The Madisons of Yolo County

One local farm family’s journey from flowers to olive oil to marmalade

Mike Madison (right) and daughter Lindsay.

Mike Madison (right) and daughter Lindsay.

Photo courtesy of davis wiki

Julie Cross directs the sampling, cooking and wine-tasting classes at the Davis Food Co-op.

Diane and Mike Madison have been farming in Yolo County for more than 20 years, starting with Yolo Bulb flowers, beautiful cut bunches which grace the tables and weddings of our area. Seeking a crop that worked well with the flower-growing operation, Mike then started an olive orchard, the planting of which he has compared to getting drunk and joining the armed forces—“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

The olives turned out to be a very good idea, so good that Mike eventually bought his own olive-oil press to turn out some of the best olive oil in our area. New crop Yolo Press olive oil is available now, but is in limited supply, owing to exactly the wrong weather last spring, which reduced the harvest by about half.

Aside from the cut flowers, which are available from January through November, and the olives, which are harvested and pressed in late November, there’s also lavender (available in a variety of sachets), endive and, during the hottest months of summer, absolutely glorious melons. If you happen to hit the Davis Farmers Market then, ask Mike (on Wednesday) or Diane (on Saturday) for a rayaan melon—sweet, silky and flavorful, but currently so far out of fashion that Mike has trouble finding seed.

As if that’s not enough, the Madisons produce an ever-increasing amount of citrus along with persimmons, apricots, quince and figs, much of which finds its way into the kitchen for Diane to use in D. Madison & Daughters jams. Produced in very small batches and in an astonishing range of flavors, this is the kind of jam we’d all make if we were very clever. While everything I’ve tried has been good, it’s the marmalade that holds a special place in my heart. Citrus marmalade is the best seller, but Diane often branches out into other flavors—watch for combinations like grapefruit-vanilla bean. Other crowd favorites are apricot and fig. If you’d like to try your hand at marmalade making and inventing your own combinations, Diane is teaching a hands-on marmalade class at the Davis Food Co-op in February. See for details.

Diane and Mike can be found at the Davis Farmers Market, in Central Park at Fourth and C streets, Wednesday afternoons, from 2 to 6 p.m., and Saturday mornings, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Yolo Bulb flowers, and sometimes the olive oil and jams, are available at the Davis Food Co-op in season.

Yolo Press olive oil is delightful in salad dressings, like the one used in the superseasonal salad below. If you’re a seasoned local eater, you’ve probably already been rejoicing in fresh, sweet Dungeness crab. It’s no coincidence that crab pairs beautifully with (also in season) spinach and oranges. I like baby spinach (look for locally grown spinach, please, not the SoCal bagged stuff) and blood oranges in this, but mild dark greens and pretty citrus will do nicely. In a pinch, you can even make a decent meal out of canned crab, the aforementioned bagged greens and storage oranges. This recipe works well in small portions as a starter, or as a main course with a sturdy bread and maybe a bit of cheese.

Spinach Salad With Crab

red onions
crabmeat, nicely cleaned
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon rice syrup or honey
1 teaspoon soy sauce

In a small bowl, mix together vinegar, rice syrup and soy sauce. Gradually whisk in oil to form an emulsion.

Wash spinach very well and remove large stems. Slice red onion thinly. Peel and slice oranges and cut into small chunks (if peeling is difficult, just slice off the peel). Mix vegetables and fruit together, add crab and toss with dressing just before serving.