We are very excited to announce that Forbidden Fruit Orchard Blueberries out of Lompoc, California are back with supply ramping up at the end of this week. Back in June, Forbidden was hit with the spotted winged drosophila fly that infected all of their fields and destroyed their fruit. Sandy Newman, owner of Forbidden Fruit, pruned out heavily and is now back with beautiful large berries packed with flavor. Weather dependent, we can look forward to Forbidden blues through October and possibly into November.
We can expect to see other California blueberry growers coming on with limited production in October, including Rancho Don Antonio in Carpinteria and Pacific Coast Produce in Santa Maria.
Blueberries coming out of the Pacific Northwest are essentially done and we will see a limited supply through the first week of October.
Stay tuned for more blueberry updates as we make the transition to imported blueberries in November.
My family and I were fortunate to visit Bob Steinacher from Maywood Farm for a personal tour of his 172 acre organic fig farm in Corning, California, located just 2 miles off of Highway 101. I parked in front of the packing shed next to a vehicle with the license plate “Fig Farm” and knew I was in the right place.
Bob was busy at work in the packing shed along with his wife and son when we walked in. You could feel the energy of the packing shed as the workers sorted the figs in the bins coming in off the field into ripe and extra ripe boxes. The extra ripe fig boxes are marked with an X for a select few customers. Once the figs are stacked onto pallets they are brought into the coolers. The field heat must be taken out of the fruit to maintain the quality of the figs while they are being shipped to wholesalers all over the country.
Bob took us into the cooler where a large suction fan can cool down up to 8 pallets or 15,000 pounds of fruit from 90 to 36 degrees in 4.5 hours. Peak production is over and the coolers have only a few pallets. It is starting to cool down during the day and night and with shorter days it doesn’t heat up as much.
Bob asks if we are ready to tour the orchards and with a resounding YES we all climb into his ATV. Bob grows organic black mission, brown turkey, kadota, excel and adriatic figs with the majority of his acreage dedicated to black mission. Our first stop was a section of the black mission fig trees where Bob points out where the new growth was growing off the old branches. Some of his black mission trees are 32 years old and grow the biggest out of all the varieties. They cut them down to 6ft every year so they can pick them from the ground. The figs start ripening at the base of the limbs on the new growth and continually ripen up the branch. The trees can get so thick that you can’t get into the center of the tree to pick and the fruit doesn’t color up properly if it is too shaded. Most of the wood is pruned back by hand and Bob has 10 workers that prune all the fig trees for about 2 months each year.
Everywhere we look, black mission figs are scattered on the ground under the trees. Bob tells us “It so hard to see fruit go to waste. We work so hard to grow it but we can’t pick it fast enough. It came on too hot and for too long with many 100 degree days. We got as many workers as we could at the time, but we peak out at around 100 workers and then the quality of the workers is not as good.” Bob finds us a few dried figs on the ground and we munch on these heavenly treats as we climb back in the ATV and we are off to visit sections of Kadotas, Excels and Adriatic figs.
The white varieties are easily susceptible to sunburn and we can see many figs that have started to turn brown from the heat. The adriatic is my personal favorite with his bright red flesh that is soft and sweet like raspberry jam. Lucky me- Bob tells me has a clamshell of adriatic and black mission figs to take on our road trip up to Oregon. I can’t wait. It is after 1pm and the workers are picking black mission figs so we head over to visit them.
The workers start picking at 6:30am and finish at 5pm, working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. On the 7th day, Sunday, they work 8 hours. The temperatures are in the 90’s but the workers are covered head to toe, protecting themselves from the sun, the irritating hairs on the fig leaves and the milky latex sap that comes from both the branch and the fig as it is broken off. The latex causes burning so they wear gloves and tape their fingers to protect themselves. A tractor places yellow boxes throughout the orchard for workers to dump their buckets into. The boxes are then stacked and the tractors will come back through, picking up the full buckets and empty buckets to continue scattering them forward. One man is charged with coming through the orchard with water for the workers since they move so much they can’t have stationary water stations. When it is time for lunch the workers take their break in the shade under the trees and their lunch is brought out to them on a truck.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jose Torres, Employee Safety Officer for Maywood. Jose is in charge of taking care of all the workers in the orchard. If they hurt themselves or don’t feel good, they come to him. Jose was full of smiles and very proud of his job. You could tell he really cares about making sure all of the workers are taken care of. A few of the workers posed for a photo and continued picking. Figs ripen on the tree and it is a special skill to know when a fig is ready to be picked. Most of Bob’s workers continue to come back and work for him year after year.
Our final stop was a part of the orchard reserved for fig experimentation. Bob was really excited about the flavor of the Trojano Fig. “This is a really really good white fig I am propagating to plant out. It is a Spanish variety and it is not tart sweet”. He offered us a ripe fig off the vine and it was almost better than an adriatic. I hope Bob starts growing and selling the Trojano soon. It was a fig to swoon over. Bob was an amazing host with lots of energy and excitement about his fig orchard. Hot and sweaty, my family and I said a big thank you and goodbye. We munched on those figs the rest of our trip and remembered how fantastic our tour was.
The good news is that even with the recent cooler weather, this year will be better than last year. 2015 ended extremely early with no fruit in September and October. This year there is still lots of green fruit on the tree and Bob expects slower production through September and into a good part of October.
Organic Avocados have begun gapping this week and we anticipate a very limited supply through September/October. The California season ended very early. This was abetted by an extreme heat event in June, which caused the trees to “drop fruit.” Resulting in tons of fruit loss.
We have already started pulling Mexican organic avocados but supply is very tight because the first two blooms have had small sets and poor yields. Last year was a bumper crop year in Mexico. Therefore this year is forecasted to have lower volume, as avocados are an alternate bearing fruit. Expect a smaller overall Mexican organic crop for 2016.
The Mexican avocado season has 3 phases – flora loca, aventejara, and normal. The normal bloom is where the volume is this year. We are currently in the flora loca, moving into aventejara in the next couple weeks, then into normal by late October. As if this was not enough, heavy rain in Mexico has limited the time pickers can spend in the orchards harvesting what fruit is there.
We will continue to keep you informed and appreciate your understanding.
The best tasting Jonagold apple is back from 5th generation orchardists, Rider and Sons. Located in Watsonville along the Central Coast of California, Rider and Sons is the only California grower we know that picks the Jonagold apple at its optimum maturity and flavor. The best tasting Jonagold will have developed a beautiful golden background before it is picked. This means it has been on the tree longer and has more flavor. Jim Rider says “the apples are ready to be harvested when they have a hint of yellow in the background color.” Most growers pick it too early when the background is green and the flavor has not developed. This has been our experience of the Pacific Northwest Jonagold.
The Watsonville area has a unique microclimate with cooler summer weather similar to San Francisco. This allows them to grow better quality apples and harvest closer to peak maturity more than warmer climates. Jonagolds require special care and attention and are selectively picked riper than most areas could. The fruit ripens slower in the cooler climate and develops the complex flavor components that can be lost with higher temperatures. Rider’s philosophy is to get them off the tree, picked and packed within a day or two and shipped immediately to be sold quickly at optimum maturity. Rider’s workers are trained to pick slowly with an eye for detail and will pick the orchard several times in order to deliver a riper, sweet and better tasting fruit. Their goal is not to store it for months and months.
Jim Rider calls Watsonville the Napa valley of apple growing areas. The apples have a more intense flavor and better quality because of the cooler temperatures. Click here for an interview with Jim Rider in the Jonagold orchards. In our own history as the apple season goes up to the Pacific North West, the flavor and quality of the Jonagold is not duplicated. Enjoy California apples during the short but sweet season. We expect supply to last for about 3 weeks. Look for the Jonagold apple on Earl’s specials the week of August 29th.
The California stone fruit season started off strong in mid-May and over the past few months we have seen a good supply of fruit in all sizes. As we race towards the end of August, the California stone fruit season is winding down with a limited supply of late season fruit. No need to panic, we will continue to have a good supply of stone fruit out of the Pacific Northwest through most of September.
Buyer beware: Stone Fruit at different times of the season, coming out of different regions, will eat differently. We always recommend talking with the produce buyer of your favorite store and asking where your food is coming from.
How to eat late season peaches and nectarines
Late July to early August peaches and nectarines will have a lower moisture content, so eat them less ripe and more firm than earlier varieties. As a general rule, fruit harvested after June 1st is of the freestone variety. Cut around the center of the fruit from top to bottom and the fruit halves will fall away easily revealing the pit. Now is the best time to show off beautiful slices of fruit in your sweet and savory dishes.
Three women from Earl’s Organic who have made organic food their career, join Helge Hellberg from An Organic Conversation to show us that sustainable food production and healthy agricultural practices have a tremendous impact on everything that food touches. Starting on the land with the farmer, these practices positively affect just about everything along the journey, and ultimately, the end consumer – all of us. In this episode, we celebrate the notion that life creates life. Listen to the podcast here.
California grapes are at peak season with full sugar and optimum flavor. There are over 70 varieties of red, black and green varieties, now coming out of the San Joaquin Valley, think Stockton and Merced in the north down to Bakersfield in the south.
Out of all the varieties, red grapes are always the hardest to color up, with the Flame grape being the most fickle. Red grapes need cooler nights to help develop that rich red color. The recent hot days and warm nights are preventing the fruit from coloring up. Johnni Soghomonian from Three Sisters Organic in Fresno says “Our Flame grapes are having a hard time coloring up this year. We spent a great amount of time, all hand labor, pulling off the leaves covering the fruit, in order to help color up the grapes. The sugar and great flavor is there, but we are working with Mother Nature and some grapes are just stubborn.”
Conventionally ethrel is used to color up the fruit, but that cannot be used in organic production. Many newer varieties have been bred for color and have superior darker color berries than the Flames. Sunview Vineyards, located in Delano, just north of Bakersfield, used to grow Flames, but replaced them with the “Rosa” red grape, a proprietary variety that yields a darker color berry. Sunview saw an opportunity to turn the low colored Flame grapes into raisins, growing their raisin program to include red, green and black organic raisins. All three varieties are available at Earl’s.
We can look forward to the Crimson red grape from Three Sisters in about 10 days. This variety inherently colors up better than the Flame, with all the sweet and crunchy characteristics we want in a good eating grape.
The California Keitt mango season is finally here! This unique domestic mango does not have to travel far and is left on the tree until it has developed a high level of maturity and sweet flavor. Organic California Keitts are grown in the Coachella Valley, which runs for about 45 miles in Riverside County from Palm Springs to the northern part of the Salton Sea.
California Keitt mangoes are super juicy and sweet with almost no stringy fibers and a small pit which means more fruit to eat. One bite of the delicious smooth flesh and you will be back for more! Don’t shy away from these green mangos because Keitts stay green even when ripe.
Keitts are also extra special because they are not subjected to the stress of a hot water bath, as most imported mangos are, contributing to a delicious eating experience. Almost all imported mangos are hot water treated to eliminate fruit flies and fruit fly larvae. The mangoes are put into hot water bath (115-118 F) anywhere from 90-120 minutes.
*Ripen your mangos up on your counter at room temperature. Mangos do not like the cold and can develop chill damage if stored in the refrigerator.
*You will know they are ready to eat when they yield slightly to gentle pressure.
The season is very short and lasts only about 4-6 weeks. This California grown tropical fruit is not to be missed!
We are very excited that the new crop of California Early Fuji apples, from fifth generation orchardists Rider & Sons in Watsonville, will be arriving by the end of the week. Last year the Rider and Sons Early Fuji season started late and lasted only a few weeks due to the drought and higher than average temperatures. Rider and Sons is located about 1 ½ hours south of San Francisco along the Central Coast of California.
We expect the Early Fuji to be available for about a month with limited supply, followed by a seamless transition to the Standard Fuji. Weather dependent, we can look forward to enjoying California Fuji’s through March. Fuji apples are great for eating out of hand and fantastic for juicing.
Figs have been around for thousands of years and are believed to have originated in Eastern Asia, spreading through all of Europe and eventually brought to California by the missionaries in 1769. By 1867 there were over 1,000 acres of fig trees in the Sacramento Valley and 35 acres in the San Joaquin Valley. Figs are still grown mainly in the central valley around the Fresno/Madera area to up north of Sacramento in Corning. Maywood Farms in Corning, CA, Stellar in Madera, CA and Susie Bee Farms from Chowchilla, in the central Joaquin Valley, bring you some of the best organic figs.
Figs need the hot Mediterrean weather to grow. The sweet spot is between 85 to 105 degrees. When temperatures go above 105 degrees the tree goes into shock and shuts down to survive. Temperatures in the fig growing regions reached as high as 110 last week. As we mentioned in our blog last week, the heat affects not only the fruit but also the workers. Susan Bidvia-Kragie from Susie Bee Farms in Madera says her growers stopped picking by 12:30pm. During extreme heat the greener fruit won’t ripen any further and ripe fruit can become overripe. This week temperatures in the central San Joaquin Valley have gone down and are averaging about 95 degrees. Susan says “Figs are remarkable at recovering without any long term effects. The figs just jump back to it”.
The fig season continues through September as long as the weather holds. Join us at the San Francisco Academy of Sciences Foodie Nightlife on Thursday night, August 18th where we will be sampling delicious fresh figs.
Look for the figs that are not too hard and not too soft. A fig that is too firm is an indication that it was harvested too immature. Figs are the only fruit that ripens on the tree. Once the fruit is picked that is as sweet as it’s going to get.
We recommend that you don’t refrigerate your figs. Buy only what you can eat within 2-3 days and buy often. Place them on a counter on a cotton cloth and let them dry up a little bit. The flavors and the sugars will become more concentrated and intense. They are like honey nectar!
- Figs are considered a fruit but the fig is actually a flower that is inverted into itself
- California produces 90% of the fresh figs grown in the United States
Black Mission: The most common variety with deep purple to black skin, watermelon to pink colored flesh and good flavor. They are delicious eaten fresh or dried.
Excel: Similar to the Kadota with yellow green skin and sweet light amber flesh. The shape is blocky with almost no neck. They are great for eating fresh or used for cooking.
Brown Turkey: Large sized fig with a brownish-dark purple skin, light pink flesh and a mild flavor. They are commonly used in desserts.
Kadota: Has thick light green skin with sweet white flesh tinged pink at the center.
Adriatic: Light green or yellowish skin with beautiful strawberry colored flesh.