Cal­i­for­nia farm­ers have been cul­ti­vat­ing grapes for well over two cen­turies. The fresh grape boom struck the golden state in 1839 when a for­mer trap­per from Ken­tucky, William Wolf­skill, planted the state’s first table grape vine­yard in the once Mex­i­can colo­nial pueblo now known as Los Ange­les.

An agri­cul­tural entre­pre­neur, Wolf­skill was the first farmer to ship fresh grapes to North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. From there, the idea was expanded and the first twenty two pound box of Cal­i­for­nia grapes shipped to Chicago in 1869, via the then “new” transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­road.

The gold rush may have ended, but the grape rush con­tin­ues. Today, over 99 per­cent of com­mer­cially grown grapes in the United States come from Cal­i­for­nia.

With over 70 vari­eties grown, and more on the way, these vari­eties include seed­less and seeded grapes in the green, red and blue-​black color cat­e­gories.

The Cal­i­for­nia table grape har­vest sea­son typ­i­cally begins in May, but more than half the crop is shipped from Sep­tem­ber and after­wards. Out of the 65+ com­mer­cial vari­eties of fresh table grapes, 49 of them are avail­able dur­ing the September-​through-​December time period, includ­ing 14 major vari­eties. That’s a lot of late, great grapes.

Read more: Late, Great, Grapes! →

Chili pep­pers are a sta­ple of most Mex­i­can food recipes. The sheer pop­u­lar­ity of Mex­i­can cui­sine and the ever grow­ing His­panic pop­u­la­tion in the United States make chili pep­pers an essen­tial daily ingre­di­ent.

Fresh chili pep­pers are gen­er­ally avail­able year round. They are grown in Cal­i­for­nia, New Mex­ico, Texas, and Mex­ico. Dried chili ver­sions are also avail­able year-​round.
California’s extreme sum­mer tem­per­a­tures are con­ducive to grow­ing a wide vari­ety of mild to very hot spec­i­mens. Cul­ti­vated in a full range of sizes, shapes, and degrees of hot­ness, the num­ber of vari­eties is impres­sive.

The head-​scratching comes with try­ing to prop­erly iden­tify the var­i­ous pep­pers by name and fla­vor pro­file. It gets com­pli­cated when the name of a pep­per may vary from region to region. The name changes again when the pep­per goes from being fresh to being dried.

With a vari­ety of heat lev­els and fla­vor pro­files, ver­sa­til­ity is a key attribute of both fresh and dried chili pep­pers.

Har­vested through­out the sum­mer, some green chili pep­pers are left on the plants until autumn. They will go from bright green in color to their final hue of yel­low, orange, pur­ple or red, depend­ing on the variety.

Read more: Dial It Up! →

Sweet­Stem Cau­li­flower is a bras­sica veg­etable, like broc­coli, cau­li­flower, and Broc­col­ini.

“Caulilini”, as it is named by pro­duc­ers Mann Pack­ing, is visu­ally quite sim­i­lar to Broc­col­ini. It has an open flo­ret struc­ture and long edi­ble stem.

There are still a few dis­tinc­tions worth not­ing. Unlike BROC­COL­INI® baby broc­coli, which is a hybrid of broc­coli and Chi­nese kale (gai lan), CAULILINI® baby cau­li­flower is 100 per­cent cau­li­flower.

Another dif­fer­ence is that it also grows in heads, not sin­gle stalks. The result­ing flo­rets offer vari­a­tion in shape and size that also set it apart from Broc­col­ini.

With its sweet, slightly nutty fla­vor and ombre col­or­ing (the stem turns bright green when cooked while the flo­rets stay light), CAULILINI® baby cau­li­flower brings a “wow” fac­tor to the plate.

A favorite cook­ing method is grilling. It’s also deli­cious sautéed with plenty of gar­lic, roasted, or even raw as a unique addi­tion to a cru­dité platter.

Read more: The “Lini” Cousins →

Hav­ing the crunch and a shape sim­i­lar to an apple, Asian pears make their debut start­ing in July and stick around until early fall.

The grainy tex­ture and sweet, juicy inte­rior is a wel­comed mar­ket addi­tion as we tran­si­tion out of sum­mer stone fruits.

A rel­a­tive of Euro­pean pear vari­eties like Bartlett and Anjou, Asian pears are native to Japan and China where they have been grown for over 3000 years.

Their first appear­ance in the United States was recorded in 1820 when a Chi­nese sand pear was imported to New York. In the mid-1800’s Asian pears made their way to the west coast via Chi­nese and Japan­ese immi­grants relo­cat­ing to Cal­i­for­nia after the Gold Rush.

Most com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion in the United States is in Cal­i­for­nia and Ore­gon. Wash­ing­ton state fol­lows behind and then Ken­tucky and Alabama.

Read more: Asian Pears →

Tech­ni­cally, August is still very much a part of sum­mer. Tem­per­a­tures are high and we are still enjoy­ing dips in the pool and leisurely meals.

A cue sig­nal­ing that sum­mer might be fad­ing is when we notice new crop Cal­i­for­nia Bartlett pears and Gala apples in the mar­ket­place. They’re here.

Noth­ing against peaches, plums and nec­tarines. See­ing the pears come into the mar­ket­place reminds us to get after those stone fruits while the get­ting is good. They are still at peak of eat­ing for fla­vor, tex­ture and juici­ness.

If we plan to bake, can or freeze summer’s fruit, time is wast­ing. Cap­ture the fleet­ing oppor­tu­nity now. Cher­ries undoubt­edly had an abbre­vi­ated sea­son. Mother Nature dis­rupted what was meant to be a ban­ner cherry crop.

Back to apples and pears join­ing the bounty. The tran­si­tion from late sum­mer to early fall pro­duce is a famil­iar annual change that pre­pares us for eat­ing and cook­ing a bit differently.

Read more: Switch­ing Gears →

“Back to school”. Three words that push fam­i­lies into tem­po­rary mad­ness.

New back­pack, book and sup­ply pur­chases tax fam­ily bud­gets. Clothes shop­ping adds another bur­den on already stressed out par­ents.

The last demand for launch­ing kids back to school might be the sin­gle most sig­nif­i­cant one in terms of A+ per­for­mance.

Appeal­ing break­fast and lunch meals are impor­tant for get­ting stu­dents on track to a good year of learn­ing. How we approach these meals has a broad range of tac­tics.

Past gen­er­a­tions of school kids (ages 612) ate what was put in front of them. The “take it or leave it” mes­sage was enforced to the baby boomers.

Today’s young peo­ple are far more exposed to a vari­ety of foods with vary­ing degrees of nutri­tional value. Many life-​long food habits are formed dur­ing these crit­i­cal years.

Read more: Kid Friendly →