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.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Eythlene gas is a natural product all fruits produce to help their ripening process. The problem is it never turns itself off and eventually this natural process will also aid in the overripe stage of fruit too. This is a major reason why bananas can ripen so quickly or sometimes never ripen at all. Bananas are gassed and then shipped to supermarkets and if the plastic bag that envelops the fruit isn't removed at the right stage it will reduce their shelf life or hamper the ripening process.

To extend the shelf life of your produce you should not store ripe fruit in plastic bags. Your produce can deteriorate as much as 50% faster. I live in a dry climate so it's quite common for my fruit to get wrinkled and soft if I leave it on my counter. The solution in this case is to store the fruit in a plastic bag but by punching pencil-sized holes in the bag I'm allowing the ethylene gas to escape and preventing the fruit from over maturing and drying out quickly.

Of course if you need to speed up the ripening process I would put the fruit in two plastic bags (one inside the other) and tie the end. It wouldn't hurt to add an apple into your bag of fruit because this fruit produces an extremely high amount of ethylene gas. Remember to check the bag daily and once the fruit has ripened to your satisfaction to remove it from the plastic bags. This post especially applies to tomatoes too.

I would also recommend punching a few pencil-sized holes in your veggies bags too, you will notice your produce lasts longer in your fridge.

Grocery chains have ethylene gas scrubbers in their coolers to extend the storage life of their produce. Displaying cut flowers by fruit especially apples, as I stated in an earlier post will kill any life left in the flowers. It's an oxymoran that floral and produce departments are usually located side by side. This has been changing as the dinosaur finally comes to that realization and adapts by separating the two depts.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Buying tomatoes can be one of the toughest things to get right when your shopping at your local market garden or supermarket. I've spent many years touring and inspecting tomatoes fields and I am familiar with the standard practices of growers and their picking and packing methods.

The major sources of tomatoes in my part of the world are Florida, California and Mexico for field grown tomatoes; and local greenhouses for hot house varieties. At one time I used to import tomatoes from Europe during the winter months into North American markets but with Mexico becoming a major player and much cheaper source in the last decade, that practice has ended.

Tomatoes from Florida and California are normally picked completely green which enables this fruit to be handled roughly and stored for longer periods of time without spoiling. Tomatoes are then gassed to produce the desirable color for the retailer. Because the tomatoes did not ripen naturally, the fruit will look ripe but still be hard which allows it to have a sustainable shelf life for the retailer; that's why they have little taste or flavor.

You can normally find vine ripened Mexican tomatoes available as a field grown alternative. Usually these tomatoes will have more flavor and be very juicy and watery. I love a nice vine ripened beefsteak field tomato or hot house grown tomatoes on the vine. Orange tomatoes are my favorite, they are so sweet and have such a low acidity.

When you're shopping for any type of field tomatoes make sure there is no green, white or yellow spots or spotting on any part of the fruit. This is a sign of "blight" and the tomatoes will never ripen and taste awful in it's present state. The tomato should be firm but they can have a little give and a beautifully ripe tomato may have a little bit of wrinkling on its shoulders which is okay too. Always check the stem for wetness or black mold, tomatoes can rot within one day if either is present.

This fruit damages easily and so should always be handled gently when you're checking their ripeness by squeezing the fruit in the palm of your hand and closing your fingers around it. If you need to ripen the tomatoes the best method is to place the fruit into two plastic bags (one inside the other) and tie the end of the bag and leave the tomatoes on your counter at room temperature. Remember to check them daily. You're trapping the natural ethylene gas tomatoes produce in the bag and speeding up the ripening process without damaging the tomatoes. Once the fruit is ripe remove them from the bags and store them at room temperature. Never refrigerate tomatoes this ruins their flavor.

I have handled many different types of tomatoes including heirlooms, orange, yellow, romas, etc. so if you would like information regarding a specific variety please ask. The differences of using dry romas for canning as an example or what type of tomato should I use for pasta sauce.



In today's push to cut costs and drive sales many retailers have opted to purchase and retail binned fruit. This is a fabulous idea! Your tonnage can increase by 100% - 400% easily. A bin has four sides (frontages) and the more sides you have available for the shopper to choose from will increase the amount of shoppers that can pick from the bin at the same time; increasing hourly tonnage and sales. Ensure your retail signs are placed in the center of the bin and raised up, not on the sides of the bin where customers will block your signage. Adding a little descriptive like "Fresh", "Super Sweet", "Produce Manager Recommends" doesn't hurt either, just make sure your being honest or you will lose customers.

It's a bit of work but as the fruit in the bin goes down it's wise to transfer the remaining fruit to another empty bin that has been "dummied" up with empty boxes and is CLEAN to keep your sales constant and you will reduce your shrink. Not many shoppers want to purchase fruit that is at the bottom of the bin, but on top of a dummied bin is another story. Your product will rotate quicker and therefore be fresher. Happy customers and a happy store manager.

Also if you have extra floor space its a good idea to put out some dummied bins to push excess stock, key items, and high profit items. You will be a star...btw many of the key positions (like V.P.) in grocery chains are held by former produce managers. Produce is the hardest division to manage period.

One of my gripes about buying bins of fruit from big name packers like Dole and Sunkist is how they charge us the same price for binned fruit as fruit that has been individually boxed. What a ripoff! The cost of binned fruit is much less and packers will usually offer whatever size and quality they have excess stock of in these bins (a few grocery chains demand a certain size and grade always). Don't get me wrong Dole and Sunkist have excellent quality and world class reputations but binned fruit is cheaper and allows you the option of passing on some of these savings to your customers.

If you're willing to compromise on a few different sizes you will lower your costs as much as 70% compared to the cost of boxed fruit. Usually give the buyer a 3 size range and advise them to buy whatever is being offered at the best price at the same quality standards you're used to. Buying on Friday afternoons will also save you a lot of money because growers, packers, and wholesalers don't want produce sitting in their warehouses all weekend.

There are so many packers offering binned fruit today that is of excellent quality, you can pick and choose. My suggestion is to have these guys email you pics of whatever they have to offer the day you're buying. If they can't produce any pics (everyone today has a digital camera in the office to take pics for claims) I'd say you should stay away from that lot.

For example I would normally pay as little as 10 - 17 cents/lb for extra fancy grade apples in bins by adapting to my 3 size range method (plus freight if you're out of town) while chains were paying 60 cents/lb for the same quality.

Lots of gross profit to be made by a smart produce manager which means bigger bonuses. Last bit of advice is to be sure you dig down to the bottom of the bins when receiving to ensure no one has pulled a fast one.


Honey Crisp apples are definitely one of my favorite apples and they are quickly becoming a favorite all over the world.

Very similar in appearance to the Jonagold variety but they are flat on the top and bottom instead of oblong. This distinction is one of the only ways to distinguish these two varieties of apples apart. They have a fantastic flavor and a noticeably "crisp" skin. You could peel the skin off with a paring knife and bite into it and it would be crisp like a cookie wafer. Amazing!

In markets where Honey Crisp apples are available they regularly outsell Gala and Fuji apples. Many consumers switch to this variety once they have had the pleasure of their first taste.

Developed by the Minnesota Government's Horticultural Research Center this variety is a cross of 3 apple varieties, a Macoun, a Honeygold, and the third variety is unknown but had also been developed at the same research center and later discarded as an undesirable variety in itself (there are some disagreements about the original varieties that created the "Honey Crisp"). The Honey Crisp was named the state apple of Minnesota in 2006 and they are not genetically modified.

The province of Nova Scotia, Canada has a program in place today to increase the production of Honey Crisp by subsidizing their apple growers on the cost of replacing aging old apple trees with this new variety, recognizing its superiority.

A reason why this variety is not more widely available is it's more expensive retail due to sweltering demand and the high cost of production. The yield per acre is smaller (more culls) and therefore the cost to get this apple to market is much higher.

I highly recommend this apple if you haven't tried it yet. I usually find apples boring compared to all the other wonderful fruits available in the world but this is one exception.

In general, any apple that has excessive oil or wax present on the skin is usually a sign of old age.

Apples are one of the highest ethylene producing fruits in the world (ethylene gas ripens fruit), try not to leave this fruit close to cut flowers because the ethylene gas will ruin them (cut flowers will age rapidly).

Also try not to store apples in plastic bags, if you've purchased bagged apples, remove them from their bag once you get home. The best place to store an apple is in your fridge. You can also put an apple in a closed bag of any kind of unripe fruit to help ripen it more quickly.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The biggest customer complaint in produce today is poor quality lettuces. Most major grocery chains have switched much of their counter space to prepackaged lettuces and this category has become very popular with consumers because of the no fuss, no work, and easy preparation.

Packaged produce technology was originally developed by Nasa for our Astronauts in space. I spent quite a bit of time promoting this field. Today with technological advances this category has outpaced regular lettuce sales.

When selecting romaine check the butt (bottom) to see if there are any signs of leaves having been ripped off or the butt seems longer than the rest on the display, this is a typical indication that the lettuce has been trimmed more than once so it's been sitting around for awhile.

Pull apart the leaves and look in the center of the head for rot or just use your nose and sniff; we all know what bad produce smells like. Signs of rust on the lettuce stems doesn't mean the lettuce is bad (only on iceberg lettuce) If the tips of the leaves are brown but the leaves look fresh, this is a sign of "tip burn" and the lettuce is still worth buying (tip burn is caused by the sun).

There are 2 grades of romaine lettuce and heads with a length under 10 inches are normally bought much cheaper and the retail price should reflect this. Premium romaine should typically have a length of 12 inches or longer.

I recommend what I call curly romaine, every leaf has a "curled" look to it and the leaves are very firm and crisp. Much tastier than flat leaf romaine. This variety is sold as regular romaine, no special name given to it and it's available everywhere.


The cost of dragonfruit has been halved in the past few years due to better picking, packaging, and shipping methods. You can usually find this fruit selling between $3 - $5 each in your local markets and grocery stores. Higher end stores will charge $7 - $10 each, though it's the same piece of fruit.

I would suggest buying this fruit in chinatown if your locality has one, the fruit will usually be much fresher.

Dragonfruit is commercially produced today in Vietnam and exported all over the globe; but has its roots in Central America where it originates. Asian dragonfruit is pinkish to red, Central American varieties are green.

When you're buying dragonfruit it's hard to go wrong, this fruit will start to mold at the top and mold spots will appear on the outside rind when it's overripe. This fruit has a light pink to reddish color with green offshoots and looks quite beautiful. The flesh is white and reminiscent of kiwi fruit with black seeds inside and like kiwi the seeds are totally edible.

Dragonfruit is very sweet when it's served ripe, the fruit should be very soft when you squeeze it just like a ripe tomato. The flesh color changes to a translucent (greyish) color when its completely ripe. The easiest ways to serve are either sliced in wedges like an orange or halve the fruit and push the rind upwards with your thumbs and the flesh will popout of the rind.

Everyone should try this fruit. It's such a fabulous curiosity, but it is one of those types of fruit you either love or can do without.

Funny that Christmas music was added to this amateur video, but Asians sometime do this not realizing it's a seasonal theme.


Vietnamese dragonfruit prices dive | Tom Bicknell | 17 December 2009

Prices have plummeted below cost for Vietnamese dragonfruit growers in response to declining demand in China. Vietnam’s dragonfruit growers in the central Binh Thuan province are suffering from a drastic reduction in export prices as Chinese consumption slows over winter. Dragonfruit is in its lower-yielding off season, reported Vietnam News, which has higher costs and generally lower prices, but the current drop-off is the lowest in 10 years, according to farmers. Southern China accounts for 70 per cent of dragonfruit exports from Binh Thuan, and consumption has fallen as a result of cold weather in the region. Prices have dropped from VND12,000-13,000 per kg (US$0.66-0.71) last month to VND3,000-4,000 per kg (US$0.16-0.22) now. Around VND10,000 per kg is required for farmers to break even. While the US and Japan opened to Vietnamese dragonfruit in June and October respectively, tight requirements and low consumer knowledge of the product have kept both markets low volume. Binh Thuan has 11,000ha of dragonfruit orchards, producing about 200,000 tonnes a year, reported Vietnam News.

Cantaloupe is one of the easiest fruit to pick whether ripe or unripe. I suggest buying ripe since you can refrigerate cantaloupe for a week.

The terminology for picking cantaloupe at full maturity is "full slip", this means that the "belly button" at the top of the melon will be clean of any signs of the vine having been ripped off during harvest (cantaloupes grow on vines just like pumpkins). If the belly button has pieces of the vine still attached, even a small piece, this melon will NEVER ripen.

The best test of course is smelling the melon, look for melons where the outside rind is turning from green to yellow a sign of the ripening process and smell it. The cantaloupe should smell sweet and have a fantastic aroma as if you had just taken a knife and cut it open. No smell means it's not ripe, but if the belly button is clean, then it will of course ripen in time.

Also, the belly button should be dry, if you gently push with your thumb the flesh should not come away and no sign of mold should be present. It's okay if the melon is a little soft to touch as long as it's ripe, if black spotting is present on the rind avoid buying. The same buying methods apply to Galia and Musk melons except that the outside rind must always be firm to touch.

To speedup the ripening process place the melon in a plastic bag (2 is better) and seal the bag with a twist tie and place on your kitchen counter. This traps the natural ethylene gas cantaloupes produce inside the bag and the melon will ripen in a couple of days. Remove the bag after the cantaloupe has ripened and refrigerate until you're ready to eat it.

BTW...I recommend you punch a few small (pencil sized) holes in the plastic bags you're using to keep your veggies fresh. The holes will allow the ethylene gas to escape and reduces condensation which causes your produce to deteriorate faster. You will find that your veggies last much longer.

Even though I'm a cherry grower, my favorite fruit to eat is Mangosteens. They are an incredibly delicious, sweet and juicy fruit that almost defies description. Mangosteens also has one of the highest sources of antioxidants in the world and the fruit is also used to produce Xango juice. I am not a Xango distributor so this is a free blurb. LOL!

This fruit is grown in several parts of asia but the best growing region is the country of Thailand. When the fruit is harvested only the very best mangosteens are selected for export to overseas market usually by plane and sometimes by ship.

If you have ever seen this fruit in the grocery stores or markets and wondered why the cost was so high it's because of the freight and the fragile nature of the fruit. Though the outer shell of the fruit looks very hard it's actually quite soft and easy to damage when ripe. Finding mangosteens with rock hard outer shells means the fruit is overripe and only good for juicing. In this case make sure the fruit is washed and you juice the entire fruit to take advantage of the beneficial antioxidants mostly contained in the outer shell.

When choosing the perfect mangosteens to eat out of hand, pick up the fruit gently and squeeze the outer shell, there should be slight give as if you were holding a sponge. If you apply too much pressure to the outer shell it will become indented and this will damage the fruit inside the shell. Also, if there are any yellow stains (looks like spray paint) on the shell, the fruit will be overripe and should be avoided or purchased at a discount.

After you have chosen and purchased your mangosteens, the best way to open the shell is with a small paring knife, apply the edge of the knife to the shell and press firmly, turning the fruit at the same time to create a 360 degrees cut. Once you have made an incision completely around the fruit hold the top and bottom halves in separate hands and twist, the two halves will come apart and voila the fruit inside is ready to be eaten.

The fruit inside are wedges that you can pull apart like an orange and consume. A couple of pieces will contain a seed inside, I usually eat the seeds and all because the fruit is so delicious.

To take advantage of the antioxidant benefits of the shell, I suggest either boiling the outer shell in a couple of cups of water for 20 minutes and then drinking the brew as tea with a little honey ( the brew will be a little sour) and or juicing the shell too and adding it to your favorite juices. Within a month you will notice a difference in your healthly well being.

There are so many delicious fruits in the world, it's sad that we as North Americans don't get to experience more of them or we get turned off because the retailer doesn't take the time to teach us proper picking methods, ripening techniques, and how to store the fruit properly.

Truth be told most retailers don't know much about produce except the basics and if you asked them a question about specialty produce maybe 1 in 10 could actually answer the question knowledgeably.

Please ask your questions here about any type of fruit or vegetable grown anywhere in the world, usually I'll be able to answer your questions with my extensive produce background as a national produce manager, buyer, wholesaler, grower, and retailer.

In this video it's silly that the narrator doesn't mention the high antioxidant properties of the mangosteen. Sometimes things are lost in translation.


Friday, June 5, 2009

The nante varieties of carrots were once only available seasonally and commanded a premium price. Today the nante is available almost all year round and if you haven't tried them before you're missing out. I used to sample everything I sold and I was a big believer in "TRY BEFORE YOU BUY". Probably 80% - 90% of customers converted to nantes after they tried a sample.

You can recognize nante carrots easily due to their blunt tops and bottoms as shown in the photo above. These carrots are so tender that even jumbo sized (horse carrots) weighing a pound can be easily snapped between your fingers with one hand.

When you're shopping for nantes make sure the bottoms are solid and no visible cracks or sliminess is evident, this is an indication that the center of the carrot is bad. The tops should be clean and no black marks present anywhere on the carrot. Because availability has dramatically improved in the last few years, nantes should be priced between 69 cents - $1.29 per pound. Especially good eaten raw because of their tenderness.


How to buy Asapargus

Asparagus is available year round due in part to the U.S. Government's War on Drugs. By lifting restrictive tariffs on produce imports from Peru to encourage growers to stop growing cocoa and produce legal crops instead.

Good quality asparagus should be just as tender raw as it is cooked. It's a myth that smaller asparagus is more tender and here's a never fail test when you're shopping at your local supermarket. Pick up a bunch of asparagus and snap the bottom end of a stalk between your finger and thumb, it should snap easily if it's fresh. Try to snap the stalk as close to the bottom as possible, this will tell you how much of the stalk is edible. The bottom part of the stalk will be tough and should be discarded, the top will be tender. This is also how to prepare asparagus for cooking, never use a knife to cut the bottoms. Taste it raw you might be pleasantly surprised.

When you're buying asparagus avoid bunches that have lots of white or purplish colored stalks, these will be very tough. Whether the stalks are thick or thin this will always hold true. Smell the tips, if they smell unpleasant the asparagus is bad and some of the tips will be slimy. Asparagus will last in your fridge over a week if you stand up the bunch in a bowl or glass in 1 inch of water.

White Asparagus is considered a real delicacy though I never fully appreciated it. Usually twice the price of the green variety, it's so tender that just touching the stalk with your finger can instantly snap it. Usually it is sold wrapped with only the tips and bottoms exposed to prevent this from happening. The asparagus is white because they mound dirt over it to cover it from exposure to light while it's growing. Old white asparagus at the store will turn greenish in color the longer it's exposed to light and the stalks will be visibly shrivelled.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How to buy Onions

I love eating onions, superhot, sweets, yellows, whites, reds, I enjoy them all. There are so many varieties of onions, I will cover the most popular varieties in this post.

First, the difference in appearance between a sweet onion and a hot onion. It's so easy once you know, all round onions are hot varieties and all flat onions (flat top/bottom) are sweet varieties.

The onion business is very scandalous with unscrupulous growers and retailers charging premium prices for fake sweet onions. How many times have you purchased a supposedly "sweet" onion only to find out you were swindled. Normally sweet onions are stickered by the growers or packers so you the consumers and the cashiers can identify them. If they're stickered and hot blame the grower, if there not stickered and hot blame the retailer.

Extremely profitable a retailer can make $25 - $60 profit off one 50lb sack of sweet onions. Add another $15 profit if they're fake. Wow is right!

Sweet Onions are all varieties of Spanish onions. Usually nicknamed after their growing region. The most popular varieties are Walla Wallas from Walla Walla, Washington; Vidalias from Vidalia, Georgia; Texas 1015's from Texas State; Maui Sweets from Maui, Hawaii. These growers fiercely protect their brands and it's not wise for retailers to mislabel their onions. Walla Wallas have very inconsistent quality, because of poor quality standards, it is very common to get bad, rotten onions. I always have problems with onions from this region, but there are still a few good packers out there.

Sweet onions rot at the tops on the inside so when buying make sure you push firmly on the tops and there's no softness, dampness, mold or black marks.

Red onions are my favorite and the same applies to these and whites too. Flat onions are sweet and round onions are hot. Reds normally start to decay on their sides and will start off with a kind of round transparent spot, while whites rot from the inside on their tops and sides, make sure you press firmly on the entire surface of the onion.

Yellow onions are the staple of the industry. Small/medium sized onions store better and are winter keepers, jumbo and colossal size onions can usually store for about a month. If you buy onions by the sack make sure you hang (on a nail) them somewhere dry and they will last for months.

If anyone would like any information on shallots, please leave a comment.

Fresh Cherries

Inside of a Cherry

I have sold millions of pounds of cherries and made a few mistakes along the way. Here are some great tips to buy and enjoy cherries.

When you're buying cherries the first thing to look for are green stems (signifys fresh picked). Secondly, the stems should be attached to the cherries, otherwise the fruit is either old or lower quality. There should be no pock marks on the fruit, a sign of age, no splits (cracks) caused by rain. If you are purchasing organic cherries be aware that a very large percentage contain worms. Make sure you open a few beforehand and check. They should be hydro-cooled (usually marked on the package or box) for best quality, crunchiness, and longevity.

Bagged cherries are the norm in today's marketplace, this reduces labor costs, shrink, and increases tonnage at the store level. But the quality is not the best, make sure you inspect the bags closely for soft fruit, syrup, mold, wetness, if you can sample the fruit the flesh should not be white (immature) unless they are Rainier or Red Sonnet cherries. Smell the bags, if they have a wine odor they are not fresh and should be avoided.

Cherries need to be picked early in the day when it's cool so most reputable growers will stop picking fruit by 1:00 pm. The fruit is taken to a packing facility on the premises or within short driving distance of the orchard where it's immediately submerged in a ice cold water bath for several minutes that chills the fruit to the core and removes the field heat which produces a superb quality cherry.

Sometimes you wonder why one cherry is $1.99/lb and the other $2.99/lb when you're shopping for fresh produce. Well there are several reasons, first the new varieties of cherries (Lapin, Red Sonnet, Stacatto, Skeena, Sequoia, Sweetheart, Sunburst) have a smaller pit so you get more actual cherry for your dollar. Bing Cherries have a large pit maybe twice the size of these new varieties.

The size of the cherry is important too, cherries are sold by size, the bigger they are the more costly. Smaller fruit on trees produce a bigger yield and thus lowers the production costs of the grower. Larger cherries, the tonnage can be halved due to the energy the tree puts out to produce the larger size and the pruning and culling by the grower.

Best Cherry Varieties:

  • Bing cherry - heart shaped, red in color, very sweet, crisp outer flesh, crunchy, soft inner flesh, big pit
  • Lapin cherry - no.1 cherry sold in the world, supersweet, hard crunchy flesh, dark in color, very small pit, does not travel well
  • Rainier cherry - yellow in color, pink blush, supersweet, crunchy, firm flesh, only the Red Sonnet is sweeter, very small pit
  • Red Sonnet cherry - heart shaped, red in color, extremely sweet flesh, crisp outer flesh, soft inner white flesh, very small pit
  • Van cherry - supersweet, very dark color, old variety, not crunchy, fantastic flavor
  • Stacatto cherry - supersweet, very dark color, not as juicy, the crunchiest variety, very small pit
  • Sweetheart cherry - heart shaped, red in color, incredibly sweet, very crunchy, very small pit
  • Sunburst cherry - soft cherry, incredible flavor, bursts in your mouth, tiny pit
  • Sam cherry - old variety, soft cherry, black in color, fantastic flavor, big pit

I love blackberries but like most people I don't like sour blackberries. A funny thing is a lot of women like to eat sour fruit, some add salt which takes away the sour taste.

The secret to buying sweet blackberries is the size of the kernels on the blackberry, small tightly packed kernels means the fruit is sour, big robust round kernels means the fruit is sweet and juicy. If you're not sure what I mean open a package at the store and try a sample.

Fresh blackberries should look shiny, glossy and beautiful; if they look dull and lacklustre, you will be disappointed in the flavor and quality. This fruit has a very short shelf life, not more than 5 days after they're picked before they start to mold and if the berries were picked after the rain expect white mold to showup within 24 hours. Blackberrie and raspberries are especially subsceptable to sunburn. Sometimes you will see a kernel that looks like a dried raisin this is caused by sunburn. Some years heat waves destroy much of the berry crops.

Berries should be picked early in the day for best quality, usually before 1:00 pm or below 28 C./80 F. and need to be cooled down immediately. Forced air cooling is best as noted in my raspberry post.

Turn over the baskets and make sure there is no juice running from the containers, and the pad on the bottom of the container is not stained black with juice; when shaken lightly, the berries should not be stuck together, a sign of mold.

The reason it's hard to find sweet blackberries is because they don't travel well and they're shelf life is minimal when they're picked ripe; causing a lot of problems for the grower and the retailer. Best to buy this item at your local farmer's market.

Blackberries are one of the biggest sources of antioxidants, more than blueberries; and the best quality berries are about 1 1/2 times the size of a cherry.

I love eating handfuls of Raspberries when they're picked fresh. Sometimes I can eat a couple of pounds a day. I'm skinny by the way.

Raspberries can create real problems for retailers because even fresh picked fruit can spoil in a day if they are not handled properly. Fruit needs to be picked early in the day before it becomes too hot (under 28 C./80 F.) or the fruit just melts. Forced Air Cooling (giant fans sucking the hot air out of the room and forcing back cold air) will bring down their core temperature and extend their shelf-life.

Berries picked after a rain are susceptible to white mold and mold can appear on fruit the very next day. Keep this in mind when you are buying raspberries or blackberries. Always check the berries freshness by picking up the berry container and turning it upside down (hold your hand over the top of the container so the fruit doesn't fall out) and make sure there is no juice running out. If there is a tissue pad on the bottom it should be clean and not stained red. Shake the container gently and if any berries are stuck together this means mold is present. Look inside the berries for caterpillars (or don't if you want the extra protein).

The best berries are the size of cherries and hard to find, sometimes you have to shop early for the best fruit (if it is even available in your maket). Usually big fruit is in high demand so enjoy it whenever you can.

Finding a couple of raspberries with defects is normal, don't let that stop you from enjoying them unless you see mold. Raspberries should be eaten within 2 days of purchase.

There are so many varieties available today, "try before you buy" is always the best rule of thumb. Two of the best labels in supermarkets are "Driscoll" and "Wellpict".

Sour Sop (Prickly Custard

Durian Fruit (King of Fruits)

Lychee Nuts (Litchi)

Rambutan (Hairy Lychee

Cherimoya (Custard Apple)

Longan (Dragon Eyes)

Bell Fruit (Rose Apples)

Dragon Fruit (Pitaya)

Star Fruit (Carambola)

Mangosteen (Queen of Fruits)

Persimmon (Fuyu Variety)

I started out in the produce business as an Ethnic Produce Buyer; purchasing produce from places as far away as Haiti, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt, Thailand, China and Holland. I have bought and sold 100's of exotic and specialty fruits and vegetables and visited and inspected farms and orchards all over the world.

This is the site to ask how to pick and eat Durian Fruit (nicknamed The King of Fruits), the Antioxidant properties of Mangosteen (nicknamed The Queen of Fruits) and how to choose Jamaican Star Apples. What does a Dragonfruit taste like? What are the best eating types of Papayas and where are they grown?

Imported produce can sometimes be expensive because it is flown in by plane. Sometimes because the grower, airline or retailer face little competition and charge higher prices. Believe it or not, sometimes because the equipment at the airport is outdated and affects load capacities.

The single highest cost today for growers is maintaining a safe growing and packing facility environment to meet global safety and trade standards. You don't want terrorists poisoning the food chain, you do want fruit grown in Egypt tested before it's sold at market? Do you want to ensure field pickers wash their hands after they defecate. You want good safe quality produce in February? These problems and many more being addressed by the industry will cost the consumer billions of dollars as countries and the produce industry face these critical issues.

Small Hand

Large Hand

Bananas Being Sold in a Market in India

Everybody loves bananas, part of the reason they are the top selling fruit in the world. The prices really haven't changed much in the last 20 years due to the grip major brands like Dole have on third world economies.

Bananas produce lots of ethylene gas (a natural ripening agent) that speeds up the ripening process. I recommend buying yellow bananas with green tips (called stage 3 ripeness). At this stage, they should easily last 4-5 days on your kitchen counter. Fruit with yellow tips is ripe and must be eaten quickly before it spoils.

When buying bananas, also make sure the fruit has not been dumped onto the display. The fruit will be bruised and blacken quickly. If the bananas are ripe, always remove the plastic bag when you get home to slow down the ripening process (the plastic traps the ethylene gas). Paper bags have little effect ripening fruit, this was the method used before the invention of the plastic bag.

No.1 grade bananas are bigger, longer and the quality is better. Bunches are called "hands". No.2 bananas are shorter, smaller and normally can be bought for less. You get more rind and less fruit when you purchase small bananas.

Store bananas with their bottoms face up, this prevents bruising and extends their longevity. The best storage method is to hang them.

Pineapple has become an everyday affordable fruit. Stuffing my face full on vacation in a tropical climate is always my favorite way of eating them. So juicy and sweet when picked right, choosing pineapple is easy once you know the trick.

Ripe pineapple smell wonderful, so stick your nose in and smell away. The heady aroma of a ripe pineapple is hard to forget. You can't go wrong using the "smell test", if they don't smell they're not ripe. So called experts will tell you to pull firmly on the top leaves of the fruit and if they come away easily the fruit is ripe. This can also mean the fruit has been sitting around awhile and is overripe.

Most pineapple today are shipped either by truck or sea. The cold temperature of the refrigerated container inhibits the ripening process and quite often the fruit won't ripen properly. When buying pineapple, avoid fruit with green mold and red spotting on the butt or rind. Fruit with yellow leaves, a sunken-in, pithy appearance or rubbery soft feel, are all signs of age.

If you can't find any ripe fruit in the store, pineapple can be ripened at room temperature on your kitchen counter (do not refrigerate). If the fruit is still a little tart after you have cut it up, dipping the wedges in salt takes away the acidity (this is a habit the Females of our species really enjoy).

Hawaiian grown pineapples are still the best and Thailand pineapple is awesome if your over in Asia. Although we can usually get by with the normal store bought pineapple.

I will usually pass on Mexican grown pineapple, they are picked so immature and green; almost tasteless and usually don't ripen.

Green peas also known as "english" and "sweet" peas are one of my favorite veggies. Sometimes tough to find fresh because of their short shelf-life. Sadly, they begin to lose their sweet flavor after 2-3 days of being picked.

Here are a few tips to help you choose the freshest peas:

Hail marks do not usually affect the sweetness or freshness of green peas, so don't be put off by their appearance. The best method is always the "taste test', be wary of sellers that forbid shoppers from sampling.

If you are purchasing bagged peas, condensation in the bags is usually an indication the peas are not fresh. Punch a few air holes in the bag when you get home to allow the peas to breathe, this will extend their freshness.

Brown marks, wrinkling and pods with tiny peas inside are signs of staleness or poor quality. With many new varieties available today, large pods don't necessarily mean the peas are overmature and tough.

Green peas should be picked early in morning and need to be cooled immediately. They build up a lot of field heat which will ruin their flavor. A few finicky vegetables (e.g. corn, dill cukes, peas) emit extreme heat at their core after they are harvested. Picking them in hot weather (+82F/28C) cuts their shelf life to only a day. Peas destined for market should always be cooled down overnight or run through a hydro-cooler by the growers before they leave the farm.

It can be difficult to find fresh peas in supermarkets because of the distribution times involved. Produce is normally received first at the warehouse, then shipped out to the stores overnight. This is one veggie I recommend picking up at your local farmer's market.

Fresh peas should be eaten within 2-3 days of being picked or they begin to taste old. Always ask when they were picked. Enjoy and happy shopping.