pro­duce in season

  • “A“mazing

    Late sum­mer to early fall is a per­fect time to pick and high­light bell pep­pers. They tend to thrive in the hot Cal­i­for­nia sun, so the recent heat wave was not a deter­rent to these col­or­ful beau­ties.

    The 2020 Wash­ing­ton state apple har­vest is just under­way. This season’s crop looks to be stel­lar and close to last year’s size in vol­ume.

    Apple farm­ers keep grow­ing larger crop sizes and more vari­eties to please the world­wide con­sumer demand of this favorite fruit.

    For the sec­ond straight year, Gala apples will be the high­est vol­ume vari­ety pro­duced at 23 per­cent. Red Deli­cious is pro­jected at 17 per­cent, fol­lowed by Fuji apples at 14 per­cent. Granny Smith and Hon­ey­crisp are at 13 per­cent each of total pro­duc­tion.

    This year, new­com­ers Cos­mic Crisp is fore­casted to come in at 1.2 per­cent of the total crop and Cripps Pink at 5 per­cent. Pretty good for the new­bies.

    Organic apple pro­duc­tion is on track to be about 16 per­cent of the total, or 21 mil­lion boxes. This is up from 15 mil­lion boxes in the 2019 apple crop. By the way, not all organic pro­duc­tion is ulti­mately packed, sold and mar­keted as organ­i­cally grown.
  • A Cut Above

    There’s a rea­son why “pre-​cut” or “value-​added” pro­duce sales are on the rise. It’s some­times very intim­i­dat­ing or tricky for home cooks or even pro­fes­sional chefs to mas­ter the art of cut­ting, slic­ing or chop­ping.

    Knife skills are essen­tial for kitchen con­fi­dence, effi­ciency and safety. How to han­dle knives and mak­ing the best choice for cer­tain jobs comes with loads of prac­tice and expe­ri­ence.

    Cer­tain fresh pro­duce items, fruits in par­tic­u­lar, are eas­ier to approach than oth­ers. Apples and cit­rus might be intu­itive. Pineap­ple, mango, papaya and water­melon are a bit more com­pli­cated.

    There are sev­eral food hacks tout­ing the best ways to get to the heart of what we want to eat. Any fruit com­mis­sion web-​site (mango, straw­berry, water­melon, avo­cado, etc.) will show­case ter­rific knife skills via video or step-​by-​step photo images.

    To begin, learn to choose your fruits. Same day use requires ripeness. The Mama Bear “just right” approach to color, feel, and smell is a good start.

    Greener or harder fruit may not mature in a man­ner that works. Seek out pro­duce exper­tise to assist if your retailer is rep­utable for sell­ing qual­ity prod­uct and hav­ing trained and informed clerks.

    There are depend­able mar­ket clerks will­ing to share their pro­duce expe­ri­ence. The value in hav­ing trusted and informed staff to assist shop­pers is reflected in sales and cus­tomer loy­alty. A great clerk has the knowl­edge to help with prod­uct selec­tion, stor­age, care, han­dling and usage.
  • A Mixed Bag

    A ran­dom sur­plus of sea­sonal veg­eta­bles may pose a prob­lem worth solv­ing.

    Com­ing out of a flush hol­i­day pantry or work­ing through a fat CSA box, par­tic­u­larly with seem­ingly incom­pat­i­ble or unusual fresh ingre­di­ents, may trip us up at first.

    Take a sec­ond look at what there is to work with in the kitchen. Fen­nel, cele­riac and but­ter­cup squash…then what?

    After a bit of head scratch­ing, turn to an inter­net search for a blog post spout­ing the ben­e­fits of that pecu­liar ingre­di­ent. A recipe pos­si­bil­ity is cer­tain to fol­low.

    A wide spec­trum of menu options will be pre­sented. Decide first on which meal solu­tion to tackle. Break­fast, lunch or din­ner? Snack or appe­tizer? That answer will clear a path to the next hur­dle.

    Cooked or served raw will be the next line to cross. Var­i­ous cook­ing meth­ods will pro­duce com­pletely dif­fer­ent tastes and tex­tures. Com­pare a crisp, crunchy car­rot to that of one, moist and soft, roasted in a hot oven.

    Roast­ing ver­sus grilling pro­duces dif­fer­ent results. Sautéing ver­sus pan fried yields takes it in yet another direc­tion.

    The pop­u­lar­ity of fresh pick­les lends itself to con­vert­ing some of these more obscure veg­gies.

    Thinly shaved, juli­enned and whole items brined or soaked with sweet and sour spices make for good snack­ing and gift giving.
  • A-​MAIZ-​ING!

    Two quin­tes­sen­tial foods that define sum­mer are water­melon and corn. By July fourth, both items are on house menus and in high demand.

    Water­melon takes a back seat to noth­ing in the pro­duce win col­umn. For now, set it aside for a bit of corn amaze­ment.

    On its own mer­its, a sin­gle but­tered ear of sweet corn is supremely sat­is­fy­ing. What we can do with these bright green husks and their sweet nuggets inside is noth­ing short of sur­pris­ing.

    Don’t believe there is any­thing more to dis­cover about sweet corn? Have you made or tried corn ice cream? How about a savory whipped corn dip to upstage hum­mus with dip­ping veg­eta­bles?

    Put on that corn apron and get busy with shrimp and corn chow­der or a lob­ster or crab boil with corn as a trusty side kick.

    Nancy Silverton’s L.A. restau­rant Pizze­ria Mozza cel­e­brates fresh Cal­i­for­nia pro­duce. She serves an upgraded grilled cheese sand­wich filled with a charred sweet corn-​studded blend of nutty English-​cheddar and sharp cacio­cav­allo.

    What­ever the cook­ing treat­ment, corn is like the unex­pected happy sur­prise to the main attrac­tion. Grilled corn plays so well with other fresh sum­mer items.

  • All in the Fam­ily

    Cab­bages are from the “cole crop” fam­ily. Other mem­bers in this hearty tribe include broc­coli, Brus­sels sprouts, kohlrabi, col­lard greens and cau­li­flower.

    We can sep­a­rate cab­bages in to four main types: green, red (or pur­ple), Savoy, and Napa cab­bages.

    In com­mon are the sexy lay­ers of alter­nat­ing leaves, each cup­ping the next, form­ing a firm, dense head. Spring is the per­fect excuse to explore using all four types of cab­bages in a myr­iad of ways.

    Braised, boiled, charred, sauteed or raw; rolled, slawed or casseroled– cab­bage is happy at cen­ter plate or assum­ing a sup­port­ing cast role.

    From Ger­many to Asia, schnitzel to stir fry, world cuisines know how make cab­bages some­thing we crave. Com­fort dishes made by grand­moth­ers give mod­ern recipes a run for the money.

    Selec­tion: Choose firm, heavy heads of green, red and savoy cab­bage with closely furled leaves. Color is an indi­ca­tion of fresh­ness. For exam­ple, green cab­bages stored for too long lose pig­ment and look almost white. To ensure fresh­ness, check the stem ends of cab­bage heads to make sure the stem has not cracked around the base, which indi­cates unde­sir­ably lengthy stor­age. Chi­nese cab­bage leaves should be crisp, unblem­ished and pale green with tinges of yel­low and white.
  • Bare Fruited

    Apples and oranges are great.

    No one refutes their solid nutri­tional value or culi­nary ver­sa­til­ity.

    By the time June rolls around, it’s time to mix things up in the fruit depart­ment. We crave the taste of sum­mer in all its stone fruit and berry glory.

    Every trip to the gro­cer or farm­ers mar­ket is a delib­er­ate pur­suit for what’s new in the sea­son.

    Early Cal­i­for­nia cher­ries have found their way to the stands. The sea­son looks to be a short and sweet one with a lim­ited crop this year. North­west cher­ries will quickly fol­low. No need to pout with Rainiers and red vari­eties like Chelan, Teiton and Bings rushed to mar­ket upon harvest.
  • Berry Good

    All along the cen­tral and south­ern coast­line, hun­dreds of Cal­i­for­nia straw­berry farm­ers are cul­ti­vat­ing the major­ity of all straw­ber­ries grown in the United States.

    Nearly ninety per­cent of all U.S. straw­berry pro­duc­tion hap­pens on less than one per­cent of the Golden State’s farm­land.

    The Cal­i­for­nia straw­berry story is about more than the effi­cient use of this prized land. It is also intrin­si­cally con­nected to the real story of Amer­i­can immi­grants and farm work­ers.

    Today, in many cases, sec­ond and third-​generation fam­ily farm­ers con­tinue to farm and pro­duce America’s favorite fruit.

    The agri­cul­ture boom hap­pened in Cal­i­for­nia right along­side the gold rush. Peo­ple were immi­grat­ing to Cal­i­for­nia to chase their dreams and find per­sonal suc­cess.

    Straw­ber­ries made it pos­si­ble for fam­i­lies to set­tle in a sin­gle loca­tion where they could live and work instead of fol­low­ing the in-​season crops around the state. Some of these immi­grant farm work­ers started in irri­ga­tion or pick­ing straw­ber­ries. Many went on to build their own straw­berry farms and busi­nesses.

    While con­sumers enjoy straw­ber­ries nearly year-​round, they may not rec­og­nize or fully appre­ci­ate the hard work and ded­i­ca­tion required to pro­duce them.
  • Birth­day Wishes

    It’s not that we hate cake. Most of us have enjoyed a deca­dent slice of choco­late, coconut or red vel­vet cel­e­bra­tory cake before.

    It tasted great as we toasted the bride and groom, grad­u­ate, retiree or anniver­sary couple.

    Birth­day cakes are a bit dif­fer­ent and very per­sonal. Young ones get tur­tles, trains and car­toon char­ac­ter cakes molded and dec­o­rated to their surprise.

    Teens fre­quently bake their own or one for their friend. They choose ice cream cakes, fun­fetti or Oreo cookie cake. Cup­cakes included for teens and sweet­ness is off the charts.

    Adults get the wide open cake range from car­rot with cream cheese frost­ing to molten choco­late lava and every­thing in-​between.

    Birth­day choices run the spec­trum with­out any guilt over bak­ery pur­chased cakes. Bundts and spe­cialty types go over the top on stun­ning designs. Where to place the can­dles might prob­lem­atic between the swirls, curls, rib­bons and fresh flower petals.

  • Blos­som Hill

    The Blos­som Hill orchards are located in Pat­ter­son, Cal­i­for­nia. Some sug­gest this loca­tion to be the world’s best apricot-​growing region.

    Lucich — San­tos Farms have been family-​owned for more than 90 years. For over 35 years, they’ve devel­oped exper­tise in grow­ing, pack­ing and ship­ping Cal­i­for­nia apri­cots and apri­ums under the Blos­som Hill Orchard name.

    Four gen­er­a­tions over­see the daily oper­a­tions. Their over­ar­ch­ing goal is to pro­vide cus­tomers with the best eat­ing, sweet­est, juicy apri­cots.

    Jim Lucich, sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Blos­som Hill, said the 2018 crop in Pat­ter­son is lighter than usual. Weather played a part with the crop set. Chill hours were lower than needed, and some cold and rain that came after the bloom had an effect on the crop.

    The com­pany grows its apri­cots in a sustainable-​minded envi­ron­ment. Lucich and San­tos Farms and Blos­som Hill Packing’s objec­tive is to pro­duce pre­mium deli­cious fruit with food safety in mind.
  • Blue Moon

    We are lucky enough this month to have a chance to expe­ri­ence a rare Hal­loween Blue Hunter’s Moon.

    This uncom­mon occur­rence is a for sure a rar­ity. Mark the cal­en­dar to wit­ness this sec­ond full moon of the month on a hol­i­day ideal for it’s spec­tac­u­lar show­ing.

    All Hallow’s Eve con­jures up images of were­wolves, gob­lins, zom­bies, and other scary crea­tures. They con­verge on Hal­loween to bring out play­ful and spooky enter­tain­ment.

    When­ever two full Moons appear in a sin­gle month (on aver­age every two and half to three years) the sec­ond full moon is chris­tened a Blue Moon.

    When we look at the full moon on Hal­loween night, it won’t actu­ally appear blue in color. Even so, it will be pretty unique. A full moon on Hal­loween occurs roughly only every 19 years, and in only some parts of the world.

    Typ­i­cally, a Hal­loween full moon is seen only once every 38 years. The last Hal­loween full moon in all United States time zones was way back in 194476 years ago.
  • Board Games

    Play­off games and the Super Bowl are one giant invi­ta­tion for Amer­i­cans to snack. New year’s res­o­lu­tions to “eat bet­ter” go out the win­dow once game time grabs our atten­tion.

    The req­ui­site chips, crack­ers, dips, salty nuts, meat and cheese plat­ters make graz­ing part of the tele­vi­sion watch­ing foot­ball ritual.

    Pots of chili, grilled sausages, and foot long sand­wiches have tra­di­tion­ally fed large crowds for game-​watching. This year, smaller house­hold gath­er­ings will pre­vail for com­mon sense activity.

    Fewer mouths to feed doesn’t elim­i­nate those highly crave-​able game day foods. A bag of Ruf­fles potato chips and French onion dip come to mind. Clas­sic, yes, but cer­tainly not on the 2021 snack res­o­lu­tion list.

    The thing about mind­ful eat­ing is plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion that goes in to it. A full day or after­noon of munch­ing is best served by a decent pre­lim­i­nary strat­egy. Set a good inten­tion to include guilt-​free munchies. They won’t kill the health­ier eat­ing goals already estab­lished. Real foods equal good eat­ing.

  • Brent­wood Dia­monds

    Nes­tled between Mount Dia­blo and the Sacramento-​San Joaquin Delta in the East Bay, Brent­wood, Cal­i­for­nia is renowned for grow­ing excep­tional fresh mar­ket pro­duce.

    In par­tic­u­lar, sum­mer cher­ries, peaches and delec­table sweet corn are what local mar­kets and chefs cel­e­brate.

    Hot Cen­tral Val­ley days and cool, off-​shore breezes at night make it the per­fect loca­tion for grow­ing sweet corn.

    The cobs are picked dur­ing the early milk stage of ker­nel matu­rity, when sugar con­tent and mois­ture lev­els are high. This is in con­trast to field corn, which is har­vested in the dry, starchy dent stage. Over the last cen­tury, sweet corn pro­duc­tion in the U.S. has increased as farm­ers and geneti­cists have devel­oped hardier and sweeter vari­eties.

    To clar­ify, most of the corn grown in the United States is the com­mod­ity crop known as field corn. It is used as ani­mal feed, ethanol, whiskey and goes into all kinds of processed foods and food ingre­di­ents. High-​fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and corn oil.

  • Bright Lights

    Color affects both emo­tions and mood. Win­ter is no rea­son to for­feit bright col­ors. It may well be the absolute best time of year to strut the most vibrant hues on the color chart.

    Cit­rus is at peak of sea­son in avail­abil­ity and taste. Use the many vari­eties to lift spir­its, boost immu­nity and improve menus.

    Out of hand snack­ing is made con­ve­nient with portable “easy peel” vari­etals. This includes navel oranges, man­darins and tan­ger­ines.

    Navel oranges have a sunny fla­vor with a touch of acid­ity. These seed­less fruits are per­fect for mak­ing any dreary day a bit cheerier. A fan favorite, they are burst­ing with unreal juicy sweet­ness.

    Cara Cara oranges are very sweet with pinkish-​red fruit flesh. They have hints of berry and flo­ral fla­vors for a cit­rus change of pace. Con­sider seg­ments added to yogurt, com­potes and desserts.
  • Cal­i­for­nia Pears

    Cal­i­for­nia pear farm­ing areas are arguably in some of the most desir­able and beau­ti­ful places in the state.

    The beauty of his­toric pear orchards con­tributes sig­nif­i­cantly to the appeal of com­mu­ni­ties such as Court­land and Clarks­burg, located in the Sacra­mento River Delta grow­ing region.

    Lake­port and Kelseyville rep­re­sent the Lake County pear grow­ing dis­trict. Ukiah, in the Men­do­cino grow­ing dis­trict, rounds out the real estate.

    Together these grow­ing areas pro­duce approx­i­mately 150,000 tons of pears each year. The vol­ume of pears pro­duced in Cal­i­for­nia has declined in recent years, as has the num­ber of pear farm­ers.

    Even so, the Cal­i­for­nia pear indus­try remains a lead­ing sup­plier of pears to the world.

  • Cheer­ing Up

    The Spring Equinox, also called the Ver­nal Equinox, has long been cel­e­brated as a time of renewal and rebirth.

    March 20th marked the first day of spring in the north­ern hemi­sphere. In nor­mal times, this gives peo­ple a chance to gather and focus on the sea­sonal events that lift us up.

    Cul­tures cel­e­brate spring fes­ti­vals and hol­i­days – like Easter and Passover – around the equinox. Sport­ing events, con­certs and the like boost our social inter­ac­tions and spir­its.

    We are not liv­ing in nor­mal times. How­ever, there are some things we can do to ease our psy­che dur­ing this chal­leng­ing period as we fol­low the edict to dis­tance our­selves from oth­ers.

    As self-​quarantines and man­dated restric­tions are fol­lowed, there is cheer­ful work to be done. Take this time to pre­pare gar­dens, flower beds and planters.

    The ground soft­ens and the dirt becomes warmer. If it’s too early to plant, take this chance to pre­pare. Groom, weed, hoe and turn the soil.
  • Cinco de “Stay at Home“

    Amer­i­cans love to cel­e­brate with food. While it may be still be risky to come together in num­bers, we can use hol­i­day meals to lift our spir­its.

    Cinco de mayo bashes dur­ing lock­down orders is unique. Restau­rant and bar fes­tiv­i­ties have always given the per­fect excuse to rally around the gua­camole, chips and mar­gar­i­tas.

    Place hold­ers for social gath­er­ings have been shared pho­tos of spec­tac­u­lar food prepa­ra­tions. Warmer weather means a greater selec­tion of Cal­i­for­nia grown pro­duce to uti­lize in solo meals.

    Spring tran­si­tion is com­plete for the grow­ing sea­son return­ing to the Sali­nas Val­ley. Salad ingre­di­ents, fresh veg­eta­bles and straw­ber­ries are back on home turf.

    With­out the full return of the restau­rant dining-​in expe­ri­ence, retail, take out and meal deliv­ery options are keep­ing us fed.

    Salad is stay­ing on the menu. Romaine, spinach, endive and other ten­der greens sup­port every iter­a­tion of spring salad com­bi­na­tions. The base can be sin­gu­lar or blended leafy com­po­nents. We are for­tu­nate to have so many locally grown options.
  • Crush­ing It!

    Lime juice, lime zest and lime wedges are a pre­mier cov­eted player in sum­mer bev­er­ages, dips, cock­tails, dress­ings, mari­nades and desserts. Oh yeah!

    Never under­es­ti­mate the power of lime to uplift or trans­form the most mun­dane to be the absolute best.

    Fra­grant and refresh­ing, there is some­thing dis­tinc­tively lime that can­not be repli­cated.

    Limes are inte­gral to many Mex­i­can, Thai and Viet­namese dishes. They com­pli­ment part­ners like coconut milk, cilantro, mint and chili pep­pers.

    Count on lime for tor­tilla soup, corn con crema, fresh salsa, and street tacos. Leche de tigre (tiger’s milk), is a Peru­vian cit­rus mari­nade that relies on fresh lime juice for its super base.

    This cit­rus fruit’s high acid con­tent and bright tart­ness make it a pow­er­ful cook­ing and bak­ing ingre­di­ent. From seafood and poul­try to fresh fruits like mango, papaya and mel­ons, the smart addi­tion of lime kicks every­thing up a notch.
  • Eat, Drink & Be Cran Merry

    No one likes to get pushed around. Some­how, the early retail pres­ence of all things Thanks­giv­ing, Christ­mas and Hanukkah in Octo­ber feels like we are get­ting nudged. Stop the push­ing.

    In the orbit of fresh pro­duce, we take our cues from truly sea­sonal veg­eta­bles and fruits.

    Import pur­chases make eat­ing avo­ca­dos, corn and toma­toes a year-​round culi­nary pos­si­bil­ity. There are still a few Amer­i­can grown items that com­pletely set a tone for “here today, gone tomor­row” enjoy­ment. Fresh cran­ber­ries are indeed a sea­sonal har­bin­ger.

    Native to North Amer­ica, cran­ber­ries are a pow­er­house of nutri­tion with sub­stan­tial health ben­e­fits. Antioxidant-​rich, they hold the magic for a mul­ti­tude of con­di­tions from pre­ven­tion to rem­edy.

    This fall fruit dar­ling is har­vested begin­ning in Sep­tem­ber and goes through mid-​November in states like Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon and Michi­gan. Wis­con­sin and Mass­a­chu­setts are the two largest pro­duc­ers in the United States.

    Cran­ber­ries grow on low-​lying vines in imper­me­able beds lay­ered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. These beds are known as “bogs” or “marshes” and were orig­i­nally cre­ated by glacial deposits.

    Com­mer­cial bogs use a sys­tem of wet­lands, uplands, ditches, flumes, ponds and other water bod­ies that pro­vide a nat­ural habi­tat for a vari­ety of plant and ani­mal life.

    Most cran­ber­ries are wet har­vested when grow­ers flood their bogs. They then use har­vest­ing machines that loosen the cran­ber­ries from the vines. Air cham­bers in the cranberry’s cen­ter allows it to float to the water’s sur­face. The berries are then cor­ralled and trans­ferred to a truck for transporting.
  • Esca­lated & Weak

    We all read the updates on weekly mar­ket con­di­tions. Weak, strong, up, down, esca­lated, Acts of God, legs, no legs. All pro­duce lingo to inform end users on the state of let­tuce, berries and veg­eta­bles.

    It all sounds fine in an update on paper. Real­ity sets in when we as con­sumers shop and take our fruits and veg­eta­bles home for meals pre­pared in our own kitchens.

    For the past sev­eral weeks, exces­sive and pro­longed heat (triple digit tem­per­a­tures) in our prime grow­ing areas is news­wor­thy. Next came the head­lines of mul­ti­ple fires through­out Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton. Smoke and ash con­tinue to push air qual­ity in to unhealthy ranges.

    Warn­ings of short sup­plies, higher prices and tight mar­kets are a direct result of those late sum­mer events. Har­vest dis­rup­tions due to lack of labor or min­i­mum time avail­able to pick, sort and pack have worked against grow­ers.

    Prod­uct alerts tell retail­ers and chefs to order tight or “truck to shelf or truck to plate”. Valen­cia oranges have suf­fered from heat stress. Romaine, ice­berg and leafy let­tuces are now show­ing the affects of insect dam­age and high tem­per­a­tures.

    Grow­ers do their best to mit­i­gate all qual­ity con­cerns in every crop. It makes good sense for the farmer to want to make the most of their sales. Still, unavoid­able cir­cum­stances have pre­vailed this sum­mer to give grow­ers more headaches than usual.

    Since most meals are now being made or con­sumed at home under COVID restric­tions, pro­duc­tion dis­rup­tions hit close to home on food waste and the wal­let. Fewer store trips for mar­ket­ing mean the per­ish­ables need to last and go farther.
  • Fall For­ward

    There is no deny­ing the visual cues of Autumn. Trees and leaves are turn­ing color. Darker morn­ings greet us with fewer day­light hours left for leisure. Farewell sum­mer.

    Crisper, cooler night­time and morn­ing tem­per­a­tures are just what is needed to bring on our most favorite fall fruits.

    A wide array of veg­eta­bles, décor items and flo­ral selec­tions vie for atten­tion this time of year. Think about col­or­ful and tasty first fall bites.

    Crunchy and crisp, juicy and sweet are descrip­tive words for the Hol­i­day Seed­less grapes that are just on the scene. They make grape fans of those look­ing for a sweet tooth solu­tion.

    Eat­ing pat­terns and cook­ing meth­ods fol­low the steady pro­gres­sion into fall food choices. Bak­ing, broil­ing and brais­ing, segue nicely from out­door bar­be­cu­ing and grilling. Cal­i­for­ni­ans will con­tinue to cook out­doors year-​round.

    Glide back into the kitchen with new crop apples, Brus­sels sprouts, pump­kins, per­sim­mons, hard squashes and pomegranates.