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Archive for February, 2015

Tropical Pineapple and Mangoes

This is our third and final installment on tropical fruit. Join Earl and the hosts of An Organic Conversation this weekend as they spend a full hour discussing in depth Pineapples, Mangos, Bananas and Cherimoyas.

Organic pineapples are available year round although supply can be affected at times by heavy rains.  The main areas of production are the Philippines, Costa Rica, Thailand and Brazil. On the West Coast we mostly get Costa Rican pineapple, as they have year round production, and fantastic quality and flavorful fruit. Mexico typically has some pineapple as well between December and May, although they generally are not as sweet or tasty as the Costa Rican. Hawaiian pineapples are rarely available, although quite desirable and delicious!

pineapple

The MD2 pineapple is the most commercially produced pineapple variety and made its debut in the mid-1980s in Costa Rica.  Chances are, this is what you have been eating when you buy a pineapple.  It was developed to be cylindrical in shape, and have exceptional sweetness. Conventional pineapple are often gassed/sprayed to display a yellow exterior. This has nothing to do with the eating quality of flavor profile of the fruit, but makes the consumer think it’s riper and sweeter.

Pineapples are one of the most difficult fruit to tell when they are ripe.  We have never been able to find a sure fire way to tell when a pineapple is ripe. In reality it is almost impossible but the best way to tell ripeness is by the fragrant smell at the base of the fruit. Some of the other ways we have found to be true are to look for a bright gold color around the “eyes” at the base of the pineapple. The higher up the golden yellow color goes the more even the flavor will be.  Avoid wrinkled skin, a reddish/bronze color and a vinegar smell, all signs the pineapple is over ripe. We would love to hear how you determine if a pineapple is ripe. Post your comments on our Facebook page.

Tips On Storing And Cutting A Pineapple:

Pineapples can be stored on the counter if you plan to eat them within 2 days.  We do not recommend storing any tropical fruit under 55 degrees because this can discolor the flesh and affect the flavor.  Do not store in the refrigerator because the average temperature is around 38 degrees.

There is no need for a fancy gadget to core your pineapple. Lay the pineapple on its side and cut off the top and bottom with a sharp knife. Slice the rest of the pineapple into rings about 1 inch thick. Lay the rings on the cutting board and using a paring knife gently go around the inside of the skin until the fruit pops out. I like to cut the entire piece of fruit up but if the core is too tough for you it is good frozen and added to a smoothie.

FUN FACTS:

Pineapple do not ripen after they are harvested!

Contrary to popular belief the ease with which leaves can be pulled out is not a sure sign of ripeness.

The small kidney shaped Atualfo Mango and the Kent mango are the two main varieties we see during this time of year. The Atualfo mango has a vibrant yellow golden color and the delicious flavor and absence of stringy fibers make it a huge hit. The pit is very thin which means there is more flesh to eat. As the Ataulfo becomes ripe the skin turns a deep golden color and begins to wrinkle.  Ataulfos are ready to eat when the fruit yields to slight pressure.  They should be left at room temperature until they are ready to eat. Ataulfos are also known as Honey, Manila, Yellow, Baby and Champagne mangos.

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Ataulfo Mango

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Kent Mangos

Kent mangos have an almost completely smooth flesh with very little fibers.  Kent’s are not covered in the typical red blush we associate with a ripe mango. The outside skin is mostly green and yellow with a little red blush, but don’t let the color throw you off. Kents are absolutely delicious with a vibrant flavor, juicy, smooth and very sweet flesh. Kent mangos will have a yellow undertone with speckled dots as they are ripening. The mango will feel soft to the touch and yield to gentle pressure when ripe.  Slight wrinkling of the skin is also a good thing and another sign of ripeness.

The Ataulfo and Kent mangos main production areas are Peru, Mexico and Ecuador. We are just now wrapping up the Peruvian season with the Kent as the main variety. We will have Peruvian Kents for another 2 weeks or so.  There was a smaller crop this year compared to last year.  Volume is down by about 50% due to early season rains followed by extreme heat in Peru. This year the Peruvian season has also been challenged by strikes at the West Coast ports.

After Peru is done, we start the Mexican season where we travel the months of March to September from Chiapas at the border of Guatemala up to Sinaloa and Baja California in the north. From the many different regions in Mexico we enjoy the Ataulfo, Tommy Atkins, Hadens, Kents and Keitts. September to November we have the spectacular California Keitt. Some people regard this as the best mango of the year. It is grown in Coachella and is a big size fruit with great flavor and aroma. The last mango of the year goes back to South America with Ecuador and the Tommy Atkins, Kent and Ataulfo.

The next variety we can expect in Mid-March is the Tommy Atkins from Mexico. We will continue to explore other varieties as they arrive at Earl’s.

Fun Fact:

Mangos are the most widely consumed fruit in the world with thousands of cultivars.

Tropical Bananas

This is the second of a three part series on tropical fruit leading up to the An Organic Conversation radio show this weekend, as Earl discusses in depth Cherimoyas, Bananas, Pineapple and Mangoes for the full hour.

Bananas are one of the most popular fruits eaten around the world. Interestingly they are not grown on trees but are a perennial herb. Each year after the herb flowers and fruits it dies back to its roots. What looks like a tree trunk is in fact a flowering stem built out of leaves that are tightly overlapped.  New leaves are always growing out of the top, forming a crown. The wind turns these leaves into tattered strips and at the same time protect the stem from being blown over.  A large flower will emerge from the stem and the bananas will start to grow back from the flowering tip.  The weight of the bananas will eventually cause the stem to bend over so that the fruit is growing up towards the sky. Bunches of bananas or “hands” contain anywhere from 10 to 20 bananas and grow in a double row half way around the stem.

Bananas growing out the flower Wikipedia

Bananas have been around since at least the 4th century BC in Greece and reached China around AD 200.  In the early 19th century bananas were brought to the United States by ship from the Caribbean and were considered a luxury.  There are more than 300 known cultivars of bananas but the main variety we see in the US is the Cavendish banana which was developed in the early 20th century for commercial exportation.  The other few varieties we can encounter in stores are the Red, manzano (AKA burro banana), baby banana and plantain.

Since they are grown in the tropics, we can enjoy them year round but is also worth considering that because they are grown in high pest pressure growing regions (constant heat and humidity) there is a big difference in the carbon footprint and social impact between conventional and organic production. Add to that the negative consequences of pesticides in the environment and you will not have to think twice about going organic in your bananas. We will discuss how organic banana growers deal with pests in a future blog.

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The top five growing regions in the world are India, Uganda, China, Philippines and Ecuador. Most of the bananas you find in the United States are coming from Ecuador, Peru and Mexico. Earl’s Organic has a direct relationship with Coliman, a family run company that has been growing bananas in Mexico since the 1960’s. The Coliman organic bananas will soon be Fair Trade certified. Coliman belongs to the ESR- Empresa Socialmente Responsible– program. ESR is self-audited program to ensure honesty and business transparency, quality of life and care and preservation of the environment. ESR is a growing business trend in Mexico and is extending globally.

Coliman picks, packs and ships by truck to Earl’s within 24 hours of harvest which means we have the absolute freshest bananas. In addition our bananas are not affected by the port disputes which have left many cargo ships waiting on the water to be unloaded. It is estimated it will take up to 2 months for the ports to be back on schedule.

Earl’s is the only organic banana house on the San Francisco Marketplace allowing us to have complete control over our bananas from  the grower to when it arrives on the shelves of your local retail store. Our warehouse has 3 banana ripening rooms that allow us to provide consistent ripening and quality for our customers.

Bananas are picked when they are still green and then ripened upon arrival at their destination.  Bananas naturally contain ethylene but are gassed with additional natural ethylene to speed up the ripening process, converting starches to sugar and slowly changing from green to yellow.

Fun Fact:

The average American eats 27 pounds of bananas a year.

Bananas contain vitamin c, potassium and complex carbohydrates which make them the perfect snack on the go. They are easy to digest and I like eating one for a quick snack before my exercise class.

Tips:

The natural ethylene from tomatoes and apples will help ripen up your banana if you put them in a bag together.

Store your bananas on your kitchen counter and not in the refrigerator.

Don’t throw away too ripe bananas. Peel and freeze them for your next smoothie. No need to add ice when blending frozen fruit.

We will explore mangoes and pineapples in our next blog. If you miss Earl on An Organic Conversation you can always download the podcasts.

Tropical Cherimoyas

This is the first of a three part series on tropical fruit leading up to the An Organic Conversation radio show this weekend, as Earl discusses in depth Cherimoyas, Bananas, Pineapple and Mangoes for the full hour.

Cherimoya’s are originally from Ecuador and Peru but in 1871 they were introduced to California which is still the only place in the United States where Cherimoya’s are grown. They need a subtropical climate to thrive and although they are grown throughout South America they can be found on a commercial scale only in Chile, Spain and California.

Cunningham Organic Farm is located in a secluded valley next to the Cleveland National Forest and midway between Los Angeles and San Diego.  George Cunningham, his wife Gale and son Greg from Cunningham Organic Farm grow cherimoyas along with avocados, grapefruit, guavas, kumquats, lemons, limes, macadamias, oranges, passion fruit, persimmons and tangerines.  George started off with 10 Cherimoya trees and continued to add more. The trees need to be spaced out because they branch out and can form a canopy in about 7-8 years. The season runs from February to June with the peak time in March and April. Cherimoya’s are grown in California from Santa Barbara all the way down to San Diego.

Cherimoyas are conical or heart shaped with green scales and have been compared to looking a bit like a globe artichoke.  A fruit can weigh anywhere from 3 ½ ounces to 5 pounds plus.  Cherimoya’s hold a special place in my heart not only because they are delicious but they were an instrumental part of being invited to join the Earl’s Organic team. Upon meeting Earl for the first time he quizzed me on the strange green and bumpy shaped fruit on the kitchen counter. Thanks to my recent trip to Hawaii I knew what the fruit was and that it contains toxic black seeds. I shared that cherimoyas had creamy white flesh that tasted a bit like pineapples and strawberries. My favorite way to eat them is to cut them in half, wrap them up and freeze them until the consistency is like ice cream. Earl declared me “a foodie” and my journey at Earl’s began.

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Choosing a Cherimoya

Look for firm, unripe fruit that are heavy for their size and let them ripen at room temperature out of the sunlight.  Cherimoyas are similar to avocados and should be treated with care so they don’t bruise. Wait a few days until the flesh yields to gentle pressure and the skin has turned slightly brown.  Once you notice the first sign of ripeness wait another day or two to eat but not much longer because the sugars in the flesh will start to ferment.  Ripe cherimoyas can be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in a paper towel for up to 4 days.

Warning

Only eat the flesh of the cherimoya! As I mentioned above the black seeds are toxic. They can cause vomiting, nausea, dryness of the mouth, burning in the throat and eating the seeds can cause paralysis that can last up to five hours. Cherimoyas are good for you and full of nutrients including riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin C.

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We will explore bananas, pineapples and mangos in our next blogs. We love hearing how you eat Cherimoyas. Please share your thoughts and recipes on our Facebook page.

Coastal View Produce Asparagus

Spring seems to have arrived early this year. We received our first shipment this week of California grown asparagus from Coastal View Produce. We are proud to have been working with CVP for 8 years. Brian Violini and his family have been growing organic asparagus for over 40 years in the Salinas Valley. Brian’s Grandfather was a Swiss immigrant who started a new life in the fertile Salinas Valley.  “I can remember being 10 years old and pulling weeds and moving sprinklers for my grandfather,” says Brian, who now runs Coastal View Produce with his brother. “We’ve had this farm for three generations. My grandfather started with a dairy and then moved into farming. My dad and my uncle ran the farm after him, and now it’s me and my brother. Farming, it’s all we know.”

California produces over 70 percent of the nation’s fresh market asparagus with over 20,000 acres, followed by Michigan and Washington. The height of the season in California runs from March to June.  California asparagus is mainly grown at the confluence of California’s two greatest rivers, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, in the rich peat of the delta lands an hour south of Sacramento. Salinas Valley, the Central Coast, Coachella-Imperial Valley area and Santa Barbara County are also considered prime growing areas. Asparagus was originally planted in the delta region in 1852 but the interest in growing asparagus commercially wasn’t until the early 1900’s.

Fun Fact:

Asparagus is a perennial crop producing year after year. The crowns are planted in long beds deep in the ground. As the weather warms, a single asparagus spear can grow anywhere from 6 to 10 inches in a single day.

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How to store and eat asparagus

Try to eat them as soon as you buy them but you can store them upright in the refrigerator in a dish of water or wrap a damp towel over the ends and store in a plastic bag.

When you’re ready to eat them, snap or cut off the woody white portion of the butt end of the asparagus. They’re perfect coated with olive oil and roasted, which leaves them firmer, nuttier and sweeter than steaming.  I also like to peel the larger sizes into thin strips for a raw salad or piled on top of a pizza. Asparagus is high vitamin C and K and folic acid and contain less than 50 calories per 6 oz serving.

Catch Earl this weekend on An Organic Conversation for his update on asparagus, kale and avocados. Learn more about the life cycle of asparagus and how it is picked and packed into beautiful uniformed bunches in a future blog.

Port Disputes Continue

West Coast Port contract disputes that began 9 months ago continue as dockworkers work without reaching a contract. Extreme congestion at the ports has caused problems such as unloading ships and stoppages, disrupting import and export shipments for agricultural products amongst other sectors. The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) is worried that delays at the ports could eventually lead to gridlock.

At times ships holding perishable produce have been left sitting out on the water while dockworkers demands, including higher pay, are not met.  The PMA refused to pay overtime to longshoreman over the President’s day weekend and closed the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports from Thursday February 12th through Monday February 16th.  The port of Oakland, the third largest port on the West Coast, has been reported to be unloading only about 75% of what they normally would on a typical day.

The repercussions for the economy could be devastating. California Citrus Mutual is estimating that the port disputes could cost the citrus industry up to $500 million in export loses. California exported over $5 billion in fresh produce and nuts in the last quarter of 2014. Additional costs include the expenses to maintain extended cold storage facilities for apples and the fees imposed on importers due to shipping delays.

During the off season Earl’s Organic brings in fruit such as blueberries, mangos, kiwis and apples from as far away as New Zealand, Chile and Peru. We have felt the effect of these labor disputes as shipments of fruit sit out on the water for as long as 7-10 days after traveling by boat for 2-3 weeks. There have been gaps in supply and some obvious signs of aging from sitting on the water for a long period of time. Growers are reluctant to ship out their product overseas because of its perishable nature. We will continue to monitor the situation and keep you up to date.

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