April gives way to May:
The avocados are gems
and the grapes pristine

I don’t know about you, but I’m downright giddy over the arrival of two – soon to be three – beautiful days. April’s cold damp seemed to drag on forever. Now I can talk about May – about what’s in our markets and what great, fresh food is right around the corner. Shake out your reusable grocery bags – the fields and orchards are gearing up.

Gem Avocados

We received our first Gem avocados this week – just in time for Cinco de Mayo. What are Gem avocados, you ask? We likely have had a few of these mixed in with our Hass avocados over the past few years.  They are related to the Hass, but there haven’t been quite enough for growers to actually call out this variety. But this year, we can.

The Gem (which got its name from the initials of University of California researcher Grey E. Martin) is the great-grandchild to the Hass. It grows slightly larger in size and appears to have golden flecks on the skin while green or on the tree. They turn the same dark black color as they ripen, just like their grandparents. They also inherited their rich, creamy characteristics – just with a slightly smaller seed. The best thing about the Gem is that rich flesh easily separates from the skin, unlike the Hass, which can be difficult at times.  In fact, the Gem can nearly be peeled so there’s no wasting of its rich goodness.

The Gems grow in California, and are available for a short time. They’re early this year because the trees are young – the normal season is between August and December. This is going to be a good variety. We expect to see availability and production increase over the next few years as several other growers have added this variety to their orchards. We don’t have an organic option right now, but they’re on their way. I know of at least one grower who is growing these organically and expects to see some production in the next couple of years. I am sure there are others on that path.

According to an NPR report of a year ago, the Gem scored better than Hass on taste tests.

Green Grapes

pristine-grapes-green-2Some excellent varieties of red seedless grapes will hang on for another week or more, but after that we’re looking at a new crop of grapes from Mexico, followed by California sometime in May. New-crop grapes are nice to see, but honestly, you just can’t get a great eating experience with grapes until the better varieties arrive in late June.

In a nut shell, if you really like those Pristine grapes we have in the markets now, I wouldn’t wait to grab some. They’ll be gone before you know it and we won’t see this variety until California Pristines return in late August or even early September.

A footnote on organic grapes – you may have noticed they’ve been missing over the past few months. The trouble is that organically grown grapes just aren’t available from Chile over the winter and early spring.  We’ve tried to get them from South Africa in the past, but they don’t make that trip easily. Look for certified organic grapes to start out of Mexico and the USA sometime in May. But be patient, as the varieties get better as we move into summer.

Coachella Corn

Our longtime partner grower G&S Farms planted some acreage in Coachella Valley this year. This was clearly a missing for us last year. I’ve talked about G&S in the past and I still believe they’re the best sweet corn grower out there. We rely on Coachella Valley to produce during May and we have our first deliveries arriving this weekend.

We met with Glenn – the “G” in “G&S” – in February and asked that he grow more of the bi-color corn for us, which is our most popular corn by far. It’s hard to grow but so worth it. We’ve made a commitment to Glenn that if he grows it, we’ll support him through the Coachella and Brentwood, Calif., growing seasons. It gets very, very hot in Coachella Valley as we move through May, so Glenn tries to be done before it’s too hot and move to Brentwood the last week of May. It doesn’t always happen smoothly but he does his best. As always, white corn is the first variety out of any given growing area, followed by yellow and bi-color about a week later. And again, all the corn we offer in our markets is non-GMO.

Washington Asparagus

Asparagus

It’s baaaaaack …. Washington asparagus got off to a very slow start last week with all that cold weather. But this week’s little heat wave has really brought it on and, other than a short cool down over the weekend, next week looks to be warm as well. So look for both organic and conventional Washington-grown asparagus to be abundant in our markets over the next several weeks.

Horizon – Cherries and Berries

Cherry season is on the horizon. We expect California to kick it off in our markets as early as Mother’s Day (May 13). We evaluate each variety as it comes off the tree, and wait for those that eat well. That’s why you may not see cherries in our markets as early as some others. As soon as we have confidence in the eating quality, you’ll see them in a big way in all our markets.

The bad news is that California’s cold, wet weather in March affected the pollination during the bloom, so reports are stating the crop could be less than half of normal. This means big fruit, but also high demand on a short supply. Rest assured we’ll be looking for the biggest and best available, as always.

Washington cherries have completed their bloom in the south and will peak in bloom over the next couple weeks in the north. So far so good on the bloom. Look for the first Washington cherries to arrive early in June.

Finally, a short berry update. We’re at the peak of California’s crop and on the brink of being able to get our blueberries from California, too. Expect California blueberries to peak in the second half of May, and Oregon blueberries to start in early June. Local strawberries are tracking well right now and I expect them to start sometime between Memorial Day and the first week in June. We are going to take a look at an Oregon grower this year so we may have Northwest-grown strawberries a little sooner as well as later in August with that grower’s Albion variety.

I just visited Sterino Farms in Sumner and looked at his blackberries, raspberries, tayberries, currants and gooseberries. The fields look great and are just beginning to produce foliage. Jake Sterino and his team have worked all winter long cultivating and tying the berry vines so expertly that they look like art on a grand scale. It’s going to be a great year for Sterino berries!

In fact, I’m really looking forward to the entire local berry season, but especially to the Obsidian blackberry! This is an awesome variety that is big and sweet with relatively small seeds. And it’s the first blackberry variety to arrive along with the golden raspberry and tayberries. All of those are early varieties are here and gone in a flash – so keep a close watch as June unfolds.

Have a great week and Happy Mother’s Day to all those wonderful mothers! – Joe

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