Saturday, November 19, 2011

C-14 aka Royal Dawn Cherries

C-14 Cherries

Rainier Cherries

Rainier Cherries

We started picking C-14 (Royal Dawn) cherries a few days ago in Chile. C-14 is a very nice variety, so juicy, big size and it tastes wonderful. You will notice in the photos that they have a little nose bump, this doesn't affect the taste or quality. I love eating cherries fresh off the tree, at the beginning of the season I always stuff myself full. These will start arriving in North American markets next week. Our orchards are 80 kms south of Santiago in an area called Codegua and our partners have more fruit in the Curicó region. This season's crop is beautiful and the country is anticipating it's largest crop ever.

The Rainier cherries are ready too and gorgeous as you see; very big and excellent quality. We usually like them to color up a little more (red blush) before we begin picking. One of my favorite cherry varieties because they are so sweet. We lay reflective material (like mirrors) under the trees in the Rainier cherry blocks to enhance the sun's rays, this helps them color up nicely and speeds up harvest times. On Google Maps satellite view CHECK IT OUT HERE you can see the reflective material in our orchards. We will ship the Rainier as far away as Shanghai & Beijing.

Red-Striped Lapins Cherry

This is a new variety of cherry that appeared in the midst of the orchards last year. A oddball looking cherry that looks alot like the Rainier variety. We have grafted a few trees and will watch how they progress over the next couple of years. Quite unique with its yellow and purple flesh. Who knows you may see these in your local supermarkets one day in the not too distant future.

Young Pepper Plants

Young Green Pepper

Young Pepper Plants

No.1 Grade Extra Large Green Peppers

Young Pepper Plants

No.2 Grade Green Peppers

I always like to inspect produce first hand in the field and at the packing shed whenever possible. It's much easier to spot potential problems and manage at the farm level.

I've included a few shots of some young pepper fields in Oliver, B.C. taken in early July. This is a popular region to plant grapes, peaches, nectarines, plums, pears, apples, cherries and plenty of vegetables too.

Green Peppers picked at maturity should feel as hard as fresh picked apples (this applies to all peppers including hot varieties). When you break one open it makes a loud noise like biting into an apple or the sound you hear in those old Bick Pickle commercials. Produce buyers I deal with today are often amazed at the quality. Similar to Hot House Pepper quality without the Hot House price!

I usually like to spend some time discussing the right varieties to plant each season. Sometimes we make mistakes... As we continue to improve our quality, people like you will get better produce in your local supermarkets.

Free-to-use Green Pepper Transparents

Staccato Cherries

Centennial Cherries

Lapin Cherries

Lapin Cherries

Sweetheart Cherries

Packing Line in Wenatchee, WA

Besides growing and packing our own fruit each season, I spend countless hours inspecting cherry orchards during harvest. Controlling the fruit from orchard to supermarket is very important to me. I travel extensively during the growing seasons, I drove about 12,000 kms this year in Washington and British Columbia in about 6 weeks.

Not too many people get to eat as many cherries as I do, one of the perks of the job! I've uploaded a few cherry photos for my readers to enjoy. Notice how green and vibrant the stems are, a sure sign of freshness. Always check for green stems when you are shopping, the fruit will easily last a couple of weeks in your fridge.

Free-to-use Cherry Transparents

Ripe Baby Watermelon

Tasting a Slice

Inspecting the core

Fresh Picked Watermelon

Bin of Yellow Baby Watermelon

There's nothing better on a hot summer day than a slice of watermelon except maybe a beer! So I stopped by a friend's farm in Oliver, B.C. to chat and eat some watermelon. The yellow baby variety is much sweeter than red watermelon.

I've been selling yellow watermelon for almost 30 years and still some supermarkets today refuse to carry this wonderful fruit. I scratch my head at that.

Funny but true many people just can't get past the yellow color. So this variety is not for everyone, we call those people "the neighbors we never visit".

A problem I often encounter in supermarkets is a lack of training on how to handle this variety of melon. Yellow watermelon can spoil easily if they are not handled properly. I recommend buying halves instead, then you can make sure the melon is good inside.

Yellow baby watermelon have a shelf life of about 4-6 days.  So eat it right away, don't leave it in your fridge to spoil.

Pick up a melon and press very firmly with both thumbs against the rind, if the melon feels soft it is over-ripe. The rind should feel very firm with slight give (like pressing on a football). Yellow watermelon are unusual because you can actually feel the flesh of the melon move when you press your thumbs against the rind. It almost feels like pressing on packed snow and sounds like snow crunching beneath your feet.

The best test is still the taste test, most supermarkets today offer samples of fruit. Don't be afraid to ask for a sample. Enjoy and let me know what you thought after trying your first yellow watermelon...

* watermelon photos from King's Tomato Farm

Tasting a slice

Fresh picked Musk Melon

Bin of Fresh Musk Melon

If you love eating cantaloupe, you will love chomping down on fresh ripe musk melon even better. Musk melon have the same wonderful taste of cantaloupe but with a much bolder flavor. Grown locally and harvested in late summer they look almost indentical to cantaloupe. I cut a few melons open when I am doing field inspections and perform a taste test before I buy.

I like to visit growers on a regular basis to make sure they are following good farming practices. I can ask questions about the crop and they learn what my expectations are. This is important because many farms pick melons immature and they don't ripen properly (a common complaint). Field inspectors are a necessary part of a good buying program.

Choosing a good melon:

When choosing musk melon and cantaloupe, fruit with an underlying greenish color with take a long time to ripen. The rind will turn yellow as the ripening process progresses and give off a wonderful aroma. The belly button (where the vine was attached) should be clean and dry when you press your thumb against it. A clean belly button means the melon was picked at full maturity (called "full slip") and will ripen properly on your kitchen counter.

Ripen melons at room temperature until they smell nice (hold it up to your nose and smell). To speed up the ripening process put the melon in a plastic bag (2 bags is better) and tie the end. This traps the ethylene gas fruits naturally produce and will ripen the fruit 30-40% faster. Refrigerate ripe fruit.

Enjoy and let me know what you thought of your first taste of this fabulous melon...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Inspecting Apricots for hail damage

This Apricot variety sizes up well

I used to hate eating apricots because they were often dry and lacked much flavor. Times have changed and you can find many great tasting, juicy, new varieties available today. The Hargrant Apricot has become more popular as consumers experience its wonderful juicy, sweet flavor.

Hargrants can grow quite large as you can see from my photo above, and is quite normal. This variety has very unique bumpy, wrinkled appearance that turns off many people. You can pick these greenish 2 weeks before maturity and they will still ripen and taste great.

Many of my customers had doubts until they tried a sample. Don't be fooled by their appearance, Hargrants are one of the best apricot varieties in the marketplace today. Juicy and sweet like a ripe peach and without the peach fuzz! These can be picked and eaten with a little green tinge to them.

How to pick Apricots:

Press your thumb gently but firmly against the fruit and it should have slight give to the pressure, an indication of ripeness. Stem marks on the shoulders is normal and shouldn't be a deterrent. Although green shoulders means the fruit will not ripen fully. The flesh around the pit should look clean, brown or black coloration  is a sign of age

Perfect for supermarkets because they have a longer shelf-life. Developed by Eugene Hogue at the Summerland Research Station in Bristish Columbia, Canada. Available July thru August.

Please send me a message if you are in the Okanagan area in August and I will send you in the right direction for these delicious apricots...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Inspecting Rainier Cherries

Fresh Picked Rainier Cherries

Checking the size

Fresh packed Rainier Cherries

We were picking these beautiful Rainier cherries this morning in Oliver, British Columbia. Most of the fruit is bound for overseas markets like Hong Kong but some will be shipped to Vancouver too. I've eaten so many Rainier today everyone is asking me to save some for our customers. They actually weighed me in today before we started packing fruit and weighed me again afterwards. I gained a few pounds.

Good quality Rainiers always have a beautiful red blush, a bit of a crunch and taste near sweet as sugar. Select picking the fruit on the top of the trees first and a few days later the bottoms is best. The cost to produce this cherry is very high because defects tend to be very noticable.

How to buy Rainier cherries:

When buying Rainier cherries look for green stems ( a sign of freshness). Brown, black or dried out stems are signs of age, improper picking or handling. Premium cherries with high sugar (called "brix") should have at least 50% red blush; anything less and the fruit should be cheaper. Red speckling on the fruit seems to enhance their sweetness.

Avoid fruit with...

  • brown markings, caused by heat stress and rough handling
  • brown coloration, caused by wind rubbing the cherries together
  • bruises, caused by finger marks of pickers pulling too hard
  • cracks, caused by over spraying or frost damage
  • stemless fruit, a sign of age, over-ripe or heat stress

The Rainier season is short, take advantage of this supersweet variety while you can. Enjoy and let me know of any great places you've travelled and eaten these delicious cherries...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fresh Green Beans
Green Beans (Round, Pole)

Flat Green Beans (Romano)

Green Beans are so delicious when they can be bought garden fresh. Most of us prefer the round varieties of this delectable veggie, while others love the flat varieties.

In supermarkets green beans are usually displayed on refrigerated counters with water mist sprayers to keep them fresh. Mist sprayers are not good for beans because the moisture eventually turns them rusty, tough and inedible. Good quality beans will be clean, unblemished and feel firm. I recommend passing on wilted or wrinkled beans, also if the tips are brown, black or rusty colored.

If you are buying round beans, press your thumb against the end of the bean and try to "snap" off the tip. If it makes a snapping noise, it means the beans are fresh. Flat beans should be firm too.

Dark green varieties last significantly longer in your refrigerator and are usually more tender. Green beans typically have a shelf life of up to a week.

Yellow Beans (Round, Pole)

Flat Yellow Beans (Romano)

Yellow varieties tend to be more fragile than their green cousins. They can rusty quickly if they are not handled, stored and bought properly. When buying fresh beans ensure there is no rusty spotting evident. Inspect the bean seams for dryness and cracking a sign of toughness.

Storing yellow beans in plastic bags causes them to rust quickly, better to store them in a paper bag or plastic container. I suggest eating them within 4 days.

Cranberry Beans (Borlotti)

Fresh cranberry beans are usually available at your local farmer's market during summer months. They are in high demand and will usually be sold out by noon because many customers will place advance orders to ensure they don't miss out. In my experience Italians are the biggest consumer of this variety, buying huge quantities to prepare, store and consume over the winter months.

A beautiful colored bean used to make so many dishes. They tend to lose their color after being cooked.

Lima Beans

Fresh lima beans are hard to find. I suggest visiting your local farmer's market and asking one of your favorite growers to plant them for you.  You may have to wait until the following season.

My mother forced me to eat canned lima beans as a child and I still dislike them to this day. But like many other vegetables, fresh lima beans taste completely different and you may find yourself becoming addicted to this delicacy. When buying always split a couple open and inspect the beans. Sampling is best.

Purple Beans

Purple beans look beautiful when added to any dishes, I lightly steam them to maintain their purple color.

I have noticed a few supermarkets beginning to carry this variety in season, but they are usually available at your local farmer's market during the summer. Purple beans have a tendency of being tough and sometimes you need to cook them a little longer than green beans. There really is no visable difference between tender beans and tough beans. I can only tell by sampling a couple raw off the display. If they taste tough raw, they will also be a little tough after they have been prepared.

Nice when you're tired of the usual...

Fava Beans (Broad)

Fava beans also called Broad beans are very popular with middle-eastern peoples. A beautiful looking huge bean usually about 8-12 inches in length and very easy to shell. Supermarkets do not typically carry this variety, although it is usually available at ethnic food stores and farmer's markets.

When shopping do not buy fava beans if the outer skin is black, rusty or wilted (floppy).  Fava beans should be firm, dark green and clean looking. Like lima beans I suggest sampling to ensure they are fresh.

Once you have gotten your purchase home it is always a good idea to pop a few pencil-sized holes in your plastic bags to allow the beans to breathe. This prevents the bags from sweating and condensating which will make the beans rusty and tough. By doing this you may also find your purchase lasts a few extra days in your refrigerator.

Enjoy and please leave add any comments you think would benefit my readers...

World's Hottest Chili Peppers continued...

Scoville Heat Rating

  • Jalapeno - 3,500-8,000
  • Fatali - 125,000-325,000 ...origin Africa
  • Habanero - 200,000-350,000 ...origin Mexico
  • Scotch Bonnet - 200,000-350,000 ...origin Caribbean
  • Chocolate Habanero - 450,000 ...origin Jamaica
  • Ghost 'Bhut Jolokia' - 1,000,000 ...origin India
  • Infinity - 1,000,000 ...developed in England
  • Naga Viper - 1,300,000 ...developed in England
  • Trinidad Scorpion Butch T - 1,400,000 ...developed in Australia
  • Trinidad Moruga Scorpion - 2,000,000 ...origin Trinidad

Three things to remember when you're handling hot peppers are:

  1. Don't rub your eyes
  2. Handle peppers by their stems
  3. Keep out of reach of childre

...and if you're a guy, be sure to wash your hands before relieving yourself (unpleasant surprises await you otherwise).

For those of you that find jalapeno peppers hot enough, it's hard to imagine a pepper with at least 250 times more heat. I relish a lot of heat in my food and enjoy habanero and scotch bonnet hot sauces with no discomfort. The hotter varieties like the ghost, infinity, naga viper, trinidad scorpion butch t and trinidad moruga scorpion chili peppers are scorching hot. Not for the faint of heart...

Most of the heat in chili peppers is located in the seeds. Remove the seeds if you find the experience too painful.

How to buy Chili Peppers:

I recommend placing a produce bag over your hand (2 is better) when choosing any type of hot pepper. Try to handle peppers by their stems because even with a plastic bag over your hand, some of the residue on the skin can be absorbed onto your fingers. Wash your hands afterwards.

Green stems are the best indicator of freshness. Ripe chili peppers (sweet pepper varieties too) are hard and firm when they're picked correctly. Soft chilies have been picked improperly or are overripe. Inspect peppers closely for visual defects, green color on these varieties is a sign of immaturity. Sunburn, cracked, mold, black spotting and wetness are signs of poor quality. Hold a pepper up to your nose and if it smells pungent, there may be a quality problem.

There are so many varieties of hot peppers out there, remember they come in all different colors, shapes and sizes. Look deformed, ugly or just plain weird.

If you're planning on drying your chilies make sure they're fresh. After all you're going to be putting these in your mouth. Dried or fresh, a bad pepper is still a bad pepper.

I used to play jokes on my customers and rub the juice of hot peppers on cut fruit samples. It was hilarious to watch their surprise and their faces turn color as the heat took effect. I know... not a nice guy. Well I always made it up to them in some way and we could laugh about it later. Below... an insane video from "Ted The Fire Breathing Idiot" and it is quite graphic. He actually vomits and starts to bleed from his nose after eating 10 ghost peppers.

10 GHOST PEPPER IN 10 MINUTES - Warning very Graphic

Enjoy and please leave any hot pepper comments below...