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!