I just got back from Sakuma Brothers Berry farm near Mount Vernon yesterday. Richard Sakuma expects an early start to this year’s strawberry season. With this incredible and unusual warm weather trend this week and over the next several days he thinks we could have fruit as early as the May 20!
Until then, here are some other great-tasting fruits and veggies you might want to try.
New crop New Zealand Kiku and Gala apples arrive in the markets later this week. New Zealand provides us with sweet, crisp apples well into the summer months thanks to its being in the opposite hemisphere.
While we support the Northwest region as long as possible, there are some apple varieties that become inconsistent in texture after extended storage. The Gala happens to be one of those apples that harvests very early in the fall of the year and therefore risks becoming mealy as we move into April and May.
Washington asparagus continues to come on SLOWWWWWWLY … The cold nights over the past couple of weeks are just not helping! Cold nights mean cool ground temperatures, which slows growth and reduces supply. When demand exceeds supply, cost remains high. The good news is that the slower growth and cooler temps mean sweeter flavor. And those cool nights cannot last forever. The long-range forecast is for warmer weather so we should see promotional opportunities soon. We also are glad to report the recent arrival of Washington-grown organic asparagus from Inaba Farms of Wapato in the Yakima Valley....
What a great citrus season we have had over the past couple of months – the variety, taste and eating quality has been excellent! Now that we are moving into the second half of April, many of the varieties are winding down fast.
The grapefruit from Florida and Texas is still outstanding, as are the other citrus varieties; but this will not last much longer. Three-pound bags of late-season Nugget mandarins are set to arrive next week. This fruit is grown and packed by the same growers that brought us the Sumo Mandarins – which we all loved and that we have to wait another year to get!
First-of-the-season Washington asparagus arrives this week and this year’s early harvest seems to be sweeter than ever. There is still asparagus in the market from both Mexico and California, but in keeping with our commitment to move closer to home as the seasons unfold, we have made the move north. We are working with Columbia Valley growers for our asparagus – the same growers who produce our Washington-grown pickled asparagus and green beans, which customers have loved. Hopefully, as the Northwest growing season progresses, Mother Nature will cooperate and we’ll be able to bring you some special values on those in the coming weeks.
Vidalia sweet onions arrive this coming week – a clear sign that summer is just around the corner. Vidalias are a variety of onion accidentally discovered in the 1930s in Georgia, where they are now the official state vegetable, and they’re celebrated by chefs as sweet, flavorful, and mild. These onions are even protected by the federal government, and legally, they can only be grown in a 20-county region of Southern Georgia (people do try to get around the law, and people are caught – in 2001 a Florida produce company was fined $400,000 for putting Vidalia labels on Peruvian onions).
Sadly, this was the last week for growers to harvest this year’s Sumo Mandarin crop. But don’t despair quite yet – we managed to secure enough fruit to extend the season for a short period longer. I hope to have Sumos available in the markets through the Easter holiday. But beware – when we run out it will be February 2014 before we see this fruit again!
Iceberg and Romaine lettuce are still a challenge! The supply remains very tight thanks to the damage that was done by several winter weather events in Arizona over the past couple months. It is just too late to recover and relief is not expected until we can make the move to buying California lettuce in early April. At least early April is right around the corner.
We’re only three weeks away from the first day of spring!
The other good news is that you really can’t go wrong with just about any citrus items this month. February and March offer the peak of flavor when it comes to citrus. The crazy-popular sumo mandarin orange hit the markets a few weeks ago and they’ve been flying out ever since! This fruit is sweet, easy to peel and seedless. That great mandarin aroma you smell as you peel it sets the stage for a great eating experience.
All grapefruit tastes great right now, but this weekend we have the melogold grapefruit from Rising C Ranch in California – at a great value – and it’s simply outstanding! This fruit is a cross between a white grapefruit and a pummelo (or pomelo) and could possibly be the sweetest grapefruit in the market today. I recommend peeling this fruit and removing the pulp segments from the membrane to get the full sweetness of the fruit. It’s only available for a very limited time, so please don’t wait on this one. As I write this, I’m not certain we can get more of this fruit.
The cara cara oranges are fantastic! This orange was originally discovered at the Hacienda de Cara Cara in Venezuela in 1976, and its origins were a bit unclear, leading some people to classify them as a mutation rather than a true cross – but then, navel oranges are themselves a mutation. By the 1980s, cara cara oranges had reached the United States, although they were only available in specialty markets. This orange has since become so popular it is now mainstream and available in most high-quality fresh markets. As in any navel orange, this fruit tastes best January through March and we offer them conventionally grown or certified organic – your choice.
Hass avocados continue to be excellent quality at great value! We will begin the process of transitioning from Mexico to California over the next few weeks as the season winds down in Mexico and the oil content improves in California. It’s the oil content in the Hass that gives it that smooth, creamy texture and flavor. We want to make sure the oil content is right before we make the move to California. ...
When we talked Jan. 7, the onset of an Arizona freeze was bringing predictions of doom and gloom to the winter veggie crop. And since then, we’ve had a wild ride with short supply, quality issues and rising costs for bagged salad, lettuce and row crop vegetables in general.
But now, into the second week of February, nearly everything has recovered with the exception of the lettuce category. We expect to see the supply steadily improve and costs slowly drop in lettuce over the next few weeks while we transition from the winter growing area into the new spring areas in California. The good news is that supply and quality are back on track in most other row crops as the Santa Maria growing area fills in the gap created by the Arizona freeze!
The best news of all is the arrival of the Sumo Mandarin this week. The Sumo made its first appearance in our markets last year and it was so popular that this year’s crop couldn’t come soon enough! We expect to see the kind of volume over the next several weeks that will allow us to really promote them, but don’t wait or you may miss out. This is a relatively short season and the opportunity to enjoy this fruit will be over as we move into April.
The story of the Sumo mandarin involves smugglers, secrets and – importantly – sweetness.
In 1972, a government fruit research station in Japan developed a hybrid mandarin that was sweeter and larger than any other mandarin orange in existence. Named Dekopon, its rugged skin and big bump at the top was initially a turn-off for Japanese consumers. But by the 1990s, they were paying up to $10 apiece for this extraordinarily flavorful fruit.
Because of the potential risk to American farms, Dekopon budwood – branches that could graft new trees – could not be brought into the United States legally without being quarantined and cleaned of exotic pests and diseases. Nonetheless, it was smuggled into California by a some people who could not resist the potential fortune to be had in this obscure citrus. In one instance, a company illegally propagated a large grove in the San Joaquin Valley. In 2000, the trees were discovered to be infected with a dangerous citrus virus and the orchard was burned to the ground....
Well, 2012 is behind us and we are all still here! I hope everyone had a great holiday season and wish you a great New Year – here are a few fresh items that arrive this month to help get 2013 off to a tasty start!
Virtually all the citrus fruits from California and Florida taste exceptionally great right now (didn’t I promise last month that the best was yet to come for citrus?). Much of the citrus harvested before January meets minimum sugar requirements as set by the US Department of Agriculture, but minimum doesn’t always mean it’s sweet and full of flavor. Now that we are in January, most of those citrus fruits now exceed minimum sugar requirements and have become the “peak season” varieties that eat the very best. Look for great values and flavor across all our citrus varieties now through March!
Just a few stand-out items this month are the Heirloom Navels, Cara Cara Oranges, Clementine Mandarins and Florida pink grapefruit. Items on the horizon and coming soon are the Tahoe Mandarin Oranges, Minneolas, Page mandarins and, finally, the long-awaited Sumo mandarins, which will arrive mid-February!
New crop California strawberries have arrived! Both supply and flavor will continue to improve over the next few weeks. Some of the best-tasting strawberries from California will arrive during January, February and March.
Imported Chilean blueberries are finally coming in after a much later-than-normal start. Over the next several weeks, we should see the kind of quality and volume that will allow me to offer them at a great value. In the past, we’ve had to stretch the Chilean blueberry season through the month of March with fruit that had been in storage. But looking out further for this year, we can point to our relationship with Family Tree Farms in California to solve that problem. They started producing blueberries in Mexico last year, so we’ll be able to make the move to Mexico-grown blueberries much sooner than in years past – and it will be a fresher berry. We brought in these berries for the first time last year, and we heard from customers that this variety – proprietary to Family Tree Farms – was excellent tasting, large, firm and sweet. Some customers even commented that they may have been the best berries of the year! I will keep you updated on this crop as we move closer to March....
Well, Christmas is just about upon us! Everyone is ready right? We’re well stocked with the usual suspects – and their distant cousins – to meet your holiday needs.
We have an excellent selection of seedless satsumas from Rising C Ranch of California’s Central Valley. You’ll notice these satsumas have the steam and leaves still attached – so you can know it was just recently picked and be sure it’s the freshest and best tasting fruit available.
The entire citrus fruit category finally tastes the way it really should. The grapefruit from Florida and Texas are simply awesome. The Cara Cara oranges are arriving as we speak with the heirloom navel oranges set to arrive next week (perfect for the toe of that stocking, Santa!). And you’ll be glad to know that as far as citrus is concerned, the best is yet to come. I am looking forward to an outstanding season as we move into the New Year.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First we do have to make it through the holidays. Check out our new fresh-made party trays in the Produce Markets. The Veggie Tray is made with the freshest vegetables available and is complete with our own special Ranch Dressing for dipping.
The Fruit tray comes with a fabulous lemon yogurt dip that really tastes great and the Black Bean Nacho Tray is made with “Better Beans” brand black beans and our own Pico de Gallo. It has just the right amount of kick to give it character. All these trays – made for us to our standards and delivered fresh and frequently – are on special Dec. 19-Jan. 1. That should ease the load a bit!...
Wow! How time flies by. Just a few short weeks ago it was sunny and 80 degrees – then a short vacation and a busy week or two and Thanksgiving is upon us.
The markets are ready with all the traditional trimmings such as fresh cranberries, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, asparagus, fresh herbs, winter squashes, yams and sweet potatoes – in both conventional and organic, of course.
Check out the new ready-to-cook items in our cut vegetable section. We have created a few new items that are all about convenience and freshness – most of the upfront work has been done for you. Just add your favorite seasonings and bake or roast. All are cut to order, packed in oven-ready containers and delivered to the markets the very next morning by a trusted provider who is very aware of our high standards.
The choices for this week are Brussels sprout halves, two-inch cubed garnet yams, five-inch cut asparagus spears and fresh butternut squash cubes. Just splash on a little olive oil and salt and pepper to taste and you’re good to go!
A new crop of blueberries from Argentina and Chile arrived this week. I know Argentina and Chile are a long way away, but Thanksgiving without fresh blueberries would be a shame. We also took the opportunity to freeze some of the Northwest wild huckleberries ahead of time, so look for those in the cut fruit section in our Produce Markets. The supply is sadly limited so I apologize in advance if we run short (and urge you to get them while they last!).
This week we are starting to see the first arrivals of Mini Me Satsuma Mandarins from Rising C Ranch in California, a family farm with a mission statement that includes a commitment to such things as, “… the fruit we pack consistently meets the highest standard of quality, freshness and seasonality. To treat those who work with us the dignity and respect that they deserve and to provide them a safe, clean and healthy environment to work in,” as well as commitments to food safety and stewardship of the land....
I think our Northwest fall has finally arrived now that we’re seeing some good, old-fashioned rain. Love that cool, fresh air in the mornings.
The recent rain is expected to inspire the chanterelle mushrooms to finally start sprouting. Much of the forest lands where these beauties are harvested have been closed due to the extreme fire hazard caused by our record dry spell. Of course it didn’t matter much since the lack of rain was keeping those mushrooms from growing anyway!
Now that the statewide burn ban was been lifted over this past weekend, most timber company and forest lands have reopened to allow access for picking. Now all we need is a little time for the little guys to pop up. I anticipate opportunities to offer chanterelle mushrooms at a good value very soon, possibly for the week of Halloween.
Mixed Mushroom Soup is our Featured Recipe this week – complete with a picture, serving suggestions and tips from our culinary coordinator at the Poulsbo store. A great way to use these mushrooms for sure!...