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Is It A Sweet Potato Or A Yam?

Thanksgiving is only 2 days away and we want to help clear up the difference between a sweet potato and a yam. Trying to figure this out can be very confusing when you’re at the grocery store.  The U.S. government decided to label sweet potatoes by their color to make things easier but it just ended up confusing everyone more.  The creamy white flesh ones are labeled sweet potatoes and the orange fleshed ones are sometimes labeled yams.  The USDA requires that sweet potatoes labeled as yams also be labeled as sweet potatoes. Chances are likely that you are buying sweet potatoes regardless of what the label says.

In reality sweet potatoes and yams are two totally different vegetables.  Yams are tubers and are usually found imported in ethnic markets in the United States. They are originally from Africa, where over 95% of the world’s crop is harvested, and Asia.  Yams are grown in tropical climates and are very popular in Latin America and the Caribbean.  A few varieties can grow up to 7 feet in length and weigh almost 200 pounds! The skin of a yam is rough and scaly and the taste is very starchy.  Yams are an extremely important part in the diet of the people in Nigeria and West Africa.  Yams provide more than 200 calories per person per day for more than 150 million people in West Africa while also providing a necessary income for local farmers.  Yams are high in vitamin C and B and potassium and low in saturated fat and sodium.  The flavor can sometimes be sweeter than a sweet potato depending on the variety.

Sweet Potatoes are thought to originate in either Central or South America at least 5,000 years ago.  In the U.S. they are grown in temperate climate zones.  North Carolina is the largest producer of sweet potatoes followed by California, Louisiana and Mississippi.  In California 80% of the sweet potatoes are grown in Merced County followed by Fresno and Stanislaus County. When you sit down for the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner you will be eating sweet potatoes regardless of their color.

There are 4 main types of sweet potatoes grown. The orange flesh varieties become moist when cooked and the white flesh varieties become dry when cooked with a crumbly texture similar to a baked white potato. The Garnet is the classic sweet potato that most people think of when making mashed sweet potatoes, pies, cakes and breads.

  1. Red Skin/Orange Flesh (Varieties include Dianas, Reds & Garnets)
  2. Orange Skin/Orange Flesh (varieties include the Beauregard, Covington & Jewel)
  3. White Skin/White Cream Flesh (Varieties include the O’Henry, Jersey Sweet, Hannas or Hanna Golds)
  4. Red Skin/White Flesh (Varieties include the Murasaki & Kotobuki-most commonly referred to as “Orientals”)
A few examples of sweet potatoes from Earl’s

Sweet potatoes are relatively low in calories and have no fat. They are rich in beta-carotene , having five times the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A in one sweet potato, as well as loaded with potassium. These nutrients help to protect against heart attack and stroke.

As you can imagine sweet potatoes are consumed the most during Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Easter.  Try these wonderful recipes from Food and Wine Magazine. What is your favorite recipe for sweet potatoes during the holidays?  Please share your favorite recipes on our Facebook wall.

Side Hill Citrus Satsuma Mandarins

Satsuma Mandarins herald the start of the varietal citrus season in California and we feel that Side Hill Citrus Satsumas from Lincoln in the Sacramento foothills, have the perfect balance of tart and sweet flavors. The combination of a higher elevation of 600 feet, nutrient filled organic clay soil, warm summer days and cool nights and using a Satsuma Owari rootstock from China all contribute to growing consistently delicious Satsuma Mandarins year after year.

Rich Ferreira, a 4th generation farmer bought 17 acres in 1975 with only 100 Satsuma trees and in 1991 he became certified organic and has grown to over 2000 Satsuma trees on 48 acres. Satsumas can withstand cold weather as low as 20 degrees which helps to bring out the incredible flavor in the fruit and the bright orange color.  Last year California had a big freeze at the beginning of December and fortunately for Rich his fruit was not damaged. Side Hill is  located on a sloping hill which offers natural air flow protection during the colder months. This natural air flow prevents the cold air from settling on the citrus and frost from forming. The orchard also faces south, allowing the trees to receive energy from the sunlight and at the same time warming up the soil, helping to prevent frost.

Satsuma tree cropped

When harvesting his Satsuma mandarins, Rich will go through his orchard up to 10 times to pick the best pieces of fruit. He color hand picks each piece, resulting in a full color, highly flavored, sweet piece of fruit going to market.  Satusmas are the perfect snacking food with no seeds and an easy to peel skin. You can eat them on the go and not worry about making a sticky mess. 

How To Pick and Store Satsumas

Look for Satsumas with an aromatic smell, firm tight peel, no dented spots and a heavier fruit means they are juicier. They can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator, but not for too long because prolonged storage can dry them out.

Stay Healthy!

A 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture study said Satsumas have six to seven times as much synephrine, a natural decongestant, as other citrus. Four or five Satsumas have enough synephrine to equal the effect of a Sudafed tablet, the study said. Satsumas are also naturally low in calories and a single fruit contains 34 percent of the USDA daily recommendation for vitamin C.  So stay healthy this winter and pack a few in your lunch or for a snack during the day.  The season is now and only runs through the beginning of January. 

Side Hill Citrus Satsumas

Satsumas are a holiday favorite for the Earl’s crew. Susan the Marketing Manager’s specialty is a Side Car Satsuma cocktail that is easy to make when friends drop by.  Randy, our resident chef and Fruit Buyer loves to mix Satsuma juice with tequila. Brian, a Sales Associate recommends making a Hot Ginger Satsuma tea to stay warm during the freeze.

Don’t miss the 20th annual Mandarin Festival this weekend, November 21st-24th, in Auburn, CA at the Gold County Fairgrounds. Sample Mandarins from local growers and try a fun variety of Mandarin inspired food including mandarin shakes, chocolate dipped mandarins, mandarin dessert pizza and more.

Earl’s Is Hiring A Receptionist/Administrative Assistant

Earl’s Organic Produce, Inc., a leading distributor of organic produce throughout Northern California, is seeking a bright, enthusiastic self-starter to join our administrative team. The Administrative Assistant will report to the Office Manager and provide comprehensive support to the sales, purchasing, and accounting departments. Earl’s is looking for someone to excel in a fast paced working environment in our rapidly growing company.

 
Primary responsibilities include:
 Answer and direct incoming calls; greet visitors
 Fax/email price lists upon request and send information to customers as needed.
 Place orders for office, warehouse, kitchen, and janitorial supplies, & maintain careful and organized inventory
 Manage incoming/outgoing mail
 Assist with payroll distribution
 Tactfully manage the flow of information throughout the company
 Create and update internal office documents as needed
 Print daily reports
 Assist with miscellaneous projects for other departments
 Assist Human Resources Manager in maintaining accurate and updated files
 Organize inter-office events
 Opportunities for assisting with demos and other events on weekends.

 
Qualifications and expectations:
 Must be self-organized and have phenomenal time management and prioritization skills
 Must have demonstrated success taking initiative, taking ownership, problem solving, managing projects and tasks, and working under pressure
 Must have an acute attention to detail and be an exceptional multitasker
 Candidate will be expected to support the activities of multiple supervisors under minimal supervision
 Experience in an office environment is preferred.
 Technical skills required include: proficiency in Microsoft Suite, especially Word and Excel, Experience with Photoshop or Publisher, various social media platforms
 Must be reliable and resourceful with a commitment to excellence
 Should be punctual, flexible and a quick learner
 Must be able to comprehend, understand and speak clear English
 Knowledge of, or at least interest and enthusiasm in, organic agriculture/produce is a must
 Cheerful demeanor, good interpersonal skills, an interest in positively contributing to our culture and organization and a can-do attitude!

 
Position requirements include:
This is a full time position. Hours are 7am – 3pm, Monday through Friday. Preferable start date is January 2, 2015.

 
Please submit a cover letter and resume to katherinev@earlsorganic.com
Thank you in advance for your interest!

Earl’s Organic Produce works to embrace diversity in all its forms; it strives to be an inclusive community that fosters an open, thoughtful, and productive environment.

California Valencia Season Ending

California Valencia season is winding down fast and quantities are limited. Get them while you can! The transition to Mexican Valencias will start up Thanksgiving week. Expect a drastic change in flavor profiles from late season Californian fruit that is low in acid and high in sugar, to an early Mexican piece of fruit with high acid and low sugar. With all citrus, as the season gets going the fruit will sweeten up. Earl’s Organic has this Mexican deal every year and we feel the fruit is quite good.

VALENCIA ORANGE

While you are waiting for the Mexican fruit to sweeten up try mixing Satsumas with the Mexican Valencias for a nice blend of sweet and tart. We can expect to see the California Valencias make their return in the spring time around April.

While I was writing this blog I noticed that the California Valencia season ended about a month later the last few years.  Although many factors come into fruit production, we know for a fact these past few seasons have had lower chill hours and rainfall.  Only time will tell how this winter will shape up. You can count on Earl’s to give you seasonal produce updates.

Plump Red Cranberries

Bright round cranberries bring up visions of Fall, baked goods and meals with friends and family. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and is not complete without a side dish of sweet and tart cranberry sauce. Perhaps you have seen the TV commercials where a man is standing waist deep in water floating with cranberries and wondered how cranberries grow.

Cranberries contrary to popular belief are not grown in water but on vines planted in bogs with a mixture of moist acid peat soil and sand which allows them to thrive in harsh weather conditions. Cranberries were introduced to the English settlers in Massachusetts in the early 1800’s and the first farmed cranberries were grown in Cape Cod.  Over half of the United States crop is grown in Wisconsin. Massachusetts is the second largest producer followed by New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.  Eastern Canada’s cooler weather is especially ideal for growing organic cranberries and more than 80% of the organic cranberries are grown in Quebec.

Fruit d’Or has been growing organic cranberries for over 20 years in Quebec. The Le Moine family had a dream to grow cranberries as a retirement plan.  They partnered with another family to form one of the first certified organic cranberry farms in Quebec.  Fruit d’Or is now comprised of over 25 families and is the largest supplier of fresh and dried organic cranberries in Canada.

Quebec’s cold weather helps to prevent fungus from forming, which is a big problem in warmer climates such as Southern Massachusetts and Wisconsin. The cold weather, just like with citrus, also helps to bring out the full flavor and deep color of the fruit. Quebec also has very acidic sandy soil that is a natural defense against weeds. Any weeds that do manage to grow are picked by hand. Fruit d’or grows the Stevens variety which grows well in extreme weather conditions and sizes up to a nice large berry.

Harvesting Fresh Cranberries Photo property of Fruit d'Or

Harvesting Fresh Cranberries. Photo property of Fruit d’Or

Once the vines are planted they can continue to produce for about 20 years. Fruit d’Or has some vines that are still producing even after 20 years. In the winter a layer of ice forms over the bogs and protects them.  When spring rolls around tractors deposit sand on the ice so that when the ice melts the sand disperses evenly into the bog, creating new roots, thereby bringing nutrients to the fruit.  Biodiversity is encouraged by planting wild flowers next to the bogs to create a natural habitat for the bees.

Fruit d’Or harvests cranberries only when a beautiful red color forms over the entire piece of fruit. The top of the fruit turns red first because it is exposed to the sun, while the bottom of the fruit can still be white or green. According to Marie-Michèle Le Moine, the daughter of founder Martin Le Moine, “It is a dance trying to get the right color. We choreograph the harvest so that all the growers have the right color.” They will harvest each bog only when the berries are at their peak color. Cranberries on the vine

Growing cranberries uses an incredible amount of water. Fruit d’Or is committed to sustainability and uses a closed loop irrigation system. The bogs are flooded when they are ready for harvest from mid-September to mid-October with water from a reservoir area that is kept full throughout the year with snow melt.  The bogs are separated by levies and drained from one to the other as they are harvested, recycling the water and eventually feeding the water back into the original reservoir. After the field is flooded a slow moving gentle harvester similar to a lawn mower rows back and forth, fluffing up the vines to catch the cranberries. The berries will then float to the surface because they have tiny air pockets inside them.  Booms are used to collect the berries so they don’t float away. When harvesting for fresh fruit versus dried fruit, they don’t want the cranberries to be in the water too long.  The cranberries are pulled up onto a conveyer belt in the bog and then transferred to little boats. From there the berries are taken to be cleaned and then air dried to take the water off the surface. The berries are then packed and shipped. If the berries are to be dried they can be in the water a little longer. Thinning nets skim cranberries off the top of the water, collecting them into tubs and then pulling by tractor to the processing facility, only a cranberries throw away from the bogs. Watch how cranberries are harvested and cleaned in this video from Fruit d’Or.   

Great idea for the holiday!

Fresh cranberries can be found in your grocery store through the holidays.  Marie-Michèle Le Moine loves eating her cranberries raw. She compared the acidity to that of a MacIntosh apple.  One of her favorite recipes for the holiday season is to dip them in milk chocolate and freeze for 5 minutes. The large size of the Fruit d’Or berries makes this an easy and fun activity.

Nutrition Information

Cranberries are high in vitamin C, fiber and vitamin E. Cranberries are said to help prevent urinary tract infections, improve immune function and decrease blood pressure. One half of cup of cranberries has only 25 calories! Cranberries are sold fresh for the holidays, frozen, canned, made into juice and dried fruit. They are delicious baked into muffins or breads, added to stuffing and of course made into cranberry sauce. I like to pair my cranberries with Satsuma juice and chopped up peel from Side Hill Citrus Satsumas from Lincoln, CA.  Post your favorite cranberry recipe on our Facebook page. Everyone at Earl’s wishes you a very Happy and Bountiful Thanksgiving!

Burroughs Almond Orchard

Earl’s loves roasting organic almonds and snacking on them throughout the day. We are spoiled in California with over 90% of the world’s commercial production coming out of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.

The Burroughs Family Farm comes from 5 generations of farming in the San Joaquin Valley.  Originally in the dairy business in the 1970’s they started farming almonds in the 1980’s.  Located in a very rural area just outside of Denair, their town is jokingly called Burroughsville.  Rosie and Ward Burroughs farm organic almonds and operate an organic pasture-based dairy.  They began the organic conversion on their almond orchards 9 years ago when their daughter Benina was pregnant with her first child. Benina felt it was the right thing to do and didn’t want her family and her workers to be exposed to pesticides. Two children later and one on the way, Benina lives and works on their farm with her husband Heriberto and her parents.

Burroughs FamilyThey have 900 acres of almond trees and are committed to being leaders in organic farming, sustainability and biodiversity. They produce their own compost year round providing nutrition for the trees and helping to cultivate strong healthy soil they call “black gold”. They have also planted hedgerows around the farm to attract bees and other beneficial insects, but also bring in hives every season for pollination, approximately 2 hives per acre.  Bees are very important because the almond tree is not self-pollinating.  Bees are brought in to the orchards to carry pollen between alternating rows of almond varieties during the bloom phase in late February or early March. If the weather is stormy or cold during the critical bloom stage the bees won’t pollinate and the crop size will be reduced. For optimal cross-pollination and crop development, an orchard must have more than one variety of almond tree and most orchards have three.

The Burroughs Family grows Nonpareil, Carmel, California, and Mission almond varieties. The Nonpareil is the most common commercial variety grown in California because of its good size, pretty looks and full flavor. Almond trees set their buds in January and start to bloom in mid-February to early March. In March the nutlets will start to form and some stay and some will fall off. This is the time to give the trees lots of nutrition.  Once the hulls open the harvest is only 4-6 weeks away, usually ranging from mid-August to October.

PhotoGrid_1414068497334

Almond trees need 400 chill hours below 45 degrees to have a fruitful harvest. If you remember this past California winter the weather went from cool, to a big freeze at the beginning of December followed by dry, warm weather.  This caused the bloom period to be longer than usual resulting in uneven blossoming, varying maturity and one of the earliest harvests in history. One theory is the trees were tired from not enough chill hours at night and the warm days reversing the effect of the chill hours stored up. Trees, like ourselves need sleep in order function correctly. Even trees can get cranky from lack of sleep.

For the grower this means that some parts of the tree are ready earlier than others to harvest. Prior to harvest nut growers need to prepare the orchard by leveling and clearing any debris from the orchard floor. This provides a smooth clear surface when the nuts are shaken from the trees by mechanical tree shakers.  The machine grabs the tree and then vigorously shakes the nuts out of the tree. If the husks are immature and green they won’t come lose from shaking the tree with a machine and need to be manually pulled off.  Almonds need to stay on the ground for another 8-10 days to dry out their shell and hull. Then they are swept into rows and picked up by a machine which can sort out all the branches and leaves from the nuts. After the almonds are gathered they are sent for shelling.  The hulls are sold for cattle feed helping to subsidize the cost of shelling the almonds.

Organic almonds are then frozen for 3 weeks to get rid of any pests and finally stored below 50 degrees to maintain freshness. In 2009 it was ruled that California almonds must be pasteurized after a salmonella breakout was traced back to almonds.  The almonds are put through a steam bath to prevent any bacteria from forming.

The drought and heat caused less nuts to grow on the Burroughs trees but they were larger in size than in past years. The Burroughs are lucky to be growing farther east in the San Joaquin Valley where there is still a good quantity and quality of water. The almond crop has declined for many growers in California this year because they require copious amounts of water.  We can expect to see prices for almonds continue to rise as long as water remains a concern.

Almonds are delicious, crunchy and good for you! They are heart healthy with no cholesterol or sodium, low in saturated fat and high in the antioxidant Vitamin E. Almonds provide energy with 6 grams of protein per ounce and 12 vitamins and minerals. Learn more about almond health and nutrition from The California Almond Board.

 

Fall Fruit Update

Even though California still feels like its summertime, the changes in seasonal produce are telling us that Fall is here. Stonefruit has said goodbye until next summer and beautiful Fairytale, Cinderella and Jack O’Lanterns are everywhere. Wonderful red California grown Pomegranates are in full swing and beautiful plump cranberries from Canada are here.

Wonderful Pomegranante Grower Paul Pafford. Fresno County, California

Wonderful Pomegranante Grower Paul Pafford. Fresno County, California

Winter citrus is on the horizon and Earl’s always anticipates the beginning of the Satsuma Mandarin season in November. California valencia oranges are your best bet now for juicing and will be around through at least the end of October depending on supply, demand and the weather. Even through California navel oranges start up in late October we don’t recommend eating them until the flavor is great which happens around the holiday season. Navels are best eaten out of hand and should only be juiced if enjoyed immediately because of the bitter compound Limonin found in the white pith.

A new crop of lemons is now coming out of the desert and looking beautiful! We can look forward to the volume coming on a little stronger as prices have already declined.

Ruby Grapefruits have finished up in the San Diego area earlier than usual due to the recent heat spikes. The extreme heat can cause the tree to drop their fruit and growers will pick earlier than normal for fear of losing more of their crop. We will have a small gap before the new crop of Marsh Ruby grapefruit starts up out of desert within the next week or so.

The fig season is winding down with the brown turkey variety essentially done and the black mission available sporadically.

Specialty grapes such as the large purple peony and concord grape are done for the season but we can continue to enjoy green and red seedless varieties hopefully up to the Thanksgiving holiday.

The small cute pop-able kiwi berries are done but we can look forward to a seamless transition from import Kiwis to California grown kiwis in the next few weeks.

Hopefully you were lucky enough to try a super sweet and smooth fleshed California Keitt mango before the season ended. We will be gapping on all mangos for 2-3 weeks until the Ecuador season starts up in early November with the small kidney shaped Ataulfos, followed by Tommy Atkin and Kent varieties.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and its time to ditch that canned cranberry jelly. Learn how to make an easy delicious homemade organic cranberry sauce in under 30 minutes, and discover how cranberries are grown and harvested in an upcoming blog. Follow us on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Youtube.

 

Hass Avocados Transition to Mexico

We may see pockets of California Hass avocados but we have officially moved into the Mexican Hass avocado season.  They will be young in maturity which equals lower flavor, lower oil and the possibility of inconsistent ripening.

Avocado maturity and ripeness are not the same thing.  The level of maturity is related to seasonality and it is often hard to tell when an avocado is mature enough to be harvested.  If your avocado has a rubbery texture instead of turning soft it is because the avocado was picked before it was mature. Other signs of immaturity are pockets of concaving and flesh clinging to the pit. What is mature at the beginning of the season will be different than the level of maturity later in the season. Hass avocados will develop a higher oil content a few months into the season bringing the higher flavor we have come to expect.  The skin on a more mature Hass avocado will lose some of its glossiness and become darker and the flesh will deepen slightly from yellow to gold. It will also slice beautifully and the seed coat will be thin and brown instead of fleshy and white.

Avocados ripen off the tree and the Hass will turn from green to a deep purple/black color during the ripening process. Look for big shoulders at the top of the avocado near the stem with a round or full shape.

Storage and Ripening Tips:

*Early season fruit will ripen around 60-65 degrees and the speed of ripening will depend on the maturity of the avocado and where it is grown.  Early season Mexican avocados can take anywhere from 5-7 days to ripen.

*To speed up the ripening process place the avocados in a paper bag with fruit that naturally give off ethylene such as bananas or apples.

*Do not store at low temperatures for long periods of time. This will cause “chill injury” and the flesh can become discolored.

We can expect to see Hass avocados coming from Peru and Chile during the winter season. In past years we have seen California Hass avocado season starting up again in the January/February time frame.  Continue to follow our blog for avocado updates.

Hurricane Odile Hits Baja California Sur

Hurricane Odile, a category 3 storm, landed Sunday night September 14 near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  Odile is the strongest hurricane to land in Baja California Sur since Hurricane Olivia in 1967 with winds over 125 mph. The southern area of Baja California was hit the hardest with strong winds and heavy rains. It is estimated that 92% of the population was left without power or water.

Odile caused mass flooding and damaged major infrastructure impacting many growers and causing numerous production and logistical issues.  Many main roads were submerged under flash flooding and greenhouses and other farm structures were damaged. Although is still too early to know exactly how this will affect supply over the next few months, we have seen a delay in the start of organic asparagus out of Baja California Sur.  Our first asparagus shipment is now scheduled to arrive next week and we can expect supply to be very limited and expensive right off the bat.

Growers are asking for your understanding as they work through this difficult time. As of yesterday Baja California Sur had 95% of their power and most of their water restored.  The rest of the Los Cabos area is expected to be operating normally by next week.  We will continue to update you as we know more.

Rider And Sons Jonagold Apple Is Simply The Best

If you want the best tasting Jonagold apple, look no further than Rider and Sons 5th generation apple orchardists. Rider is located in the small town of Freedom, along the Central Coast of California near Watsonville.  Jim Rider is in charge of the fields and his brother Dick Rider oversees the packing shed.  Their grandfather Homer was one of the pioneer fruit growers in the Watsonville area along the Central Coast in 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.

Jonagold (7)

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.

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