California flooding during the second half of February interrupted the citrus and strawberry harvests so it has taken some hard work by our partner buyers to wade through those interruptions and find high-quality fruit for our markets.
The past several days, we’ve moved on to organic strawberries out of Arizona to escape the flooded fields and poor quality fruit we’re finding in California. We are starting to see some drying and warmer temperatures in the area, so we are hoping to see both supply and quality of California berries improve over the coming days.
Unfortunately, the bad news isn’t confined to berries. Basically, the damage is done for virtually all row-crop vegetables out of California for the foreseeable future. In a normal spring, we rely on California to bridge the gap as we transition from the winter growing areas of Mexico and Arizona – typically in early June. It has been so wet off and on in California that planting cycles have been interrupted, which will create gaps over the next three months. What did get planted, if it survived the flooding at all, likely will have quality challenges. We are committed to finding the best quality at all times and while this will be a challenge in the short term, we’re confident in the expertise of our partner buyers and growers to weed out the bad and find the good.
Speaking of the Northwest season, you may remember the early starts we experienced over the past few years. This year looks to be more normal. To give you an idea of what that looks like, let’s talk about red raspberries from Sterino Farms in the Puyallup Valley. Last year, Jake Sterino’s Northwest variety berries arrived around June 10. I just met with Jake Friday and he thinks we most likely will not see any berries from him until the first week of July. Jake said that last year the berry canes were already budding by now and this year they are still fully dormant with no signs of spring buds anytime soon. Keep in mind that early July is the normal start time for variety berries from Puyallup. This actually may be a good thing this year. Over the last several years with crops coming and going in what seemed like condensed shorter season windows, I think we will see a steady Northwest season spread out over a little longer period. I could be wrong, but that’s what it looks like at this point.
A few things happening right now:
· Citrus: Sumo mandarin oranges are at their peak of flavor right now and the grower expects good volume through the end of March. The Tango mandarin also has been excellent, but it’s done for the year. Nugget mandarins arrive this week – our last mandarin of the California season. The Nugget is a great variety that eats exceptionally well. In fact, I’d say you can’t go wrong with any of the citrus in our markets right now – regardless of California’s weather challenges.
· Blueberries: We are loading a new crop of Mexico-grown blueberries as we speak and expect them to arrive in our markets by Monday morning, March 13. Believe it or not, Mexico blueberries are a relatively new option. Just a few years ago this berry did not exist and with the California crop still more than four weeks away, we would have had to stay with Chilean fruit that had been in storage – not the best eating experience – or none at all. With the investment in blueberries in Mexico by, in many cases, California growers, we now have an option for fruit that is about 2,500 miles closer to home and eats great. Again we will move to California fruit as soon as possible followed by Oregon and Washington in late June.
· Grapes: Seedless grapes are now coming into the best varieties and eating quality of the offshore season. This week we have the Seedless Green Globe, Red Jacks Salute and Black Autumn varieties. These are extra-large, very sweet and crispy. For me, the crispy texture of these grapes makes all the difference in the eating experience. We have about six to eight weeks ahead of us where some of the best eating seedless grapes of the year will come and go.
· Tomatoes: Have you tried the organic ‘Tasti-Lee’ brand slicing tomatoes yet? I believe this is the best tasting slicing tomato in the markets. Finally we have a tomato that tastes like a tomato in the winter.
· Mangos: Last but not least, Champagne mangos are here! This Ataulfo mango is kidney shaped with a golden yellow exterior and bright yellow flesh interior (the grower we feel is the best has chosen to call his ‘Champagne mangos’). When ripe and at room temperature, this mango has a sweet smell and a slight wrinkling of the skin. This mangos eats best when at full yellow and that telltale wrinkle to the skin – the wrinkles tells you the acid levels have dropped off and the full sweet flavor will come through best. The taste is intensely sweet and rich with a buttery flesh that is not fibrous. The pit is very thin so even though this variety is smaller than other mango varieties, it does have more edible fruit than it looks like. Mangos are an excellent source of vitamin A and folate. Store and ripen at room temperature – peel and enjoy! I personally like to chill the mango just before eating. Try dicing and topping off a bowl of cottage cheese.
Have a great week! Joe