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Archive for 2014

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. Read our full blog here.

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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.

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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.

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