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First Day of Spring Brings Rhubarb

Beautiful red stalks of Rhubarb are here!  Rhubarb is a perennial plant and is often thought to be a fruit but it is actually a close relative of the garden sorrel and a member of the vegetable family.   Its medicinal uses have been recorded in history since ancient China.

Rhubarb leaves grow from the ground in early spring.  The stalks can grow up to 18 inches long but don’t eat the green leaves of the plant, they are highly poisonous!  Rhubarb’s crisp sour stalks are rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber and calcium.  How do you like to eat your Rhubarb? Click here for 45 delicious recipes from Martha Stewart.

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What’s Up With Apples?

There is a shortage of apples this year with supplies from California down slightly and the Pacific Northwest remaining fairly flat.  A couple of factors are at play including a continued increased demand for specific apple varieties such as the Honeycrisp and Pink Lady, and a cycle of production that seems to rise and fall every few years as issues arise. Think 10 years ago when the Pacific Northwest committed to increase acreage in organic production that saw prices stabilize rather than continued high pricing.  Now there is less acreage due to the high cost of farming and apple trees are also at risk for fire blight, a destructive bacterial disease that kills blossoms, shoots, limbs, and, sometimes, entire trees.

Early Fuji (2)

The current domestic supply of apples is dwindling as less Controlled Atmosphere (CA) rooms are being opened.  We are left with obtaining only the sizes and grades of apples available until the first varieties of import apples arrive in April. Galas, Granny Smith and Braeburns will start off the season and imports will continue into late July/early August when the first California Gravensteins are harvested.

For the full story on apples listen to Earl’s “What’s In Season” update this weekend on An Organic Conversation. The main topic of the show will be “Cooking for One: Enjoying the Pleasure of Your Own Company.”

Black Knight Carrots

Black Knight carrots from Tutti Frutti Farms in Buellton, Santa Barbara County have a beautiful deep purple colored skin with creamy yellow/orange colored flesh. Black Knights are crunchy with a bit of spice. The deep color means they are high in anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that have been found to have possible health benefits including anti-cancer, anti-inflammation and pain reduction.

Black Knight Tutti (2)Black Knight Tutti (1)

We blanched, steamed and roasted the Black Knight carrots to see if the colors would hold. The purple color held through all the cooking methods but the creamy interior did not “pop” as much when blanched or steamed. Earl’s employee Daniel recommends eating them raw and cutting them into carrot coins, shredding or peeling them for a beautiful addition to a salad.

 

Tropical Fruit

What better time to talk about tropical fruit than in the middle of citrus season and before stone fruit season starts.  Pineapples, Mangos and Cherimoyas come to the top of our mind. 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. Please post your suggestions on our Facebook.

Organic pineapples are available year round although supply can be affected at times by heavy rains.  The main areas of production are Costa Rica, Mexico and Hawaii.  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 to buy a fancy gadget to remove the core. 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.

pineapple

Cherimoyas are one of my favorite unusual tropical fruits. Cherimoyas are conical or heart shaped green fruit covered in scallops on the surface of the skin.  The flesh is white and creamy and dotted with nickel sized large black seeds. The seeds are toxic so make sure to pick them out!  The California variety flavor has suggestions of mangos, pineapples, banana, papaya, strawberries and vanilla custard. Cherimoyas are grown in California from Santa Barbara all the way down to San Diego.

Look for firm, unripe fruit that are heavy for their size and let them ripen at room temperature out of the sunlight.  Cherimoyas are a delicate tropical fruit and should be treated with care so they don’t bruise. The flesh will yield to gentle pressure and the skin will turn slightly brown as it becomes ripe.  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.  The simplest way to eat a cherimoya is to scoop out the flesh with a spoon but my favorite way is to cut it in half, wrap it in plastic and put it in the freezer. When you scoop it out it is creamy like ice cream. 

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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.

Cut ataulfo

Ataulfo

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. The sweet flavor and smooth flesh of the Kent mango makes them worth seeking out.  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.

Kent mangos 2

Kent Mango

For the full story on tropical fruit listen to Earl’s “What’s In Season” update this weekend on An Organic Conversation. The main topic of the show will be “Allergies: What’s Your Reaction?” You can catch all of Earl’s produce updates on the AOC website or by downloading the podcasts on Itunes.

Nagami Kumquat

What citrus is small enough to pop in your mouth?  If you guessed a kumquat you’re correct!

Kumquats are a unique member of the citrus family and are thought to come from China.  The two main varieties of kumquats are the sweet and tart oval shaped Nagami and the sweet round Meiwa.  There are many other varieties of kumquats and hybrid kumquats including the Limequat, Orangequat and Yuzquat. Today let’s take a closer look at the Nagami kumquat.

The versatile bite sized Nagami kumquat is small and fun to eat.  They don’t need to be peeled which makes them perfect for snacking.  Their sweet flavor comes from the rind and the tartness is in the flesh. The inch long Nagami is completely edible including the seeds.  You are in for a powerful sensory experience as the ZING of the sourness hits your taste buds and your mouth puckers up.

Nagami heart cropped

Nagami heart

 

How to eat a kumquat:

Let the fruit come to room temperature and then gently rub the kumquat between the palms of your hand to get the juices and oil going, releasing the amazing citrus fragrance. Pop them in your mouth and enjoy!

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Christie, Susan and Kathy rub kumquats between their hands.

 

My new favorite way to eat them this year is to slice them up and add them to a quinoa salad made with yogurt and your favorite veggies. Put the filling in a toasted wheat pita and you have a healthy lunch.

Kumquats can be hard to find at times but worth searching out. California leads the nation in production.  Northern San Diego County is where many farms focus on specialty crops such as kumquats but they can be found growing as far north as Placerville, north of Sacramento.

Nagami kumquats will be special the week of March 3rd. Get them while they are in season!

Murcott Update

Remember that freeze back in December?  Here is another chapter in the ongoing story.  Some of the areas hit hardest by the freeze were Fresno and Kern Counties in the San Joaquin Valley.  Unfortunately freeze damage is not always apparent right away and sometimes it takes weeks for the damage to show up. The freezing cold weather causes the liquid inside the cells of the fruit to freeze, cracking the cells and drying out the piece of fruit leaving it with little juice and poor flavor. The fruit that survived the freeze has a beautiful orange peel and is juicy with a rich, sweet flavor.

As the weather continues to warm up, Rick Schellenberg from Schellenberg Farms in Reedley, Fresno County has begun to distinguish the damaged fruit from the good fruit. Rick looks for three main items when separating the bad from the good fruit:

  • Indentations in the skin indicating dehydration.
  • Ice marks that form on the outside of the fruit leave rough spots and scratches. This could mean internal damage.
  • A dried out cavity. He tests for this by gently applying pressure to the fruit and looking for give in some areas and not in others.

 

Rick waited over a month to let the fruit dry out after the damage had been done.  His next step is to use a sorting machine to separate out the bad fruit.  An infrared light looks through the fruit and distinguishes if there is consistent moisture present, indicating a good piece of fruit. The problem is that there could still be 100% moisture content showing up on the machine for a piece of fruit with a damaged cavity that hasn’t dried out completely.  Sorting the fruit will be a struggle and time consuming process, delaying the start of his Murcotts by at least a week or two. We can expect to receive our first Schellenberg Murcott shipment sometime in early March.

Murcott Tangerine

Murcott

Buyers should be aware that this sorting process is not 100% fool proof and there is a possibility that some of the damaged pieces of fruit could slip through the cracks. Avoid uneven puffy fruit that is firm on one side and soft on the other.  A good piece of fruit should feel heavy for its size which means it is full of juice. I bought a case of mandarins last week and when I was juicing them I noticed one piece of fruit that was as light as a feather with puffy skin that sunk in when I applied pressure.  I was not surprised when I peeled it open and the fruit was completely dried out. The rest of the case was simply delicious and I continue to enjoy a fresh glass of juice each morning.

Continue to follow our website and Facebook for an announcement on when the Murcotts officially arrived at Earl’s.

Fremont Tangerines

Fremont Tangerines are actually Mandarins and are a cross between a sweet, rich and aromatic Clementine and a mildly sweet and aromatic Ponkan mandarin.  Slices of the Fremont Tangerine decorated Earl’s Kitchen table this morning.

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Earl’s employees described the Fremont as having a “well-balanced sweet and tangy flavor”, “deep orange citrus flavor” and “mildly sweet, juicy and refreshing.”  Fruit can vary in size from small to medium, usually contains seeds and is very easy to peel. The season will continue into early spring this year because the lack of rain has caused the fruit to size up slower and be harvested later.

Fremonts are perfect eaten out of hand but also pair well with sweet and savory dishes like an Apple Avocado salad with tangerine dressing, Thai Beef with a Tangerine Sauce and for dessert substitute Fremont Tangerine juice for lemons in this delicious muffin recipe.

 

Off Season Berries

It has been an interesting off season for berries on the West Coast.  Usually the cold winter weather knocks out the berries around November but this year there was no interruption due to the mild coastal temperatures and low rainfall in Mexico’s Baja region and Oxnard, Ca. This year’s drought produced the largest “off” early season ever.

Strawberries hardly stopped production and continue to be in good supply. Raspberries don’t have much acreage planted so that supply is always tight and imports are scarce.

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Blueberries had some drama as the Chilean blueberries had certain growing areas affected by the European Grapevine Moth and required fumigation, eliminating those berries from being sold as organic. The moth is considered a threat to the U.S. crops and all efforts are being made to prevent it from spreading. Typically the Chilean blueberry crop ends at the end of March but we anticipate it ending a month early this year.

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The domestic blueberry crop has grown in winter and early spring as hoop tunnel cultivation in micro-climates has expanded.  There were a sufficient supply of blueberries that survived the early December freeze with reasonable prices. That winter production is waning now but late April will herald the next summer crop.

Catch Earl’s “What’s In Season” this weekend on An Organic Conversation with a full update on off season berries.  The main topic of the show is “Camino de Santiago: A Walk to Remember”.  If you miss the weekend radio show you can always download the podcast.

Tango Mandarin

NEW at Earl’s! The Tango Mandarin is the offspring of the late variety W. Murcott, with the same flavor profile but seedless. The Tango like the Murcott has thin fragrant golden orange pebbled skin which is fairly easy to peel. The flesh is bright orange, rich, juicy and sweet. It is the perfect juicing mandarin!

Earl’s Tango Mandarins are coming from Homegrown Organic Farms in Porterville, CA about an hour north of Bakersfield.

Tango, Murcott no seeds

Celebrating Valentine’s Week

Let’s celebrate Valentine’s all week long with some of nature’s most beautiful pink and red fruit.

The Cara Cara pink navel is one of my favorite citrus to eat out of hand.  Cara Cara’s are usually seedless and the reddish pink color will intrigue your guests.  The sweet flavor is at its peak in February and although it typically goes through March, we anticipate the season ending earlier this year due to the low volumes coming out of the California freeze. Cara Cara’s like navels should not be juiced because of the natural occurring bitter chemical limonin. Earl’s Cara Cara’s are coming from Home Grown Organic Farms in Porterville, CA about an hour north of Bakersfield.

Fun Fact: Did you know that the outside of the Navel and Cara Cara blossom end looks like a human navel?

Cropped Cara Cara

Ruby grapefruits require high heat for the flesh to develop a beautiful pink blush. Earl’s Ruby’s are grown in the warm region of Coachella in Southern California. They are juicy, contain very little seeds, are easy to peel and available from November to March.  I love a simple salad of grapefruit and avocado drizzled with macadamia nut oil and chopped macadamia nuts.

Ruby Grapefuit cropped

Are you looking for something unusual to impress your date on Valentine’s Day? Not only are Blood Oranges incredibly aromatic but the stunning reddish purple color adds a splash of color to any salad and makes a beautiful mimosa or cocktail.  For a fun appetizer place slices of blood orange on a plate and top with dates and goat cheese drizzled with sherry vinegar and olive oil.

Blood Orange The Moro variety is the most popular with flesh that ranges from light organish red to a dark purple the longer it stays on the tree.

The Moro variety is the most commonly found in the supermarket because it develops the most consistent red flesh color when it at its peak flavor. The red flesh color varies in intensity depending on the variety, location where the trees are grown and the degree of fruit maturity. Earl’s Blood Oranges are from Stehly Farms in Bonsall, CA in San Diego County where the hot days and cold nights bring out the best flavor.

Last but not least we have the most popular fruit on Valentine’s Day.  Beautiful red juicy strawberries are fantastic on their own, dipped in chocolate or delicious mixed in a salad with walnuts. Strawberries are the only fruit with the seeds on the outside of the fruit and the average strawberry contains over 200 seeds.  Strawberries are at the top of the dirty dozen list of produce containing the most pesticides so be sure to buy them organically!

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