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.