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Sweet California Grapes

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The strange weather this year, consisting of longer winter weather and heavy rains, has affected both wine grapes and table grapes resulting in a late harvest, fungal problems and a later arrival to markets. When the weather is continually damp and wet the grapes don’t have a chance for the moisture to dry out, resulting in mildew. Organic growers will use a dusting of sulfur to dry out the mildew. Unfortunately this can result in some scaring on the grapes and thinner skin which causes some grapes to rupture and split. This means a smaller crop of grapes and higher prices.

The average American consumes about 8 pounds of grapes a year and 98% of those come from California, where the warm climate grows the sweetest grapes. Grapes are always picked ripe and do not ripen off the vine. The harvest season for popular California grapes lasts the better part of a year, starting in the spring with grapes harvested in the Coachella Valley on the Northern shore of the Salton Sea. Summer table grapes can be found continuing north through the entire San Joaquin Valley.

Thompson Seedless grapes

Grapes have been around since biblical times, documented by its evidence in ancient relics from Egypt and Rome. In California and Mexico, Franciscan monks planted grafted European wine grape varieties to American rootstocks resulting in many of the varieties we now see in today’s markets. English settler William Thompson planted a Mediterranean grape called the “Oval Kishmish” near Yuba City north of Sacramento. This popular variety is now known as the Thompson Seedless.

There are over 60 varieties of grapes grown in the state of California. Some of the top green grapes include Thompson Seedless grapes which are one of the sweetest and are available through November, and the larger Princess grapes which are available through December. Autumn King green grapes from the Fresno area are twice as large as the Thompson Seedless and are picked starting the first part of October and you can buy them through the Christmas holidays. Although bigger in size, I have found that larger grapes don’t always mean sweeter flavor. Perlette’s are one of the beautiful early maturing grapes and larger than a Thompson Seedless with a white or amber hue, which means the grape is sweeter. For the few months out of the year that grapes are not grown in California, they can be found in local stores imported from the Southern Hemisphere, mostly from Chile.

Put grapes in your children’s lunch box, snack on a handful, mix them in a salad or freeze them in a tray and eat them like little popsicles. Studies on grapes have shown they are full of antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. What better reason do you need to snack on some grapes today?

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