Saturday, November 28, 2009

Proper Method to Slice and Eat a Mango

Haden Mango - "Most Popular"

Keitt Mango - Excellent Variety

Kent Mango - Excellent Variety

Tommy Atkins Mango - Stringy Tasteless

Thai Mango - Premium Mango

Ataulfo Mango - Asian Favorite

Mangoes ready to be Harvested

Mango Tree

Mangoes are one of the most widely eaten fruits in the world, their popularity is only surpassed by bananas. No wonder with their fantastic peachy flavor and juiciness, often referred to as "The Peach of the Tropics".

I remember as a kid literally standing knee deep in mangoes in the warehouse because we just didn't have enough room to store them properly. The entire place had the overwhelming sweet aroma of mangoes.

The best varieties sold in North America are the Philippine (Ataulfo), Haden, Kent, and Keitt varieties.

Hadens turn a deep red yellow color as they ripen and all mango varieties emit a wonderful aroma when ready to eat. Haden have the nicest eye-appeal but they are slightly stringy and fibrous.

Sometimes there is a gap in the supply chain, to fill these gaps growers plant varieties that are not necessarily very good. Tommy Atkins is a very beautiful mango, but has to be the worst variety in the world. They are completely stringy and the fibers will get stuck between your teeth. There is not much edible mango meat and any flavor is lacking. This variety has been bred for color.

Kent and Keitt Varieties

The Kent and Keitt varieties can remain almost completely green in color when they are ripe. Most consumers are turned off by their bland appearance. This is a mistake since these are two of the sweetest, best tasting varieties; and they aren't stringy at all.

Philipine (Ataulfo) Variety

Also very popular is the yellow Philippine mango also known as the Ataulfo variety. The pit is very small less than 1/2 the size of the red varieties. Ataulfos turn completely yellow when ripe and aren't stringy or fibrous at all. Widely preferred by the Asian culture and slowly taking over supermarket sales.

How to buy:

Ripe mangoes give off a nice aroma and are slightly soft when you press your thumb against the surface. A little bit of black spotting is a good sign that the fruit is ripe too. Avoid mangoes with heavy black markings or black discoloration on the skin. These are signs of chilling or overripe fruit. Mangoes do not like overly cold temperatures and sometimes in transit from farm to supermarket fruit gets chilled

Press your thumb firmly against the stem of the fruit too. Quite often this is the first place a mango will begin to deteriorate. Your thumb will sink into the flesh if the fruit is beginning to rot.

If you are unable to buy ripe fruit, it's pretty easy to ripen mangoes.  Store the fruit in a warm place in a sealed plastic bag. The ethylene gas (fruit ripener) that fruit naturally produces, will trap itself in the plastic bag and speed up the ripening process significantly. Remove the plastic bag after the fruit is ripe. Do not refrigerate.

In my experience, Ataulfo mangoes chill the easiest. Inspect the surface closely for black discoloration when you are buying this variety. Sometimes the discoloration is hard to see. If present, the mangoes will be black inside.

I hope my post helped you a little bit and you picked up a few new tidbits. Please feel free to post your comments below...

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Chilean Cherries

You know in Chile, health care including prescription drugs is free so there are an unusually high percentage of transgender citizens in the country. We had a shortage of pickers last year and had to hire transexuals to fill in the gap. Nobody bothered to tell my partners so they were in for quite a shock when the girl they were talking to spoke back in a man's voice. I laughed so hard.

The crop this year has begun and will extend to February. Lots of cold weather and frost has hurt the crop and there will be a world shortage this season, the prices high, but the quality will be excellent. If you love cherries like me you can pick up some fresh cherries at your local supermarket right now. A real nice treat for this time of year.

2 bad seasons in a row for Chile. Last year a government strike shut down all shipping out of the country and after it ended, the government employees at the airpot in Bangkok went on strike, closing that airport during a crucial shipping period. Bangkok is a most important shipping point for Chilean cherries. Add the financial meltdown of the world economy to that mix and there will be few more growers getting out of the business this year whether they want to or not.

Support your local growers by eating more produce.

Nan Feng Mandarin Oranges

I laugh at how many little kids pick these up, peel and eat them right in the store (these are the size of a walnut). They look so appetizing, a true testimonial from our kids. There aren't many fruit a kid can pick up and eat the whole thing and peel by themselves. I will pick up a handful and eat 4 at a time. Easy-to-peel and so delicious.

Nan Fengs are the King of Oranges and you guessed it from China. The sweetest orange in the world and seedless too, my kids love these things and so do I. Available approx. November through February the only comparable fruit would be the "dancy" tangerines (seeded) for flavor and sweetness.

Not available in supermarkets, only in asian stores. Why I don't know...these have been around for many years. Like any piece of fruit make sure when you pick these up that they are not dry inside by following a few simple tests. They should be orange color, squeeze them gently make sure they're firm and not overly soft, smell them they should not smell like green mold or fermented juice; and lastly...peel one open and taste it.

I hope I've introduced you to a new variety of fruit you will love and enjoy forever.

Women can be so funny when they shop for produce, sometimes we would catch women eyeing the extra large cukes and they would nudge their girlfriend and have a laugh. They would pick them up and squeeze them and giggle and have a look of embarassment or laugh even harder if they noticed we were watching.

Produce clerks have to have a great sense of humor. We hear it all, "hey nice melons", "that's a lovely set of coconuts", "omg...don't let my wife see the size of that cucumber or she'll never look at me the same way again" and we take it all in stride with a smile. You gotta be happy and enjoy your job or we drag everyone down with our misery.

There are a lot of varieties of cucumbers available in your neighborhood stores today and I'm gonna talk about 4 of them...

Long English Cucumber

Long English Cukes are the most popular variety because they're seedless and the outer skin is soft so you don't have to peel it. Straight cukes are more expensive than crooked ones, they taste no different simply eye appeal. When you're buying any variety of cuke make sure the ends are green and firm, not yellow or soft. Green and firm means fresh.

Field aka Slicer Cucumber

Slicing aka "field", "slicers" cukes have lost their popularity because of their seeds, gas, and tough outer skin. There are now "burpless" varieties of cukes but I don't know any retailers that have a continuous supply available year round. Smooth skinned or bumpy, the taste is about the same. Usually the price is about 70% to 50% less than long english cukes.

Persian Seedless Cucumbers

Persian cukes are becoming very popular for those that can afford to pay twice the price of a long english cuke. The flavor and texture of a long english cuke and the crunch of a dill pickle. Nice combo.

Dill & Bread n' Butter Cucumbers

Dill cukes aka "bread n' butter", "pickling", "gherkins" are nice to eat fresh or pickled. The smaller ones have more crunch and last longer in your fridge. If you're gonna pickle them, many people put them in their washing machine to sit overnight in cold water to firm up and then turn on the gentle cycle to wash off the prickles. Saves a lot of time not scrubbing by hand. Cukes for pickling are fussy. Make sure there's no condensation on the bag if you're buying a large quantity for canning, cool and firm, not hot or soft when you squeeze them. Put your hand all the way through them to the bottom and make sure there's no field heat.

How to buy Parsley

One of the many ways I would get to know new shoppers in my store was to follow them through the store and discreetly drop fruit into their shopping basket. When they got to the cashier counter and proceeded to deposit their produce on the counter to be rung through, a puzzled expression would appear on their face as they would find produce items they couldn't recollect getting.

The cashier and I would always get a big laugh out of it as we let the customer in on our joke. Just one of the many ways we bonded with our customers and became friends.

Parsley is a simple herb and easy to purchase without much fuss, either it looks great and we pick up a bunch or it looks terrible and we don't.

I'm gonna tell you a secret to reviving parsley once it has become drab in your fridge. This can only be done once so you should wait until you're actually going to use it. Run the parsley under cold water, shake off the water and then put the bunch upside down in a glass of ice. After a few minutes it should revive and appear as fresh as the day you bought it.

A good storing idea is to cut about 1/2 inch of stem off the bottom of the bunch and place the parsley in 1 inch of water in a glass in your fridge and just use it as needed. Simple but works great.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Many of us have families and we stress and worry about what exactly is in the foods we eat. Genetically modified foods...are they safe for our children? Will they save the world from starvation? Are you even aware GM ingredients are in our foods?

This documentary explores the relationship between genetically modified foods (GM), the companies that own the patents and the impact GM foods have on our society and the world.

It is filmed and documented from the anti-GM foods point of view and we are only hearing one side of the story. It's important to remember there are always 2 sides to every story and to keep an open mind.

I believe we have a right to know what's in our foods and no one has the right to patent our genes.

Genetically modified labelling, world hunger, pesticide resistant crops, farming, the patenting of genes, and FDA irregularities, are just a few of the topics discussed in this hard hitting and informative film.

I would recommend it to everybody, watching this film will open your eyes to some of the truths that are rarely discussed in the media today.

Will GM foods feed the hungry of the world or this a just a marketing ploy to make them more acceptable.

I want proper labelling to know that the cereal I'm buying is made from genetically modified grains so I can make an informed choice.

Did you know the testing of gm foods for public safety is not required? Why not?

GM produce can often be a godsend to the retailer, extending the shelf life, ensured continuity of supply, and better eye appeal, which can add up to higher profits. But a public relations nightmare so it's a touchy subject they'd rather not discuss but if cornered, they will side with public opinion. It's important that we make our opinion known by filling out customer comment cards at the supermarket. This may sound silly but it can be a direct line to the heads of billion dollar's called Consumer feedback. Believe me it works.

When we planted our fruit trees a few years ago in South America we were required to pay a foreign company royalties for the Canadian varieties we planted. The trees were developed in Canada by the Canadian Government and the rights were sold to a large fruit company in a foreign country and they alone control who has access to these varieties and sometimes deny growers access to certain strains so they can control world prices. We grew many of the trees from seedlings ourselves but we were still required to pay a royalty fee.

The rights I believe were sold for one million dollars. There are approx. 6+ million trees planted each year at a royalty of $1-$2 per tree. Many growers believe there were some shady under the table dealings that went on. Unproven.

Our South American crops start a couple of months after the North American crops finish.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Potatoes are the no. 1 selling vegetable in North America. A simple enough tuber that is cheap to produce and easy to grow.

It would probably surprise you to know that potato packers and manufacturers are some of the wealthiest people in the produce industry and the country.

Usually paying the farmer a pittance and reaping huge profits for themselves. Produce is a commodity and like the stock markets... prices change daily.

I have a lot of respect for farmers and I have spent years in the field inspecting produce. Farming is damn hard work.

Potatoes are generally graded into 4 categories, A's - Large, B's - Medium, C's - baby, and #2's - small, misshapened (I could get more technical but I want to keep it simple and easy to understand).

Potatoes you buy in the stores are usually A's - Large with a few B's mixed in to increase profits. B's cost much less so packers will sneak this grade into the bags. B's are very hard to sell because of their small size and they're a pain to peel. Usually they'll be mixed into #2 bags of potatoes.

When buying no. 1 grade potatoes they should be oval in shape, clean, and have eye appeal. There should be no knobs, pointy ends, scabs, broken scuffed skin, green skin, deformed or misshapen potatoes in the bag.

If the potato bag is colored to give the potatoes inside better eye appeal inspect the potatoes carefully. This is a sneaky practice to fool consumers. Place your fingers on the potatoes and squeeze they should be as hard as rocks. There shouldn't be any wrinkles or eyes. The best test is to smell them, if they're rotten it's the worst smell in the world. Ugghhhh!

Russet Potatoes are the same as a baker potato so if you can find a bag of big russets you can save yourself alot of money. Whites and russets are especially good for mashed potatoes.

Red Potatoes are denser and take a little longer to boil and are perfect for potato salad because they hold together better.

Yellow Potatoes take less time to cook (boiled water), only 20 minutes. These are usually more expensive and have more flavor.

Baby Potatoes or "Creamers" are extremely popular and it's not uncommon to pay $2/lb for packaged product. Quite a few potato packers put "B's" in the bags and pawn them off as baby. When preparing these babies it's a good idea to cut a few in half and check for black centers.

Purple Potatoes or "Blue" are very high in antioxidants and I highly recommend them. Also they take about 20 minutes longer to cook in boiling water because they have such dense flesh.

The quality of potatoes in bags has gone down over the past few years because of unscrupulous packers. You probably know what I'm talking about. The only way to correct this problem is to fill out a complaint card at the Customer Service counter at your local supermarket. Complaints are taken seriously and will be checked out by management. Make sure you include the Packer's name or the Brand.

I have alot of friends that are potato packers too lol, the bad ones make it hard for the good ones because they can undercut by putting lower grade and bad product in their bags. With centralized buying being the norm today Produce Buyers see a lot less of the products they're buying and bad suppliers slip through the cracks.

I've always found the "Green Giant" label to be one of the best produce brands and I recommend it. No paid endorsement! LOL!

If you've never seen this video before you will be absolutely AMAZED! The best part starts about 2:33 seconds into the clip...


Friday, September 18, 2009

Royal Gala Apple

Royal Gala Apples on Tree

Royal Galas are the consumer's favorite apple and the best selling apple in the world. Known for their fantastic aroma, almost like the smell of a fresh baked apple pie.

Galas have a delicious, supersweet flavor, and a good quality apple should make that apple crunch noise when you bite into it. LOL! Sample Below!

I recommend buying unwaxed apples until December to really enjoy their flavor and freshness. It's hard to find an unwaxed apple after December because then only big packing houses have fruit available and they regularly wax their apples to keep quality consistent.

Regular apple stocks are pulled from coolers that have ethelyne gas scrubbers (removing ethylene gas from the coolers extends the apple's life span) till about the end of the year. Later fruit is pulled from "Controlled Atmosphere" rooms "CA" which can keep apples fresh for up to 2 years. The "CA" rooms keep the apples in a kind of dormant state until the they are needed. Look for the "CA" symbol on the side of the apple box in January and latter months to ensure you're getting good quality fruit.

When buying galas pick up the apple and squeeze it between your fingers, good quality galas should be firm and hard, not spongy. The stem should not have mold or be black a good indicator of quality. If the apple feels excessively waxy this is a sure sign that the apple has been sitting around and is not fresh.

The apple seeds should be brown, white seeds indicate the apple was picked too early (some growers try to get a jump on the market in the beginning of the harvest when prices are usually higher). Immature apples can cause some mild discomfort (stomach ache) though not life threatening

Inspect the skin for pockmarks, brown spotting and brown rot at the stem is often missed. Sometimes the apple is actually split open at the base of the stem. These are all good reasons to avoid purchasing these particular apples.

Good quality apples have nice eye appeal and at least 70% red color. Cool evenings turn apples red and crisp them up, not the sun as many people believe. Apples fare better in cold climate regions. A California Gala will be greenish in color, while the same apple grown in Washington State will be almost completely red.

When you're purchasing bagged apples put your nose to the bag and inhale, a wine aroma indicates there is decay in the bag. Remember apples produce a huge amount of ethelyne gas so do not store apples in bags, because it will reduce their longevity. Keep your apples refrigerated whenever possible. Ethylene gas from high ethylene producing fruits like apples, avocadoes, tomatoes, and bananas will kill cut flowers quickly.

Boxes of Christmas mandarin oranges are beginning earlier every season with growers and supermarkets trying to capitalize on the consumers demand for these tasty fruits.

At the beginning of the season, oranges are sour because growers pick the fruit too early. In a fruit belt, a grower either wants to be one of the first growers to harvest in the south or the last in the north, to get the highest prices; being early is usually better. Harvesting during peak season brings the lowest prices.

Mandarin oranges should be available now in your local supermarket but I would wait 2 weeks before buying your first box (early October).

Remember, as the harvest moves northward there will be a constant supply of sour fruit until the end of October. We're looking for mature sweet fruit that has been left on the trees to ripen properly from quality growers that take pride in what they grow. To ensure you get exactly what you're paying for here are a few buying tips to help you on your way...

Inspect the box to ensure the fruit is at least 80% orange in color. If the box is taped shut, look through the slats in the side of the box or ask a Produce Clerk if you can open the box and check.

At the beginning of the season, smaller oranges will be sweeter. Sampling is best if you're able.

Remember the brand name (label) of the box. As in any business, there are discount brands and premium brands. Discount brands will sell whatever's available at the cheapest price which works in our favor during peak season (December) when practically all oranges are sweet.

If you've ever wondered why one brand of fruit is more expensive than the other, it's often because the cheaper brand contains smaller fruit. Large fruit commands higher prices, usually possesses more flavor, less peel, more actual fruit per pound and they make great adult sized portions.

Check for wetness on the bottom of the box, wet paper wrappers that envelope the fruit and for mold which is very common to find in a box that has travelled thousands of miles on a ship. To check for mold pick up the box and drop it lightly from about 8 inches in the air, a puff of green mold dust will appear if the box contains bad fruit.

Many distributors today have the fruit shipped to North America in bulk containers and then they inspect, wrap, and box the fruit here. This avoids so many quality problems and creates jobs here where they're needed. This may also mean paying a little more at the checkout but isn't it worth it knowing we're supporting U.S. and Canadian workers?

Japanese mandarins at one time were the cream of the crop but as technology and growing methods have improved worldwide, that is no longer the case. Chinese mandarins are the same quality and often better. Production costs are much higher in Japan where the standard of living is well beyond the means of an average chinese worker. This is also a major contributing factor to the higher retail.

In the east, Moroccan and Spainish clementine oranges are widely available and very inexpensive and popular at Christmas. One of my favorites, it's too bad consumers in the west rarely get to taste this excellent fruit. The cost to truck these from the East Coast to the west makes these uncompetitive. The fruit is typically smaller but will have a flavor you will enjoy immensely.

Moroccan & Spanish clementines are usually sold in a small wooden crate with a netted top. Easy to inspect and almost never sour.

California also produces an excellent clementine today, but the sweetness can be very inconsistent. Growers pick fruit early to fill demand, and nothing turns me off more than buying a brand 3 times and 2/3 times its sour. With easy Brix (sugar) testing in the orchards today there's no reason why a company should sabotage their brand by shipping sour fruit.

I've posted a video of a packing facility in Japan to give you an idea of what is involved to prepare oranges for market.


Monday, August 17, 2009

When I started out in the produce business 25 years ago, a customer asked me for Peaches n' Cream and I didn't know what he was talking about till months later when I discovered it was a delicious bicolor (white and yellow) variety of corn.

The first time I went to a farm to pick up a load of corn I put 5 tons of it into my 1 ton cube van not realizing I was overloading the vehicle; (I was a newbie in the business LOL) and the farmer not mentioning that fact either but he and his farm hands proceeded to fill my van to the ceiling.

As I drove down the highway with my buddy Frank beside me in the middle of nowhere the cab started to fill up with smoke, at first we thought it was a farmer burning his fields; later realizing that farmer's do not burn their fields in August and that the van was on fire! With a full tank of gas we realized the van may explode so we stopped and jumped out and ran down the highway trying to put some distance between the van and ourselves. After a few minutes and the van not exploding we cautiously approached the van to find that the wheels had been rubbing against the box because we were hauling too much weight and had caught on fire. Opening the back door we threw 3000 lbs of corn onto the highway to get to the fire underneath and having nothing to extinguish the flames and out of desperation we proceeded to pee on the fire. Pulling the floor apart too of a $35,000 van and finally we put out the fire.

In the end we had to wait for a friend to drive out and load the extra weight onto his pickup. The 6 hour trip ended up taking 15 hours and we had to unload the corn by hand into the coolers at 4 am in the morning. Exhausting and I never made that journey again, instead opting to hire professionals to pick up my orders.

The mistakes we make learning the ropes in any business venture are life lessons that we can hopefully look back upon and laugh and remember fondly.

There are so many varieties of corn being grown and marketed today and to pick supersweet corn is very simple once you learn the technique.

When choosing cobs of corn the silky hairs at the top of the ear should be dry and light brown or yellow in color, not black, moldy, or wet and slimy. This is the most telling sign of the freshness of the corn. The butt of the cob should be dry too and there shouldn't be any red color present.

Next, run your hand down the length of the cob and squeeze the cob firmly, it should be perfectly cylindrical and solid. If the cob is misshappened, mushy or flat on one side this means the cob inside is no good. Using this method, there's no need to ever peel back the ear and check the kernels.

An important note...corn is a loss leader and I don't know of any grocery stores that make a profit after accounting for all the bad and peeled back ears of corn that get thrown out.

Lastly, open the top of the cob about a 1/2 inch and look at the tip for any signs of caterpillars, if they're present there will be a little hole at the very tip of the cob or brown borings present, or if any red color is present do not buy that cob of corn.

With cooling techniques used today, corn should last a week in your fridge if it's purchased fresh. If the corn is warm to the touch when you're buying it, this means the corn was fresh picked but not cooled so it will not last more than 1 day before it spoils and becomes starchy. Good only if you intend to eat it the same day.

Following these simple tips you will always pick excellent corn. A side note...corn will be sweet whether you eat it raw or cooked so if you're not timid and samples are available take a bite, the taste test is always the best!


Friday, August 14, 2009

Giant Snow King White-Fleshed Peaches

Cross-section Snow King White-Fleshed Peaches

Just a quick note on some of those white peaches I was referring to in an earlier post. These are giant Snow Kings considered the best white peach. Quality like this would be $1.99lb - $2.99lb if you can even find them. Washington grown and in peak season as we speak. LOL! Enjoy these while they last. Cheers!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Red grapes are usually sweeter and less expensive than green varieties which doesn't explain why north americans overwhelmingly buy green grapes.

Foodservice eats up most of the red varieties because they need color in their salads, desserts, and on their entrée plates.

The best commercial red varieties are, red crimson seedless, ruby seedless, flame seedless, and red globes seeded.

Red Crimson being the overall sweetest and crunchiest variety though smaller in size to its cousins. For a commercial red seedless grape nothing compares to the crimson. Ruby would be 2nd and flames 3rd.

Seeded Red Globes are grown mainly for their gigantic size and large bunches, offering the retailer a great ringout and volumes through the checkout. This variety can possess exceptional sweetness and flavor though I would say 90% of the crop is mediocre, tasteless, and very disappointing. Good quality red globes should be super firm when you squeeze them between your fingers and really crunchy not unlike a crisp apple.

The best grapes (all) are sold loose today and only available for export and upscale markets, secondly in premium clamshell packaging. Lower quality fruit is destined for bags, which is what the majority of supermarkets sell today.

My favorite red grape is "Seedless Red Muscats" definitely the winner for sweetness, flavor and extremely high in antioxidants. Once you bite into one you can't stop eating until the entire bunch is gone. Simply the best! Sweeter than ice cream! If you're lucky enough to find these babies in your local markets try them. They look green with a reddish tinge, not so much to look at. They should be firm and crunchy. Usually more expensive.

Champagne grapes have become very popular today too. Excellent flavor, sugar, and they're also seedless. Usually only sold in 1lb clamshells, but again the best are sold loose. My only complaint about these is that most growers pick these immature and RUIN the consumers first taste of this wonderful variety. As sweet as the Red Muscats but harder to come by good quality. Red Champage Grapes are good, but the Black are better!

Excerpt from "How to buy Green Grapes":

When you're buying grapes they should not be sticky or syrupy, and they're shouldn't be more than a few loose grapes in the bags or clamshell (red crimson can have lots of loose grapes that's okay). They should not smell like wine. The stems should be light brown or green in color depending on the variety, not shrivelled or black; this the the most important telling sign of the freshness that consumers overlook. Also, gently shake the bags to see if the grapes fall off. The fruit should not be brown at the stem where it's attached to the vine. The final test is gently squeezing the grapes between your thumb and index finger, the fruit should be firm not soft (sometimes Italias will be soft that's ok).

If you're still unsure, ask a Produce Clerk for help. If they're honest you've found a great place to buy your produce. Enjoy!


Fresh Chinese Broccoli "Gai Lon"

Gai Lan also know as "chinese broccoli" is the most popular chinese vegetable in the world. Possessing the flavor of North American broccoli stalks and similar in appearance to italian broccoli (called "rapini" or "broccoli rabe"). Although chinese broccoli is much more tender and delicious if it's picked properly. Many people who dislike regular broccoli often enjoy eating this variety.

How to buy:

When buying gai lan the first thing to check for is "open" white flowers, this is a sign of overmaturity and the vegetable will be a little tough. If you're willing to overlook this, then I suggest taking a potato peeler and peel about 2 inches off the bottom of the stalks (this will get rid of the tough outer skin). Check the bottoms of the stalks for a milky white substance in the core (similar to dandelion milk), if this is evident forget buying the bunch entirely. The bunch is old, unhealthy, and will taste like crap.

The best gai lan is grown in sandy soil and will have an attractive sheen like a fresh waxed car, it will also taste better! Dull looking product is really has less flavor. The best part of the vegetable is the stalk so if there are a lot of leaves, try and find a better bunch. You're looking for nice, clean bunches with lots of skinny stalks, fat stalks (thicker than your thumb) usually means the stalks are tough but again you can peel the bottoms.

Smell the bunch and if it is not fresh it will have a similar odor to bad conventional broccoli. In a good produce market the butts should be trimmed and even, uneven butts mean the store is lazy and not taking good care of their veggies. Chinese vegetables require about twice as much work due to their frailty and short shelf life.

Fresh Chinese Greens "Yu Choy"

Yu Choy is the second most popular chinese vegetable and similar to gai lan, except the flowers are yellow. The flavor has a mild similarity to spinach and the texture of cooked celery. This vegetable is much more perishable than its cousin gai lan. The same buying methods should be used, although squeeze the stalks when you're inspecting this vegetable, they should be firm (like celery) not hollow. Hollow stalks mean the bunch is rotting from the inside out, no matter how nice the outer appearance looks.

You can steam, boil, or stir fry these two versatile veggies and add a little oyster sauce on top before serving as an easy way to try these two wonderful vegetables.

I've posted a documentary of a mother and son and their chinese vegetables farm in Ontario, Canada. It's good film if you have time to watch.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Canning peaches season is just beginning and stretches till the end of September.

A regular peach variety is classified as a "Clingstone" because the flesh sticks to the stone (pit).

A canning peach is called "Freestone" or "Clingfree", which means the pit and skin comes cleanly away from the flesh. If the flesh sticks to the skin when you're trying to remove the skin these varieties are called "Semi-Freestone". Less desirable because you will lose some of the fruit when you're canning.

I don't recommend ever buying freestone peaches in supermarkets because the fruit is picked too early and won't ripen. Normally the best 10% of the crop is shipped to Farmer's Markets where they have better handling methods. The rest of the fruit which has been picked green and unripe is washed, scrubbed, and packed for supermarkets. The fruit tastes horrible and if you do choose to buy it, only a small percentage will ever become ripe enough to can. Remember grocery chains demand hard fruit so it will have a few days shelf-life in their stores.

I have a lot of experience handling canning peaches and sold hundreds of thousands of boxes.

When you're buying peaches for canning, make sure the fruit doesn't have green shoulders. These will not ripen period. Old varieties of peaches have a green tinge, this is only true if they have been picked immature. They should be yellow in color not green. Stay away from green peaches.

Make sure they are perfectly oval or round, deformed fruit is a sign of a split stone and you will encounter difficulties trying to can the fruit. If there's a hole in the top of the peach, shake them upside down to see if bugs crawl out, insects like to crawl inside peaches.

The fruit should be firm to a little soft, press your thumb gently against the fruit. If you're buying fruit to can the same day, it can be soft but not mushy and it should smell sweet and wonderful. Ask for a sample and ask the clerk to cut a peach in half to see if the peaches truly are freestones.

Unfortunately, many hawkers in markets are not always truthful or forthcoming when it comes to telling the consumer the facts. I recommend having a regular green grocer but shop around regularly to make sure you really are getting the best quality. I have met so many dishonest hawkers in Farmer's Markets. Number #2 grade fruit is substanially cheaper and the profits are immense if a hawker can pass it off as premium fruit and premium prices.

As a retailer bad mouthing competition by "name" is never an option because it reflects poorly on yourself.

If the peaches are not quite ripe, I suggest spreading the fruit out at home at room temperature or leaving it in the box with a sheet of newspaper between the layers until it is ripe (shoulders down). You may find that to do a good job you will have to can the fruit in two batches. Usually, the fruit on the bottom layer is packed less ripe to prevent bruising. Unless you have the opportunity to pick your own fruit into the box which is best.

Riper fruit means less added sugar and more flavor. Remember the sweetest varieties have red flesh in the center and they have a fragrant aroma when they're ripe. Some of the best varieties to can are glohaven (the best), elberta, vee, "hale" varieties, "sun" varieties, and cresthaven.

Late Red haven peaches are semi-freestone so expect some waste if you prefer to can this popular variety. The Early Red Haven (less color, yellowish, smaller fruit) variety is a clingstone and I don't recommend trying to can these.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Today's varieties have changed a lot from our parent's days and it is quite common today to find Apricots the size of peaches. Cross breeding has bred larger and sweeter fruit.

New varieties have alot of red blush and some also have red spotting on their skins, generally on the shoulders of the fruit. They look beautiful and taste fantastic.

For those of you that don't really care for this fruit I suggest you try it again; now days they can taste sweeter and juicier than a ripe peach.

Many of the old school varieties are still sold in supermarkets because it takes time (years) for new varieties to reach peak availability. Farmer's Markets are the place to experience new varieties first hand. Growers often use these markets as a testing ground to get consumer feedback, giving them a better idea if they should be planting more or less.

When shopping for nice fruit it's important to realize that most growers ship this fruit semi-ripe because of its frailty. Look for firm apricots, a little bit of softness is okay, mushy is not unless you're making jam or chutney (overripe fruit should be at least 50% off).

More times than you can count you will find this fruit pithy, dry, and marked up on a supermarket shelf. Apricots do not have a long shelf-life to begin with and in a matter of a hours they can begin to deteriorate. To check for freshness (ask if it's okay first), I would recommend splitting one open with your fingers and checking the flesh surrounding the pit... it should be clean without brown discoloration (a sign of old age).

An indentation (line) on the shoulder of the fruit is normal and is due to the branch, this doesn't affect the quality unless the skin is broken.

Apicots will ripen nicely if you leave them on your counter with their shoulders face down. In drier climates, put the fruit into a plastic bag and punch a few pencil sized holes in the bag. This will prevent the fruit from becoming dry and pithy. Fruit with green shoulders will not ripen properly so try to avoid buying these. Once the fruit is ripened to your liking, refrigerate until your ready to eat.

Some of the best varieties are goldbar, goldridge, tomcots, sundrop, and the old school variety "perfections". I have included an interesting video below about apricots. Enjoy!


Monday, July 20, 2009

Most Supermarket chains have centralized purchasing to cut costs and drive profits. Another great idea, this saves millions of dollars of the cost of goods each year by cutting down on LTLs (Less Than Full Truck Loads) shipments and thus keeping a competitive edge

This however usually affects produce quality unless certain checks are put into place. By removing local buying offices from the warehouses and having the buyers sit in centralized offices, many buyers no longer see what is coming in on the trucks.

Often, the buyers are just too busy to get out of the office to visit the warehouses and stores to check produce quality. Instead trusting the PQ (Produce Quality) checker at the warehouse level who usually doesn't have any retail experience.

This is a big mistake it's so important that buyers visit the retail stores several times each week to discuss quality issues with the produce managers. This builds a great relationship between the wholesale and retail divisions where instead today, it is quite common to have friction and little trust.

For an outsider that doesn't understand this problem it's because most companies pay their purchasers and managers a base salary with a performance bonus. A purchaser's bonus can be put in jeopardy if there are too many produce claims and rejections, or the store refuses to order product because they don't like the quality of a particular item that week. The produce manager faces the dilemma of losing profit margins if the quality sucks, shortages, or forced distributions of bad product because the warehouse has too much inventory.

The biggest problem is hiring purchasers without retail experience. This would be the same as hiring a chef who hasn't gone to chef school. They don't know what consumers like. Usually purchasers are men and we all know women do the majority of the grocery shopping. I always support promoting from the retail ranks because these employees have a better understanding.

I recommend buyers visit the stores several times a week and have daily quality report emails from the retail produce managers to catch any issues that arise. After all this is produce and we all know how many problems we have on a daily basis.

Even the Doles, Delmontes, T&As, ship bad quality ocassionally. I've worked both as a national wholesale produce manager and as a national retail produce manager so I've experienced both sides of the coin. I decided to tie each division's bonus program together so they relied on each other. This increased productivity and solved so many of the problems we were having. It can be very draining spending time everyday putting out unnecessary fires. The two divisions needed that push and in the long term healthier bonuses were earned and better relationships were created.

As a national manager, I've fought many battles with old school managers that wouldn't budge in their methods. I was just a kid in my late 20's, and they in their 50's and 60's. Most had never spent a day working in a retail store and those that had, it had been in the 60's & 70's. It's so important to show respect and not belittle the people you disagree with. You are after all on the same team working towards the same goal. There are a lot of politics in the workplace, to survive you need to find the right method to get your programs in place.

Retail marketing has changed so much in the past 2 decades. Always remember that we don't know everything and everyday we can learn something new if we keep our minds open. Otherwise you become an old dog. IMAO! =)


Friday, July 17, 2009

I used to offer a money-back-guarantee to my customers if they bought a watermelon that wasn't supersweet once they got it home and cut into it. The only stipulation was...I or one of my trained staff would have to pick it for you. But, eventually we would train these same great customers to pick their own.

There are many different varieties of watermelon and everyone has their own method of choosing the perfect one. Today, we'll try mine =d

First, with your two thumbs press down firmly (don't be afraid to push really hard) on the side of the melon and it should have slight give to your pressure; too much give and the melons overripe.

Next, pickup the melon from the table or out of its bin to perform the knocking test. The reason is...when your knocking on the melon the table/bin will distort the sound, normally making the melon sound riper than it is.

The melon must be firm, not soft and whether the color is light green or dark green shouldn't matter as different varieties have different hues of color.

Next with your knuckles, knock hard on the side of the melon while holding it firmly with your other hand and arm. You should hear a thud, hollow sound, reverberating back. If you're unsure, the sound should come from the center of the watermelon, this is a sign that the melon is ripe. You will also feel the vibration in the arm that is holding the melon. If it sounds like your knocking on wood the melon isn't ripe.

Some people spank or slap the melons instead of using their knuckles to perform the knocking test. This method is less accurate but can be used as you get better at identifying ripe melons too. I don't suggest amateurs use this method though.

Also, check to see if there are different decal stickers on the watermelons on display. Each grower puts his own unique sticker on his melons. If there are different decal stickers on display this means, one is old stock and one is new stock.

Many retailers cut samples of their melons too or have cut halves available. Pickup a cut half and look at the rind to see if it matches the whole watermelons on display.

Lastly, if you're buying a melon from the bin, lean over and smell to see if there is any wine odor, this is an indication that at least some of the melons are overripe; or a supermarket's unsanitary practice of reusing old bins that haven't been cleaned properly. What else don't they keep sanitary...Hmmmm?

Watermelons are cheap now and in full season. This test applies to all varieties including yellow and seeded. Though be careful when you're buying yellow watermelons and press firmly over the entire melon for soft spots as this variety is often shipped to store level in bad condition before it's even put out on display. Enjoy!



I forgot my digital camera on Wednesday and had to use my camera phone instead. The photo quality is not so great but it gives you an idea of the GIANT size of these Lapin cherries. Have you ever had the pleasure of eating cherries this big before? LOL! These will still grow much larger before they are picked.

Lapins Cherries are the number one variety sold in the world today and these are about a week away from being harvested.

I've been eating cherries all week fresh in the orchards and this year's crop is fabulous. I would be jealous of me if you're a Lover of Cherries. I get to taste many varieties and discuss the merits of each like a fine wine =)

The prices haven't been this cheap for probably eight years. I would guess the average price today should be about $1.99/lb in supermarkets. Though retails will vary widely 99 cents/lb - $2.99/lb; any higher and you're being taken advantage of.

Wholesale prices today are ranging from 70 cents/lb for small cherries to $1.50/lb for large cherries such as in my pictures above

I used to sell cherries online around the world by the box to discerning people who love to eat only the best and didn't mind paying for it. I would personally choose the best quality and a person could have their choice of several varieties. LOL! But my businesses became too big and I couldn't find the time to service the site any longer. Too bad.

Great varieties of cherries in season right now are Skeena, Lapin, Sunburst, and Rainier. I'm eating Sunburst Cherries as I write this post!

I've posted a video that shows a typical large scale cherry packing facility. The excessively high speed on some parts of the cherry line and their handling methods are definitely damaging the fruit. But this is a great educational video for those of you that have never visited a cherry packing facility before.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009



White fleshed fruit has been a favorite among the Asians for many years and with the heavy commercial production of these fruits now in North America, quickly becoming a favorite here too. A large percentage of this fruit is exported overseas to Asian countries.

Known for their incredible sweetness and juiciness, though they don't have as much flavor as the yellow fleshed varieties; they are much sweeter.

Most of the time I can't get good quality white fleshed fruit to save my life in Grocery Stores. They just don't know how to buy it or handle it properly. It's important to know which varieties are the best! I suggest Asian markets as they have lots of experience handling these fruits; Asian peoples are very, very, picky and demanding regarding these fruits. I would get yelled at if the fruit wasn't sweet enough to their liking in my retail days. LOL!

This is a premium fruit and to build repeat business Produce Buyers should never buy on price, but by variety and grower.

Again the most important test when you're purchasing peaches and nectarines is they should smell wonderful when you hold them up to your nose (both yellow and white varieties). If they don't have any aroma I suggest passing on the fruit you'll only be disappointed. If cut samples are available, try one first.

Often much of the fruit on display in supermarkets will be old and spongy. This is a huge untapped category for many retailers, often outselling conventional (yellow) varieties when handled correctly. The fruit can be firm or have a little give when you press lightly between your thumb and fingers. Do not buy them if they are very soft or leaves an indentation when you press down with your thumb, even if they smell nice because they will usually be spongy and dry inside.

There shouldn't be any brown discoloration or scabs on the skin and no. 1 grade fruit should be perfect in shape; not lopsided, mishappen or mutated in appearance (this actually can affect quality and taste).

The sweetest varieties (yellow and white) will also have "red" flesh surrounding the pit and nectarines will also have speckled pale yellow or white dots on their bums.

Asians love to eat these fruits hard as rocks and crunchy like apples. While North Americans prefer soft and ripe like yellow varieties. To be truthful you can eat this fruit at any stage it should already be sweet if you performed the "smell test" and it passed. Experiment and find the stage you like best.

My 2 favorite varieties of White Peaches are Snow Kings and Yukon Kings.

Some great White Nectarines varieties are Snow Queens, Artic Stars, Heavenly Whites, Artic Rose, Artic Jay, and Artic Blaze.


Flat Peaches are usually called "donut" or "saturn" peaches today. All varieties are excellent and Flat Nectarines are probably the sweetest variety on the Planet! It's normal for these varieties to have an ugly huge butt LOL. Most packers of these fruits put a huge sticker over the butt to hide it from your eyes. Don't be turned off by their appearance, you will love them. Remember to smell them first before you buy.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Ever wondered why some grapes are sour and others are sweet? How many times have you been disappointed with your purchase, especially now when many retailers sell their fruit packaged and you're unable to sample the fruit first.

If you're able to sample the grapes from a fresh bunch before you buy and you're happy with the sweetness, please be considerate and buy the bunch you sampled. This will keep "shrink" costs down and allow the retailer to sell their fruit for less.

Green grapes should actually be "yellow" when they're ripe and supersweet. Retailers demand growers pick the fruit unripe and green to give them a better shelf life. Good for the retailer and bad for us. Most shoppers have been trained to buy green grapes "green".

If you have little the grapes green and hang them at home (i.e. - from the cupboard handle) at room temperature until they turn yellow and then refrigerate them. I love to eat grapes chilled.

Seeded grapes are best for your health, they're natural and have many nutrients that seedless grapes don't possess. Eat the seeds too. Contrary to what many parents believe...children do not habitually choke to death on grape seeds. Train your children while they're young to eat the seeds and they will grow up healthier. Seeded varieties are also sweeter. There are many studies available to internet saavy surfers that substaniate my claims.

I do eat seedless varieties of grapes when seeded aren't available. The sweetest common varieties in order are "Thompson Seedless", "Sugarone", and "Perlette". Perlettes are the first variety of the season in most growing regions and countries and are only sweet if they're yellow in color. The other 2 varieties can be green and already sweet and flavorful.

The sweetest seeded variety is the "muscat" also called "muscatel" or "italia"; and also used to make wines. This variety is the most popular and widely available most of the year in North America from Italy, California, Brazil, and Chile just to name a few countries.

When you're buying grapes they should not be sticky or syrupy, and they're shouldn't be more than a few loose grapes in the bags or clamshell. They should not smell like wine. The stems should be light brown or green in color depending on the variety, not shrivelled or black; this the the most important telling sign of the freshness that consumers overlook. Also, gently shake the bags to see if the grapes fall off. The fruit should not be brown at the stem where it's attached to the vine. The final test is gently squeezing the grapes between your thumb and index finger, the fruit should be firm not soft (sometimes Italias will be soft that's ok).

If you're still unsure, ask a Produce Clerk for help. If they're honest you've found a great place to buy your produce. Enjoy!


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Here are a few photos of some Lapin Cherries in an orchard I visited yesterday, these will be ready to harvest in approx. 2 weeks; I will export some of this fruit to Taiwan or a similar country.

The Lapin variety of cherry is one of the most popular cherries in the world. Known for its dark, almost black color, crunchiness, small pit, and super sweet flavor. Though this variety does not travel well and is best if shipped by air immediately after it has been harvested and packed.

This season will see the biggest cherry crop in history in North America and Turkey has also reported a bumper crop which will put downward pressure on prices. Consumers will benefit from this with much cheaper prices than previous years. Retail prices should be $1.00 - $2.00/lb less than last year depending on the quality of the fruit, with much of the export quality being sold in local markets due to the over abundance.

Realistically, small cherries should be available 99 cents/lb on Special to $1.99/lb regular priced. Larger fruit $2.49/lb - $3.99/lb.

Many retailers will take advantage of the bumper crop and keep the retail price high, reaping additional profits for themselves. I suggest shopping around, this helps to keep your local supermarkets honest as a price wary customer is not to be reckoned with.

Buy lots of cherries this season to help support your cherry growers. With the low prices this season, it will be a very tough year for many growers. Remember to check for "green" stems when you're purchasing cherries; green stems signify the fruit is fresh picked. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cresthaven Freestone Peach

Cresthaven Freestone Peach

Peaches require a few postings to cover the different types and tips to picking the perfect peach.

Yellow Fleshed Peaches:

Supermarkets today require growers to ship peaches rock-hard to ensure they have a few days of shelf-life because consumers have a terrible habit of squeezing this fruit to death. It SOP (standard operating procedure) for supermarkets to reject shipments of ripe peaches.

Buying peaches is easy, a ripe peach will emit a wonderful aroma that can't be mistaken for anything else and your stomach may grumble in anticipation of your biting into this wonderful piece of fruit. A peach will also look nice with lots of red color and have a smooth, clean appearance. Green peaches and peaches with green shoulders will NEVER ripen. If you can't find any ripe peaches at your local supermarket I would suggest trying a farmer's market.

Semi-freestone means the flesh comes off the stone when ripe. Just take a knife and cut the peach down the middle cutting around the stone, then grab both sides with your hands and twist and the peach halves will separate cleanly from the pit. Freestone peaches are better for canning because the skin also comes off the flesh much easier with little waste.

Peach fuzz is not a common sight today because growers run their fruit through a washer and scrubber before shipping to market; the exception is farmer's markets where smaller growers will sell their peaches fresh off the tree.

A slight ridge (bump) running down one side of a peach means there's a split stone inside which can alter the taste and quality. A blackhead sized spot on the tip of the bum means the fruit is not fresh and can spoil quickly (even if the rest of the fruit looks great).

Sometimes you will notice a indentation on the shoulder of the peach, this is the mark of where the tree limb was attached to the peach and is quite normal; this doesn't affect the quality of the fruit. Black bruising is a sign of rough handling by the picker which is caused by pulling down too hard on the peach when picking. You can usually place your fingers into these black bruises and they will match up with the picker's own finger marks.

I don't recommend buying fruit if there's a hole (split stone) in the top at the stem base, little creatures like to crawl inside and you may get an unpleasant surprise when you bite into the fruit. Some of these insects are the size of a medium size roach and they can bite.

Some supermarkets today will also offer tree-ripened fruit with "tree ripened" decals stuck on every peach. This is a great alternative too and it's hard to go wrong though the price will be a little higher.

It's okay to give a peach a little squeeze with your thumb when checking the ripeness, a little give is perfect. Lots of give means the fruit is bad. If you need to ripen peaches it's best to lay them out on your counter with their shoulders face down.

This video shows a premium grower that packs his fruit directly into boxes, the quality is exceptional. The pickers are select picking fruit from the trees. There is a worker on the trailer double checking the quality.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

This week I was in Washington State, U.S.A. and British Columbia, Canada inspecting cherry orchards. In Washington the harvest will begin in a couple of days and wind its way north into B.C. which will start in approx. 11 days till about the middle of August. The Pacific Northwest and B.C. produce some of the world's finest cherries and a large percentage will be exported to Asia and Europe at a premium dollar.

At the beginning of the season quite a few cherry growers will pick their fruit immature because of the high demand and even higher dollar that early fruit always commands. This can often turn off consumers and retailers can lose their clientle by buying poor quality fruit in the race to be the first. I've always been a stickler for good quality. It's best to wait until the 2nd week of the harvest to buy fruit, the quality and price will be much better.

As a grower and exporter of fruit in different parts of the world I get to see and taste some of the best fruit in the world. Lucky me!

I've posted a few photos of the Okanagan Valley and I will add more photos of stonefruit (peaches, nectarines, apricots, & plums) growing in the orchards as the season progresses and also the best varieties to eat and can. These pics are of a latter variety of cherries that will be ready to harvest in about 4 weeks.

cherries,okanagan,british columbia,bings,vans,lapins,sweethearts,cherry,washington,state,province

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This 48 minute documentary by the National Film Board of Canada documents Quebec students that migrate to British Columbia each summer to pick cherries. Interesting film if you have the time to watch it.