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Archive for April, 2014

Farm Visit to Asparagus Grower Coastal View Produce

Beautiful green stalks of asparagus can grow an amazing 6 to 10 inches in a day. A small group from Earl’s Purchasing, Sales, Marketing and Quality Control departments visited Coastal View Produce to see exactly what an asparagus farm looks like. CVP is located in Gonzales, CA about 2 hours south of San Francisco.

Asparagus field

Rows of asparagus stalks extend far into the distance.

Brian Violini, a third generation farmer has been growing delicious organic asparagus in the Salinas Valley for over 40 years. His grandfather, a Swiss Immigrant, worked on a dairy farm in Salinas valley back in 1918 when he was just 20 years old. “I can remember being 10 years old and pulling weeds and moving sprinklers for my grandfather,” says Violini, who now runs Coastal View Produce with his brother. “The main thing we’re known for is asparagus,” says Violini. “We started with organic asparagus, when I was in high school.” Violini attributes the consistent high quality of his crop to the mild Salinas weather in the winter and spring. “It’s not too hot, not too cold—it stays around 65–75 degrees.

Michael Stewart and Jacob Levy- Sales Associates, Robert Lichtenberg Director of Purchasing and Brian Violini from CVP

Michael Stewart and Jacob Levy- Sales Associates, Robert Lichtenberg Director of Purchasing and Brian Violini from CVP

Our tour started off as we piled into Brian’s truck and headed out to the fields for a look. As far as the eye could see were rows of asparagus. These particular fields were at least 6 years old which means that the plants can be harvested multiply times during the season which runs from March to June.  A younger plant will be harvested a shorter time so the plant can store energy from the sun and have a better production the following year.  A plant is never harvested from the same cut.  A new stalk will grow from a new “eye” of the crown.

Asparagus crown www.rochedalecommunitygarden.net.au

Asparagus crown

The lifecycle of an asparagus plant starts from the crown that is planted a few inches deep in the ground.  The crown can grow up to a few feet long over the life of the plant, which can last up to 12 years in a commercial farm setting.  The first year is a waiting game as the crown establishes itself in the ground. The second year the plants may be harvested only once or twice. Then they will be allowed to go to fern to produce chlorophyll to grow the crown.  The older the plants are the longer the crowns become and the wider the rows of dirt are in the field.  At the end of each season the plants go to fern to replenish the nutrients for the following year’s production.

Crowns can grow a foot long

Crowns can grow a foot long


Asparagus Ferns

Workers will strap baskets to their waist and using a sharp knife cut asparagus from the base of the stalk. Once the baskets are filled they will empty them and start over. From the field the asparagus is brought in bins to the packing shed where they are rinsed, trimmed, sorted by size and then packed in neat bundles. The size of the spears comes from the age of the plant and is a personal preference. The youngest plants produce the skinny stalks. The thicker spears from older plants are said to be more succulent because they contain higher levels of carbohydrates. You decide, but make sure to look for blemish free asparagus with tightly closed tips and avoid wilted looking stalks.

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 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.

Asparagus pizza

Pizza topped with raw asparagus

English Peas

English Peas are also called Pod Peas, Garden Peas or Shelling Peas.  The waxy fibrous pod is not edible and must be shelled.  Snap off one end of the pod, unzip both sides and then shuck the peas into a bowl. They are best eaten right out of the shell or lightly cooked.

Read the full blog here about English Peas and Sugar Snap Peas.

English Peas



English Peas and Sugar Snap Peas

Nothing says spring like fresh English and Sugar Snap peas.  English Peas are also called Pod Peas, Garden Peas or Shelling Peas.  The waxy fibrous pod is not edible and must be shelled.  Snap off one end of the pod, unzip both sides and then shuck the peas into a bowl. They are best eaten right out of the shell or lightly cooked.

Choose peas that are shiny and firm with brightly-colored pods that feel swollen and heavy. They should be eaten soon after buying because they lose their sweet taste and nutritional value quickly.  English peas are low in fat and calories but rich in protein. They can keep for up to five days when stored in a paper bag in the coldest part of the refrigerator. One pound of peas will only yield about 1 cup of shelled peas so buy more than you think you will need.  I like mixing lightly steamed peas and asparagus with fresh thyme from my front porch, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Simply delicious.


English Pea Flower

Plump Sugar Snap Peas are completely edible but they do have a membranous string running along the top of the pod that should be removed before eating, in a process called “stringing.” Sugar Snap Peas have a satisfying crunch and can be eaten raw or lightly cooked.  The trick is to not overcook them or they will become mushy. Blanch them for 30 seconds and then stir fry just long enough to heat them up until they turn a bright glossy green. This helps to retain the crispness and the sweet flavor.

Sugar Snap Peas are best when the pod begins to thicken a little, but before the peas grow large. When they are ready to be picked, the pods will snap much like a bean. Look for fat and full pods with a uniform green color.  Store then in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator and cook as soon as possible.

Sugar Snap pea

Sugar Snap Pea tower

Earl’s California English Peas and Sugar Snap Peas are coming from various growers including T.D.Willey Farms in Madera, Tutti Frutti in Santa Barbara County and Las Hermanas in Hollister. Tom and Denesse Willey follow the four seasons of the mild Mediterranean climate to produce a year-round palette of bountiful vegetable production. Chris Cadwell from Tutti Frutti Farms has been growing organically for over 25 years and he suggests eating English Peas simply raw. Las Hermanas is a relatively new grower for Earl’s. They are a family run farm and grow a variety of vegetables year round.  For more information on the growers we source from please check out our growers map on our website.

Dragon Tongue Radishes

NOW at Earl’s Organics! Chinese dragon tongue radishes are long and skinny with a bright white flesh. At first taste they seem rather mild but the spiciness increases with each bite. Perfectly delicious to snack on or cut up and add to a salad. Look for radish bunches with fresh greens and no signs of wilting. Eat them as soon as possible or they will lose their crunch. Limited quantities available!





First Time- Organic Young Coconuts!


Organic young coconuts from Mexico are now at Earl’s for the first time! Young coconuts are harvested at the optimum time when they are overflowing with coconut water.  As coconuts mature the water is absorbed and the flesh becomes thicker. Young coconuts are lined with a soft and creamy flesh that is full of antioxidants.  Christie Biddle, Fruit Buyer at Earl’s, loves to throw the flesh into a smoothie for added creaminess.

Coconut water is low in calories and full of vitamins and minerals. It contains lauric acid, chloride, iron and is chock full of electrolytes including potassium, magnesium and calcium. Coconut water has become very popular to drink after exercise to help rehydrate the body.  Research has also shown coconut water to help with digestive problems, high blood pressure and increase your good cholesterol (HDL).

Choose a young coconut that feels heavy for its size which indicates it is full of water.  Don’t be intimidated by cutting open the coconut. No need for a machete! You can use a simple chef’s knife to follow these easy steps.


young coconuts #1

Easy steps to open a young coconut


#1 Trim excess husk from pointed top of coconut.

#2 With the bottom edge of your knife, strike the coconut towards the top.

#3 Continue to strike the coconut around the top until you have reached your starting place.

#4 Lift the lid, pour out the water. Scrape out the creamy coconut flesh and eat.


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