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon water
1 unbaked pie crust plus enough pie crust scraps to make decorative cutouts for top
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stir together the blueberries, strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, and orange zest in a large bowl. Pour into an unbaked 9-inch pie crust. Cut butter into small pieces and dot the top of the fruit.
Roll out the remaining pie crust scraps and cut shapes using cookie cutters dipped in flour. (I used different sized star shaped cutters.) Place the shapes on top of the pie in a decorative pattern.
Beat together the egg and water. Lightly brush the mixture onto the pie crust shapes and around the perimeter of the crust. Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 50-55 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Let cool on wire rack completely before cutting.
In recent years Santa Maria BBQ Outfitters, makers of grills and accessories for Santa Maria Style Barbecue, has enjoyed booming sales and, in turn, expanded its showroom, production facility and number of employees. We checked in with these local “Q experts” for a refresher on their philosophy and latest news:
For the layperson, what is a ‘Santa Maria Grill’ and what makes it different than traditional backyard barbecues?
A: “With our adjustable grills, you can always have the intensity of heat that you want. You can adjust the distance of the grate from the heat source with an installed hand crank. This enables you to sear the meat and seal in the flavorful juices of the top sirloin or tri-tip at higher heat, then cook the meat at a lower heat, depending on your preferences.”
What else is different or key to Santa Maria Style Barbecue?
A: “Hands down, it’s the use of red oak. There’s nothing like that flavor.”
Do you have any new products or news you’d like to share?
A: “We have two new exciting products that are doing really well. The first is the Golf Club Meat Hook, which offers an extra-long handle, complete with leather grip, so that you can hook your meat and flip it more easily. The golf club shape is decorative, of course, and makes a great Father’s Day gift! The other items are Meat Skewers crafted from stainless steel cables. They feature a helpful point and flexibility.”
The Golf Club Meat Hooks retail for $89.99, while the Meat Skewers sell for $14.99 (24-inch) and $19.99 (36-inch). The new Santa Maria BBQ Outfitters sales office and showroom is located at 2936 Industrial Parkway in Santa Maria.
Santa Maria Valley strawberries are so renowned for their juicy, flavorful character that they are distributed both nationally and internationally, and occupy the region’s top spot for moneymaking crops. The region’s uniquely moderate coastal climate is a perfect match for this fragile berry, with warm winters and cool summers that support an extended growing season of up to 10 months per year.
That said, it’s only natural that strawberry pie or shortcake is the traditional dessert served with Santa Maria Style Barbecue. The tangy, sweet berries seem to pair beautifully with the salty, smoky tones in the barbecued meat.
These flavors will now once again be celebrated on April 24 – 26 at Santa Maria Valley’s 28th Annual Santa Maria Strawberry Festival–a weekend of music, strawberry varietal tasting, strawberry desserts, cooking demonstrations, educational exhibits and old-fashioned carnival entertainment. This ultimate berry bash is held at the Santa Maria Fairpark.
For festival information please visit www.santamariafairpark.com.
Originally from Lompoc, John Cheney grew up grilling with his dad using California coastal red oak and a big oil drum with a crank in order to raise and lower the grill over the fire.
Now John has taken the Valley’s favorite flavors to the ski slopes and opened Gus’ Open Pit BBQ this winter in Incline Village, Nevada.
He says it’s not Santa Maria Style Barbecue if you don’t have the red oak, and that Pinquito beans (which he ships direct from Santa Maria Valley as that is the only place where they are grown) are another key part of the fare, adding that they never get mushy and hold flavor really well.
Cheney, who is also managing partner at a second restaurant called Big Water Grille near the Diamond Peak Ski Resort, also in Incline Village, says that his established strong customer base is supporting Gus’s Open Pit BBQ with gusto.
Just more evidence that while Santa Maria BBQ is homegrown, its flavors can be enjoyed anywhere!
The Hitching Post is a name that has become synonymous with local Santa Maria Style Barbecue over the past 60+ years, starting with the founding of the original Hitching Post restaurant by the Ostini family in the Santa Maria Valley in 1952.
Now the Ostini family’s barbecue expertise is once again set to be showcased at the next BBQ Boot Camp at the Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort on February 20-22 in the neighboring Santa Ynez Valley.
Indeed, Frank Ostini (pictured here), owner of the Hitching Post II in Buellton, and Alisal Executive Chef Pascal Godé are teaming up to treat guests to a remarkable barbecue immersion experience, to include grilling and spice blending workshops; special dinners with local celebrity chefs, winemakers and brewers; a morning horseback breakfast ride; and Western-style welcome amenities.The package includes a two-night stay at the Alisal.
Along the way, Frank and Pascal will wow the crowd with their BBQ prowess and tips on preparing genuine Santa Maria Style Barbecue.
For foodies hankering to hone their barbecue chops, it’s hard to beat the BBQ Bootcamp!
We’re always delighted when our hometown barbecue style pops up in the most unlikely places.
The latest is Kalamazoo, Michigan, where Kevin Tibbs, proprietor of Tibbs Brewing Company, recently hosted a Santa Maria Style BBQ dinner as part of the local Kalamazoo Beer Week festivities.
Said Tibbs, “Having a seated event is something new for us so that’s exciting in of itself. Then you add on the fact that we will be pairing our beer with, truthfully, some of the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten and that really gets me pumped for this event.”
We won’t argue with him about it being the best barbecue!
Other recent out-of-area Santa Maria Barbecue sightings include a new barbecue restaurant in Palm Springs that is including Santa Maria BBQ as part of a larger focus on regional American barbecue styles, as well as a new restaurant in Los Angeles called Odys + Penelope that is serving Santa Maria tri-tip.
Says Odys + Penelope proprietor Karen Hatfield: “It’s one of California’s very few regional foods,” she says. “It’s fun to put a spin on that.”
Sunset Magazine recently called Santa Maria “the West’s Best BBQ Town,” and it appears that Santa Maria BBQ is becoming one of the fastest growing regional barbecue styles along the way!